Released: 31 October 1991
Also Available For: Commodore Amiga, Game Boy, Game Gear, Master System, Mega Drive, PC, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)
Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Cameron, 1991) was a blockbuster critical and commercial success; the film made over $520 million at the box office against a $94 to 102 million budget and is widely regarded as one of the greatest science-fiction movies ever made, and one of the greatest movie sequels of all time. As is the case with most of the Terminator movies (Various, 1984 to 2019), the film was accompanied by a number of videogame adaptations. The most prominent of these, for me, was T2: The Arcade Game (Probe Software, 1991), which was one of the first games I ever owned for the SEGA Mega Drive back in the day. The game was the home console port of a light gun arcade cabinet developed by Midway, which I did play as a kid but more recently got the chance to play all the way through at an arcade near where I live. While I have fond memories of the Mega Drive game, the home console ports received mostly average reviews and it’s gratifying to see how successful the arcade cabinet was at the time.
In the nuclear wasteland of 2029, the human race has been driven to near extinction by Skynet, a malevolent artificial intelligence that relentlessly hunts humankind using cybernetic killers, the most prominent of which is their T-880 Terminator infiltrator. In an effort to preserve their victory, Skynet sends an advanced prototype T-1000 composed of liquid metal (or “mimetic polyalloy”) to kill young John Connor before he can grow up to lead the human resistance to victory and only a reprogrammed T-800 (or two, if you have a friend to play with) can protect him…and the future.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a first-person light gun game in which you take on the role of a reprogrammed T-800, just like in the film it is based on, and work to safeguard the future of humanity by blasting everything you see onscreen before it can hit you. In the arcades, you do this by manipulating a big light gun that has two very simple functions: a trigger to shoot and a red button to launch either missiles or blast enemies with shotgun shells depending on the stage (or “Mission”) you’re playing. With your onscreen presence limited to a blue or red crosshair, you’ll have to keep a keen eye on the game’s heads-up display (HUD). Your character’s health is measured in the form of an energy bar running down the left (or right) side of the screen, your supply of missiles or shells is at the top alongside your current score and remaining credits, but the main bar to watch out for is the “Gunpower” meter.
Unlike other light gun games, which have you shooting outside of the screen or pressing a pedal to reload your gun, there is no reload function in Terminator 2 and, instead, you can blast enemies for as long as your Gunpower meter stays full. Thus, if you’re too trigger happy and drain the meter, you’ll fire less and less shots at a far slower and less powerful rate until you give the meter a chance to refill or grab a power-up. Enemies are in high abundance in Terminator 2, way more than I remember from the Mega Drive version; the screen automatically scrolls to the right to pan across the stage but will lock into place quite often and force you to fend off waves of Terminators, Hunter-Killers (HKs), and other enemies, all of whom constantly fire missiles, plasma shots, and bullets at you. Sometimes, they’ll pop up in the foreground and try to fill you full of holes; others, they’ll toss pipe bombs or other such items at you which must be shot out of the air. In a lot of areas, you’ll find members of the human Resistance exchanging fire with Skynet’s forces, usually behind a destructible barricade. Take care when spraying the area with you fire, though, as this can cost you points and destroying barricades will only mean more shots come your way.
Gameplay is extremely simple and full of intense, arcade shooting action but quickly becomes very monotonous as wave upon wave of enemies fills the screen. Things are shaken up a bit in certain missions, though; two missions see you having to protect John Connor while he’s in a vehicle. These vehicles take up a large portion of the screen and can be damaged by your fire, meaning it’s extremely easy to destroy the vehicle completely by accident and, if this happens, you’ll lose a massive chunk of health and have to restart from the very beginning, which is extremely annoying. When in the Cyberdyne Systems office building, you’ll be tasked with destroying everything you see to erase all evidence of their research into Skynet; thankfully, you can complete the mission without literally destroying very single piece of the environment but it pays to shoot at anything and everything you see to snag a hefty bonus score and beat out your partner.
Graphics and Sound:
Terminator 2: Judgment Day recreates the look and feel of the movie’s biggest action scenes through the use of digitised environments, graphics, and sprites. While they do appear quite pixelated and blurry at times, when playing the actual arcade cabinet you never need to worry about the graphical fidelity as there’s way too much happening onscreen at any one time to really nitpick. While the game’s use of still images and text for cutscenes isn’t really all that much to write home about, the game makes great use of the iconic Terminator theme and sound effects and is full of voice clips from the film (mainly from Arnold Schwarzenegger) and features digitised versions of the film’s key characters, all of whom lend their likenesses to the game with the exception of Linda Hamilton (though you’d never be able to tell).
Despite being quite a short and repetitive title, Terminator 2 artificially extends its length by having you battle seemingly endless waves of enemies at any one time. Nowhere is this more apparent and monotonous than in the very first stage, which is set during the Future War seen in the opening of the film. The game faithfully recreates the desolate, bleak, post-apocalyptic future and even pulls from the flashbacks seen in the first film for its rendition of the Resistance base and the third mission, which sees your protecting John Connor from an aerial HK. The dark, desolate future soon gives way to the sleek, mechanical construct of Skynet’s main base and the glass-and-steel office building of Cyberdyne Systems as the game veers towards recreating notable action sequences from the film. This all culminates in a lovingly recreated version of the steel mill for the finale and every stage in the game is punctuated by destructible objects (which generally yield various power-ups) and big digitised renditions of enemies as they pop up in the foreground to attack you.
