Today, I began playing The Terminator on the Sega Mega Drive after reading a review of the game in an old copy of Mean Machines (issue 21, June 1992). The review slammed the game for being short and too easy, but praised it for its visuals and presentation. Years ago, a video tape was given away free with one of the other Sega magazines (Sega Pro I think), and it had previews of a selection of games produced by Virgin on it. One of those was The Terminator, which in the preview looked quite funky. But, as a youngster and not being able to think for myself, I went with the opinion of Mean Machines, as it generally gave pretty accurate reviews of games, and decided to give Arnie a miss. However, through the wonders of, ahem, emulation, it's now possible to play the game without throwing £40 of pocket money down the drain. And, on this, a sunny Sunday afternoon in April, I decided to move indoors and to give The Terminator a go, to find out whether I was right to follow the advice of Mean Machines nineteen years ago, or whether I should have bought the game based on some footage on a videotape. Also, I had to get inside as I could feel my forehead and nose burning. Technically this could be the newest review for my New to Me section, but I thought I'd do this one a bit differently. Instead of playing the game for however long I usually play them for before deciding to review them, I'll do a day by day review of the game based on my experiences of playing it for a week, or however long it takes until I get bored of it. However, I'm still not going to publish this on a day-to-day basis, simply because it'll fill my blog with what looks like five reviews of the same game and the entries will appear in backwards order. Instead, I'll just add to this entry until it's complete. Groovy.
So, with today being day one, here are my first impressions. Presentation-wise, the game is great. Nowadays, when starting up games, you have to go through screen after screen after screen of the logos of companies that were somehow involved in the production of the game. Fortunately this wasn't the case in the nineties, with only the Virgin Games logo holding up the start of the game (and the usual Sega logo), followed by a bit of text explaining how the machines are going to fight the battle to wipe out mankind, not in the future, but tonight (oh no!) and then some credits with the film's logo scrolling by in the background. It's all quite filmatic, but something I'll probably never watch again. After the little semi-dramatic introduction, or if you've got bored and pressed start, the title screen appears with a digitzed image of the Governor of California gracing your screen. You have the choice of starting the game or faffing with the game's options. Options allow you to set the game's difficulty (choices are easy, normal, hard or very hard), change the controls or listen to a few tunes on the sound test. Pretty standard stuff, but I don't suppose it needs any more. I chose to leave the game on normal difficulty.
Upon starting the game, there is another digitized shot of something, and some more text telling the story (all in capital letters which makes it hard to read). Fortunately, the story is kept brief and to the point, and then it's on with the game. Woohoo! At first, the game seems unfairly hard, with instant death happening as soon as walking into the first enemy robot. When you die, a screen appears pointing out that you (Kyle Reese) has been terminated. Slightly frustrating is the fact that it takes a few seconds for this announcement to appear - the text informing you of your termination appears like the vidiprinter on Grandstand used to when the football scores were coming through. And then the game resets, going through the malarkey of having to display the Sega logo, then the Virgin Games logo, and then the title screen and the start of the story again. Even by repeatedly pressing start to skip through things quicker, there's probably about a twenty second gap between dying and being able to start again. Twenty seconds may not sound like much, but it's a frustrating delay in an action game. And, once you've seen the intro and story screens, you really won't be interested in watching them again. Why isn't there a simple option to restart upon dying?
After killing the first robot and entering a futuristic complex, you come across more unfairness. You are armed with unlimited grenades and can collect bombs that detonate after a few seconds. However, these items are pretty useless against the seemingly never-ending army of bare-chested soldiers in snot-green leggings (members of the Team Jacob fanclub?) shooting at you. You have no choice but to take hits and attempt to wipe them out by throwing grenades at them. The only way of successfully getting through is by hoping that some of them drop energy canisters to replenish your health. Again, walking into one of them will result in your death, and having to go through the whole process of waiting for the game to be ready to start again. The whole battle against Team Jacob is both frustrating and tedious, and the several restarts are just simply annoying, but I got through it eventually. After getting through the first wave and having the opportunity to explore the level, which is filled by more bare-chested soldiers in snot-green leggings, I eventually found a machine gun. This can be obtained by going to the bottom-left of the level, killing a robot, and collecting it. And then the game suddenly goes from being unfairly hard to ridiculously easy. One shot from your machine gun, and Team Jacob's soldiers are no more. It's quite fun at first being able to blast them away so easily after the battle you had with them earlier, but it offers no challenge. Completing the level is a case of setting a bomb at some sort of core thingy (I'm not really up on what's actually going on), and leaving the level within 45 seconds before the whole building explodes. Easy-peasy - despite a difficult start.
