Monday, February 3, 2020

Game 22: The Terminator

Name:The Terminator
Publisher:Bethesda Softworks
Developer:Bethesda Softworks
Time:12 hours

Though today, Bethesda is known for being basically the only major RPG developer around, back in the day they were just another shovelware dev. Sports games, Home Alone, Where's Waldo on the NES...Which features music from the man who would be the primary programmer for this thing and would go on to coding the first two The Elder Scrolls games. So, we have James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger to thank for one of the biggest RPG franchises around today. Because I don't think Arena would be in the place it is today if it weren't for this game. You might think that isn't true, but being able to futz around with 3D with low expectations provided necessary experience to make Arena a smooth-ish game. Or they could have just bought the Wolfenstein engine like Raven did.

As long as your copy is fine it should work fine, but do remember to type Adlib or Sblaster after Term, or you'll be bereft of sound. Of course, this is from a certain point of view, as you'll soon see. You should also make sure you have a manual, because you're going to have a bad time if you don't.
We start off with a copyright-safe rendition of The Terminator theme* and an equally strange retelling of the story of the film. Which is that John Connor is the leader of a resistance against an AI that deserves the name, Skynet. Connor has led the resistence to victory, so in desperation, Skynet sends back a T-800, The Terminator of the title and of Arnold's body, to kill John's mother, Sarah Connor. Connor, already knowing this, sends back Kyle Reese to defend her. If you need more of an explanation, watch the movie, it isn't really that complex.
We can play as either Kyle Reese or the T-800, with the obvious objective.
Before you enter the game, you have the option of playing as the T-800 or Kyle Reese. There are several more options that aren't obvious at first. Long and Short Game, change whether or not you start with some items. This is of somewhat questionable utility, as they're random and you're going to need more than you start with to kill the other guy. Easy, Medium and Hard just change the strength of the enemies that spawn whenever you steal enough, rob a bank, or just walk around with an M-16 out. Practice just turns this into a sandbox, taking out the other character.
Before we get to anything specific, I'm going to break down most of the individual elements that are not unique.
You'd think they could pick better colors for Bank and Vehicle, but I guess they couldn't use red
The Terminator is an open-world game. You have a good chunk of Los Angeles to explore. This isn't as uninteresting as most early 3D games either, while it is a bit generic, there's actual geography here. You can roughly tell where you've been. There are even a few distinct landmarks. Even if you can't, there's an easy to understand map system. If you're on foot, you can even fast travel to locations within a certain distance. You even get a phonebook for nearby stores.
Every picture of driving looks the same, so here's a picture of static
Walking is okay. You go slow, but that's to be expected. I'm sure its faster than it is in real life. You've got a lot of options that are frankly, useless. You can select your walking speed, which you'll only need if you slow down for whatever reason. Then there's driving. The game tries to be realistic and include both automatic and manual transmissions. Automatic's are easy to drive and what I used for almost the entire time. Manual's are terrible, you have to put the thing in gear, increase speed, then take your finger off the gear button. I genuinely thought they were broken at first. Cars have a top speed of about 60, slow down slowly, and corner badly. Very badly. The first doesn't matter, because you'll never want to go 60 and you get used to the latter.
There are some other problems, namely, speed. While driving, the slow down button was slow to start working but hard to stop. There's also a brake button that's also slow. Turning seems to decrease speed sometimes, seemingly at random. While walking speed was bad as can be expected, but functions semi-realistically. You pick up to much or get exhausted and you get slower. That doesn't get into injuries proper. As the T-800, I had a particularly nasty one where my vision went to static. Not for a little while, just went to static. FUN.
Not pictured, the explosive weapons or the shotgun
There are 8 weapons, of which I found 7 of. These can be divided into four types, semi-auto, auto, missile and grenade. Semi-auto is terrible because every enemy strafes everywhere and you can rarely hit things. Auto is okay, sometimes you can hit things. The missile launcher, as far as I could tell, only hit vehicles, which is terrible because I thought I was the only one who drives them, which tells you how effective they'll be. I didn't use the grenade, but I got the feeling from the manual that it was for the best. I suppose it might have actually won the game for me.

There is a persisent heartbeat sound throughout the game. If you play as the T-800. Yet, when you walk into a hospital, you have no heartbeat. Which makes the doctor call the cops on you. Quality. Outside of some gunshots, the screams of pedestrians as you run them over, there's nothing else in the sound department.

Look, its really hard to take good screenshots of this game
The regular enemies...are pointless. They take potshots at you, dealing a little damage, you run away. The army sometimes shows up, they aren't much better. There also appears to be police cars, but those are not fit to call enemies. You can literally drive through them.
You can't kill anything without a weapon though. In order to get a weapon you can either steal it or buy it. You don't start off with any money, so you need to rob a bank, or take out a loan, if you're Reese. How you manage to rob a bank without weapons is best left to the imagination. There are also sports stores and drug/hardware stores. Those are only useful for one-off raids rather than repeated business. And there's the army depots, which are hidden, except the manual tells you and you'd never figure it out otherwise. Finally, there are shooting ranges. These are pointless.
Although, as I later found out, you can get some cash by stealing from the register.

