Developer: Probe Software
Also Available For: DOS, Game Gear, Master System, Mega-CD, Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
A Brief Background:
The Terminator (Cameron, 1984) was a massive box office hit, catapulting star Arnold Schwarzenegger to superstardom, and making nearly $80 million at the box office against a paltry $6.4 million budget and quickly becoming a cult classic. Its incredible success not only led to numerous sequels and spin-offs at the cinema and in comic books but also a number of videogame adaptations, despite the film’s violence and mature content, released for virtually every home console available at the time. The Terminator was generally well-regarded at the time, with critics praising its digitised graphics and catchy music, although the game’s length and difficulty have drawn criticism.
The Terminator begins hopefully enough; it features the opening text of the movie alongside a pretty decent recreation of the iconic Terminator theme and opening credits. It even includes a further piece of introductory text and dialogue between main character Kyle Reese and his commanding officer that gives the player the rundown on the game’s first mission. Once you move past these opening sections (and choose from a range of difficulty options in the game’s main menu), you’re dropping into the role of Reese in the middle of the war-ravaged Los Angeles of 2029.
The controls are just about what you would expect from a run-and-gun title like this; the directional pad moves Reese around and allows him to duck to avoid incoming fire and scale ladders, the A button has you drop and detonate one of your few smart bombs to break down certain walls, B will cause you to either toss an infinite number of grenades or fire your weapon, and C performs a jump. You can alter these controls in the game’s options but, sadly, the controls aren’t the issue here; it’s the game’s literal immediate difficulty spike as, after a few steps to the right, you’ll immediately be fired upon by a Hunter Killer (HK) Tank! Touch its treadmills or get hit by its diagonal blasts and Reese will lose health; since you don’t have a gun, your only option is to lob grenades and it takes a shit load to finally put it down. Then, a couple of steps after this, a HK Aerial will fly overhead dropping bombs on you! This one can’t be taken out so you’ll have to desperately try to avoid its bombs to make it down the ladder and into the Terminator base.
Once in the underground base, you’ll be faced with an endless swarm of what appear to be T-600 model Terminators who blast at you with Plasma Rifles. Luckily, they’re quite slow and you can generally duck beneath their shots but they’ll also duck and shoot at you, which can be tricky to avoid as the ceiling’s quite low and stunts your jump. The main issue is the fact that the Terminators just. keep. coming without end; add to that the little mini tanks that are also in the area and that fact that you only get one life to complete the entire game and you’re in for a troublesome time right off the bat.
The absolute worst thing, though, is that this opening stage is a bloody maze! It’s almost impossible to figure out where you’re supposed to go as everything looks the same. Sometimes you’ll reach a wall you can’t pass and will need to blow it up but if you waste your smart bombs, you can’t progress; other times, you’ll run around in circles being whittled down by the endless onslaught of Terminators desperately trying to find some health and ammo only to be gunned down. Eventually, you may stumble upon an orange section of the environment (the “Time Displacement Reactor” according to the manual) where you’re supposed to place a smart bomb to blow the facility but there’s no indication that you have to do this and, once you do, you’ll have to run out of the complex before it explodes! If you try to run to the right on the top level before doing this, you’ll be immediately killed by Skynet’s defence systems but you can just as easily be killed trying to escape.
If you’ve read some of my Bite-Size features before, and the text above, then you know where this is going. I couldn’t even get past the first damn mission! A longplay I watched actually made this first mission seem pretty simple but, when trying to figure it out for myself on “Easy”, I kept getting turned around, running out of smart bombs, and trapped in the underground complex.
From what I can gather, The Terminator isn’t an especially long game and can be beaten fairly quickly; sadly, I cannot comment on this as the developers sought to artificially extend the playtime of the game by making it a right ball-ache just trying to get through the first mission. Seems to me that they could have just as easily taken inspiration from the likes of Contra (Konami, 1987) and other run-and-game games available at the time. Endless swarms of enemies and a bit of a puzzle/maze layout aren’t necessarily bad gameplay mechanics in-and-of themselves but, here, they made the game needlessly frustrating and, even worse, the PAL version of the game doesn’t even include any cheat codes to help bypass these issues, meaning I’ll have to actually get good in order to progress!
I was super excited to play The Terminator and pretty damn disappointed to find that the first mission is all-but impassable without knowing exactly what you have to do, where you need to go, and was full of endlessly spawning enemies. Add to that the fact that you only get one life for the whole game and it was a pretty dissatisfying experience. Still, have you ever played The Terminator on the Mega Drive? If so, were you able to get past the first mission and complete the game? Do you think I need to suck it up and give it another go or would you recommend playing a different version of the game, perhaps the Mega-CD version? Have you ever played a videogame where everything about it was really good and appealing but you just kept hitting a wall and couldn’t progress? What is your favourite Terminator or run-and-gun game? Are you excited for Judgment Day later this month? I have a few more Terminator articles coming to celebrate it so be sure to check back in next Sunday for more Terminator content.