On my first day, I managed to get into a nightclub on level two, but was killed by some bloke in black clothing. This was after temporarily stunning some police with a shotgun (not the machine gun from level one) which you start the level with. Getting to the night club was a case of walking the streets of present day LA (well, 1984 LA), or climbing over the roofs of building. All quite easy. Level two has a very different feel to level one, and kind of feels like a different game. After being killed a couple of times by the man in black in the nightclub, I gave up, but will return to the game for day two. What I must say that, although I found it initially frustrating, the game is actually quite fun and playable, and I am looking forward to getting back to it.
For my second day on The Terminator, I found getting through level one no problem. For some reason, there weren't many bare-chested soldiers to take on, so getting the machine gun and to the end of the level was easy. Again with level two, I managed to get to the nightclub quickly, and found that it was possible to get past the black-clothed man by knocking him down three times. The problem I had yesterday was that it was easy to shoot him until he fell, but jumping over him always resulted in me coming into contact with him somehow and dying. The trick is to knock him down three times. When he is down for the third time, he flickers, which makes him passable. After walking on for a bit more, I bumped into a woman at a table. And this ends the level. I'm amazed at how easy the level is, and can't believe that the game's developers went to the trouble to create a visually attractive nightclub, only to populate it with one, easy-to-pass-when-you-know-how enemy. Perhaps they were wanting to keep to the film's plot, but it just seemed a bit of a waste of potential.
The woman at the table is Sarah Connor, whose unborn son, John Connor, will lead a resistance against the machines of Skynet in the future in 2029, (which is only 18 years away. More time has passed since the release of this game - 19 years - than the length of time it is from now until the events it depicts. Or something). To prevent John from being able to do this, Skynet sent Arnie, The Terminator, to the present day, to kill Sarah, therefore meaning John won't be born. According to the film, Sarah and Kyle (me!), get arrested, and level three takes place in the police station/prison. Level three features more of the same enemies from level two. It seems sparcely populated, so there seems to be more running than shooting. And although it seems quite complex and maze-like, it's impossible to get lost as the level takes you the correct route through it. Once again, the man in black is somewhere in the level. Turns out that he's The Terminator (didn't notice it yesterday!). The same attack as in level two stuns him, but I got killed shortly afterwards when walking into a policeman. Grrrr!!! Going to go back to the game now.
Humph! Got to level three another couple of times and died in the same place. Can't be bothered to play anymore so will be back to it for day three.
Day Three, and I'm back for more movie-based shenanigans with The Terminator. Unfortunately, these shenanigans didn't last too long as I've only gone and completed it. I got to the same point as yesterday, died the first time, and had to replay the game from the start in order to reach the same point and try again. This is actually one of the problems I found with the game. Sometimes you die all too easily, and quite unfairly, when running into certain more powerful enemies, or when you get ganged-up on, or sometimes if you get trapped when taking the wrong turn. This is especially a problem on the last level. As you only have one life and no continues, you have to start again. Part of the reason for this may be due to the game's major flaw - to be revealed in a few short moments - but it is extremely annoying.
On my second attempt today, I reached Arnie in the third stage in the prison, and rather flukily, he wasn't flanked by annoying policemen and prisoners, so once I'd stunned him, it was fairly easy to get past him and to the end of the level, to pick up Sarah Connor again.
The final level begins after a cut scene describing how Reese has managed to destory the "cyborg assailant" in a massive fire. So rather than letting you play out this battle, it simply gets described. You then go on to battle against the "hyper-alloy combat chassis", (metal Terminator) which basically involves you wandering around a level until you get to the end of it. While it's in its full-standing state, you can shoot at it to blast it out of the way. When it's in its non-standing state, crawling around the level, your only chance of survival is to avoid it. Eventually, providing you've gone the right way, you'll reach the end of the level. What's left of The Terminator follows you and gets then crushed by some machine. And then, the game is over. Another cut-screen concludes the game and the end credits roll. And, that's it.