Playing as Reese just adds two things that I could tell. 1) You get Sarah Connor. Sarah is always with you, except if you tell her to run away. I didn't extensively check out her functions, but the manual makes a terrible joke about taking her booty. 2) The T-800 sometimes pops up with something about no pity. If you're in a vehicle, this doesn't matter. You can stop right there and look around and there's NOTHING.
However, it is worth pointing out that when giving and taking items from her, she's the one giving and taking. So if you want to give something to her, you have to have her take something.
It sure removes dramatic tension when all you have to do is get on a boat
The game is won by killing the other character. If you're the T-800, you accomplish this by buying a compass, which shows the direction you're going in. I think it was supposed to show which direction Reese and Sarah Connor are in, but we'll get there in a minute. If you're Reese, just wait, he'll show up. That applies to both, when I think about it. The character I had the most experience with, T-800, had a terrible time of trying to kill Kyle Reese. The manual states some hub-hub, about Reese being a combat veteran, but Sarah Connor also ate bullets like candy. Which actually brings me to a bigger point.
I don't know if this is the T-800 or the game
Let's talk about the big issue with this game. Its broken. In the course of however long I spent, I never won. Its not for a lack of trying either. The game has a nasty habit of just crashing on you. Take a bullet, back to start menu, crash. Shoot a bullet, same thing. Reach the edge of the map, crash. Start a car, and so on. I'd be surprised if it wasn't possible to crash while drowning. It usually crashes by going back to the title screen and just locking up, but a few times I got a strange green screen or a flashy screen. The only time I actually died was while drowning. Yes, the T-800 died by drowning.
You try aiming with a keyboard cursor
I don't know the source of the game's broken nature. I have tried to play this quite a few times over the years and most of the time it wouldn't even start up. It's got copy protection, it seems to be cracked. Cracking the game could have broken it, intentionally or unintentionally. It could not be cracked and this is the end result. It could just be the game, too.
The game, if it was done properly, would have been a great movie adaption. It distills the movie down perfectly. Playing as either Kyle or the T-800 and just tracking down the other character. Imagine this done without horrible glitching or even in the GTA 3 engine.
Mr. No Pity in action, note the lack of shooting
What I do know is that I've spent too much time on this game, and this is the end result. I've at least had the advantage of seeing the end screens. By dying. Not by getting shot at, but by drowning, as previously mentioned. The only time I met the T-800 as Reese he just didn't shoot me. I couldn't shoot him either. I am not kidding you.
There was really only one or two effective options for me, without getting to an army depot, and not as much improvement after. They were not good options either. 1/10

You know, I try to avoid giving something a 0 if they have that something. Its basically a token effort point. Despite being the central conflict to the game there's not much to them. They basically do the only option given to them without being complete idiots, strafing. They don't do much and it feels like they soak up bullets like a sponge. Shooting people is not really fun in this game, and that's not getting into the whole "crashing when you shoot" thing that happened too much to me. 0/10

The first appearance of hapless civilians. The first true non-enemies, as opposed to merely allies. A good step, if a small one. 1/10
The game is just a 1991 3D recreation of LA. Now I know what you're thinking, that sounds lame. Well, today it is, but even as late at '96, '97 I'd say this was about the best virtual recreation of a city anywhere. There was a lot of effort put into it, and it shows. 5/10

Player Agency:
On one hand, a lot of good ideas here, on the other, a lot of unnecessary buttons that I never really needed. 3/10

You just sort of go into stores and then go out. 1/10

Despite being arguably the least playable shooter I've played so far, there was something charming about the game. 4/10
All Skynet's problems could have been solved by this
This, oddly enough, was the only part of the game that didn't break at any point. Sure, its ugly, and not even good for 1991, but whenever you take moving objects out of the picture it looks like fine cheap 3D. Not high quality even back then, but it had to go on consumer computers, not animated in a lab or whatever. They even tried to animate people. That animation is as cheap as possible, but at least they tried. 3/10

Its the Terminator as told by someone who doesn't really care about telling you. Its not that good of a story** and somehow the story has become less-so in this telling. 1/10 for existing.
I guess the gun sound effects are okay, but everything else is mostly useless. There's a thumping sound I thought was to indicate how close my target was, but it was just the T-800's heart. No music, excluding the little ditty that imitates the Terminator theme. 2/10

According to my math, that's 21. Taking 5 off for the amount of glitches, its 16. The massive amount of glitches unrelated to the elements above are definitely deserving of a penalty.

As for other reviews, they're a mixed bag, ranging from 40% to 80%. They all more or less share my feelings on the subject.

*Its not really The Terminator theme, it just sounds like it.
**The movie is good for many things, but outside of one thing that hasn't yet forced its way into culture osmosis, it doesn't have anymore than a simple story.

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