If you’ve ever wondered why movie tie-in games have such a bad reputation, Terminator Salvation can provide an instructive example. Though this third-person shooter is technically sound, it seems to rely entirely on the presumption that you’ll be so jazzed to be playing as characters from the movie that you won’t notice how boring and shallow the action is. Most of the game has you jogging from skirmish to skirmish, fighting the same three enemies and using the same cover-and-flank maneuver. This quickly becomes repetitive despite the fact that the environments are diverse and detailed, and the few on-rails sequences fail to inject any substantial excitement into the proceedings. The campaign is only about five hours long, there is no online component, and the only multiplayer option is playing the campaign in split-screen mode. It’s a sparse effort, yet it is brazenly offered at full retail price. Suffice it to say, it isn’t worth it, and even Terminator fans looking for a futuristic fix should prepare for disappointment.
The game is set two years before the events of the movie, and though it features some of the actors from the film, Christian Bale is notably absent. The story chronicles a particularly foolhardy mission, and it does a reasonably good job of depicting John Connor on his journey from foot soldier to leader of humankind. There are a lot of cutscenes (sometimes too many) that help lend the game a cinematic feel, but the not-so-great character models and general blurriness keep them from feeling dramatic. The thoughtful and detailed environments do a better job of setting the postapocalyptic stage, the PC sports higher resolutions than its console counterparts. Unfortunately, the system requirements are relatively high, and the video options are laughably limited. You can tweak your resolution, aspect ratio, and brightness, leaving players hoping for scalability out in the cold.
Regrettably, the action isn’t as diverse as the environments. You spend the majority of your time in Terminator Salvation on foot, moving from location to location and dispatching mechanical menaces along the way. You move at a light jog unless you are sliding between cover positions using the clever radial movement menu. A semicircle pops up when you are in cover and point yourself toward another cover position, allowing you to select a new spot to move to. This mechanic makes maneuvering around the battlefield slick and easy, though it is plagued by inconsistency that can leave you exposed to enemy fire or trapped in a corner. Your AI teammate(s) can get you out of a jam by distracting the enemy or firing at its weak point, but they too are prone to inconsistency and aren’t fond of using more-powerful weapons or explosives.