And that's the problem. The game is way too short. Only four relatively short levels are included, and getting from start to finish can take about 10 to 15 minutes, and doing so isn't particularly difficult. Although I'm a huge fan of games and have been playing them pretty much all my life, I'm not a particularly good gamer, so for me to complete this game in three days means that it must be easy. The only things preventing it from being done sooner are the frustrating hazards described above. The game only becomes difficult due to you being placed in unfair situations, such as battling against soldiers with inadequate weapons, dying all too easily and having to replay from the start - and not from the levels and the enemies actually being a challenge to beat - if that makes sense. It's a bit like somebody asking you to paint a room. Making it a challenge would be the fact that there are some difficult corners, and the colour of the paint for the walls has to be different from the ceiling paint, so you have to be careful not to get paint from one on the other, but that would at least be a fair challenge. Making it too easy would be the room being exactly square shaped, with the ceiling requiring the same colour paint. Making it unfair would be only being given a toothbrush to paint the whole room, and being told that each time you accidentally get some paint somewhere you shouldn't, you have to start the room again with a different colour. I'm not sure if that's a good analogy, but I was painting a room today and it crossed my mind.
It's a huge shame that the game is so easy and short, because, despite its frustrations, it is mostly a fun game to play. Presentation is spot-on, even if you probably won't pay any attention to the cut-scenes when you've seen them once. Graphics are great, the music is pretty good and suited to the game, and the sound effects are meaty and satisfying. The game's levels remain close to the film's plot (which is possibly part of the problem). Controls are ok. Although using the grenades at the start of level one is a pain, using the machine gun when it's found later is fun. The shotgun on levels two, three and four is a bit of a nuisance, as Reece has to take it out of his white coat to fire it and the game's programmers have to show off with a bit of animation to demonstrate this. Realistic it may be but it's not exactly fun to have to wait while somebody is firing at you. Shooting while crouching seems to eliminate this problem. Reece isn't the greatest of jumpers, although this is probably another attempt at reflecting realism rather than making him some sort of super-athelete.
So, after just three days, my week with The Terminator is over. I might do a day four if I decide to come back to it tomorrow, which may prove if the game has replay value, but I doubt that even if this is the case, it's a game that will warrant regular replays as there isn't much substance to it to bring me back over and over again.
Well, I didn't decide to come back to The Terminator on the Mega Drive for a fourth day. I may do in the future, but my attention was diverted to the Mega-CD version of the game. I discovered that the CD version was completely different to its non-CD counterpart. It's still a run and gun game, but has totally different levels and appears to be quite challenging, but not in a frustrating way. It also must have one of the most stunning soundtracks I've heard in a video game. I only played it for a few minutes (long enough to get into the game's third track, but not off the first level as I died) and I'm mightily impressed by it, so will most definitely be coming back to that, instead of returning to the Mega Drive's attempt.
Despite some frustrating elements, The Terminator on the Mega Drive is a fun little game while it lasts. Unfortunately, it is too little and the fun doesn't last anywhere near as long as it should. I feel that the elements that make it unfair were possibly added simply to prevent the game from being too easy as well as too short (it's still easy, but it's also easy to make mistakes which will send you right back to the beginning). The game is fantastically presented; the graphics, cut-scenes and music capture the feel of the film really well, but there should be more of it. The reviewers of Mean Machines did get the score right, and I know that if I'd have bought this almost 20 years ago, I would have been quite disappointed if I completed it so quickly. What amazes me is that some other magazines at the time rated it 90%+. Now, either they didn't play the game properly before reviewing it, or, as certain magazines were assisting in promoting the game through free videos as a way of increasing their circulation, their scoring was perhaps a little bit influenced by other factors. It's a problem that modern websites/magazines possibly suffer from, fearing that games publishers will boycott them if they dare to rate a game as poor or average. But, it looks like it may be nothing new.