Enemies and Bosses:
Each mission of the game features a variety of enemies; in the first few missions, you’ll exclusively battle against Skynet’s forces, most commonly represented by the T-800 endoskeletons that wander around the war-torn future and blast at you with plasma rifles. T-800 infiltrator units (who are, oddly, dressed exactly like Arnold’s character in the film) can be found in the Resistance base and will take a few more hits to put down as you blast away their living tissue exteriors, and tougher gold variants of the endoskeletons will also appear near the end of this mission.
You’ll also have to blow aerial HKs out of the sky and contend with snake-like Terminators and little floating orbs that crack open from egg-like shells and buzz around the screen. When you time travel to the past, though, you’ll mainly be met with armed SWAT teams and human scientists in haz-mat suits. These guys are all weaker than the Terminators you’ve fought but no less dangerous; they’ll hang on the outside of buildings firing at you, toss caustic acid in your face, and pop up in the foreground to try and end your mission as good as any machine and there’s a constant, inexhaustible supply of them at all times.
Each Mission of Terminator 2 culminates in some kind of big finale, generally against a boss but often having you protect John while he’s in a vehicle. At the end of the first Mission, you’ll have to battle a HK Tank which rolls along firing heavy weapons at you from its turret-like arms, “eyes”, and a little opening in its treadmill. Take note of these areas as this is where you should concentrate your fire to keep incoming attacks to a minimum and then put it down quickly; even after you blast off each appendage, though, the battle rages on as a slew of gold endoskeletons pours out so don’t let your guard down for a second. If you manage to defend John Connor from aerial HKs, you’ll battle another HK Tank before storming Skynet’s defence grid, which is a massive wall-like super computer that spits missiles and snake-Terminators from numerous different openings that you’ll need to destroy one by one to access the time displacement chamber.
Surprisingly, there is no boss battle at the end of the Cyberdyne mission; instead, you simply dispatch wave upon wave of scientists and SWAT police while John steals the CPU and severed arm of the first Terminator. However, the game makes up for it with its most gruelling stages yet; first, you have to fend off the T-1000’s helicopter as it tries to ram into the van John and Sarah are escaping in. This is very tricky without another player as it’s far easier to have one person cover the left-side of the screen and another to cover the top but you only have a few seconds to blast the helicopter and the van is extremely fragile. Once you’re in the steel mill, the difficulty and frustration really ramp up as simply shooting the T-1000 isn’t enough; instead, you have to blast the liquid nitrogen tuck behind it in order to lower its temperature. This is much harder than I remember it being on the Mega Drive as the T-100 is super quick, rolling and “teleporting” around the screen with its liquid metal ability, and its temperate bar refills so fast that I can see kids wasting loads of their pocket money on this boss alone. When you finally get through this bit, you must fend the T-1000 off before it gets close enough to kill John; land enough shots and it’ll back up towards the molten steel, where you must grab a grenade launcher and bombard it with shots to eventually finish it off for good. Fail, and you have to restart all the way from the liquid nitrogen truck, which is more frustrating than you can possibly imagine.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
As you strafe fire across the game’s various locations, you’ll notice a few little boxes appearing at the bottom of the screen. Be sure to shoot these as they contain all sorts of power-ups that will grant you a temporary shield, full power-up your Gunpower meter or your health (or both), a screen-clearing smart bomb, or even you additional missiles and shots to deal greater damage. When enemies pop up in front of you, try to aim for their heads as Terminators will sometimes spit out their CPU upon defeat, which will grant one of these random power-ups, and try to avoid hitting John and Sarah as they’ll often drop mini guns that will let you blast away at your enemies without fear of losing power.
As an arcade title, there really isn’t much more on offer here than beating your high score and playing alongside a friend. I highly recommend having another player with you as this game is a long old slog and, if you’re playing with money or on home consoles, you can except to burn through a lot of credits very quickly as just beating the first Mission takes quite a bit of time and energy.
I remember having a blast with Terminator 2’s Mega Drive port. It was clunky to play with the Mega Drive’s controller (I had a Menacer, once, but it was pretty uncomfortable and unwieldy) but I remember being able to play through it without any real issues. When I saw it in my local arcade, it was a must-play title as I had fond memories of playing it as a kid but, while the original arcade cabinet does deliver (especially since the one I played was set to free play), it is a very monotonous and draining game to play. Even with a friend, this is no walk in the park as stages drag on and on and enemies are absolutely relentless; bosses are fine, they’re nice and big and should be a bullet-hell experience, but even regular stages can drag on for a long time thanks to the waves of enemies. The sections where you have to protect John’s vehicles are easily the worst and forcing you to repeat the entire final boss if you die is needlessly frustrating but, at the same time, Terminator 2 is an incredibly enjoyable experience and a faithful recreation of the film’s more action-packed moments. Just be sure to bring some water and settle in for a long-old haul with this one!
Have you every played the arcade version of Terminator 2: Judgment Day? How did you find it and where would you rate it against other, similar light gun games? How does it compare to other Terminator videogames? Did you ever own one of the many home consoles ports? If so, which was your favourite? How are you panning on celebrating Judgment Day this year? Whatever your thoughts, drop a comment below and check back in next Monday for more Terminator content!