Ah, post-apocalyptia. Humans have always seemed to have a peculiar fascination with the End of the World, from the Bible all the way through, well, Terminator Salvation, the upcoming film starring Christian Bale as John Connor. It’s set to hit theaters on May 21st, and a videogame based on the movie will be released the same month.
Earlier this month, I was given an eyes-on demo of an early build of the game, a third-person shooter being developed by GRIN (the same studio behind the current-gen Bionic Commando and Wanted: Weapons of Fate). Hit the break to read all about it.
The Terminator Salvation film is set in 2018, but the game takes place two years prior. Judgment Day has come and gone, leaving nothing but destruction in its wake, and morale is at an all-time low in the bombed-out ruins of Los Angeles. Skynet has been gradually pushing the resistance army further and further outside of the city, which is where the game picks up the action. Mic Rogers of Halcyon Games explained that, since the game begins and ends before the film, it doesn’t follow a typical videogame hero story arc — for example, you don’t lead the fight against Skynet and vanquish the machines once and for all in the climax of the game. Instead, the resistance’s mission is twofold: to expand its ranks, and to inspire hope in humanity.
The game opens with an assault on the Skynet command center, but it fails miserably; a never-before-seen enemy wipes out most of the attacking force, and your commanding officer gives the order to evacuate and retreat to downtown L.A. But just as the remnants of the army are lifting off, a radio transmission comes in: three soldiers are trapped behind enemy lines. Your practical leader doesn’t think they’re worth saving, that it’s a suicide mission, but Connor believes that every life is sacred — so you hop off the helicopter and make your way back towards Skynet HQ. You’re joined by Blair Williams, a main character from the film who is played by Moon Bloodgood (she, Common, and Rose McGowan lend their vocal talents to the game).
Rogers described Salvation as a very story-driven game. While a film can only be two or two and a half hours long, games tend to be much more expansive experiences; the focus of this one is to provide character development and backstory for John, Blair, and Barnes (Common), all three of whom play significant roles in the movie. (McGowan voices Angie Salter, a high school teacher whose character only appears in the game.) So gamers who play the game before seeing the film will have a leg up in terms of knowing about the characters’ history, relationships, and motivations. Much of this is conveyed through in-game dialogue, and the designers included a neat little feature: anybody who’s talking will be bathed in a Left 4 Dead-like white outline, which helps you to quickly and easily associate voices with characters.
I was first shown the opening portion of the game, the initial escape from the futile attack on Skynet. The visuals and gameplay immediately made me think of Gears of War — Salvation is a stark third-person shooter with a cover mechanic that is very similar to the one used in Epic’s franchise. You need to take cover, or you’ll quickly be blown away by a variety of robotic adversaries. When in cover, you can blind fire, and you can also move to other pieces of cover pretty easily. It’s a pretty standard setup. Early on, the game introduces the three main types of enemies you’ll be facing, and each one has a weakness to a certain weapon, so you’re going to want to switch it up to be as efficient as possible.
Next, I got a look at the game’s first on-rails level, a cinematic vehicle sequence in which you man a turret on a jeep driving across L.A. freeways from the evacuation point to the escape helicopters. There are a number of these sections interspersed with the regular stop-and-pop gameplay; Rogers called them “rewards,” and they did indeed look like fun. You can’t just rest easy and blast away, though; you can definitely die out on the back of the 4×4.
Then, Rogers showed off a shooting section that featured a deadly new foe: the T-70, which is exclusive to the game. GRIN sent over a couple of artists to Warner Bros. while the film was in pre-production, and they met with the people working on the movie. They came away with many ideas for the look and design of the game, including this special Terminator. The T-70 requires strategy and teamwork to defeat: the only way to take one out is to have your A.I. teammates draw its fire while you flank it to hit its weak spot, a battery pack on its back.
I definitely liked the visuals of Terminator Salvation. Unlike Gears, it’s able to provide an urban, gritty feel without merely being bathed in various shades of gray — you’ll definitely see bursts of color here and there, like in patches of green shrubbery, though they’re appropriately rare. (I was told that the game was designed to match the “unique” color palette of the film.) Salvation also offers split-screen local co-op play, with player one stepping into John’s shoes and player two taking the role of Blair. Rogers promised that the on-rails sequences were especially fun in co-op, with each player firing from a different vehicle.
Overall, I was impressed by Terminator Salvation. The gameplay doesn’t appear to do anything particularly special, but the story is what intrigues me. Connor’s not leading the charge against Skynet; he’s merely a foot soldier in the resistance, and that will likely present a perspective that’s relatively uncommon in videogames. Look for Terminator Salvation — developed by GRIN Studios, co-published by Equity Games and Evolved Games, and distributed by Warner Bros. — in mid-May on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.