Friday, October 8, 2021

Terminator 2029

Name:Terminator 2029
Time:11 hours

It is important to note that anyone playing this should crank the cycle count in DOSbox up to about 10,000 or so.

Briefing screen, off to the left, John Conner
The second Bethesda Terminator game is an interesting beast. It plays roughly like Dungeon Master, something that undoubtedly puts off most from playing it to begin with. Its not really more interesting than its precursor, owing to that game's non-linear open world. If you can get past that, 2029 is a fun if flawed game.
A typical combat screen
You play as a soldier in advanced combat armor, fighting the war against the machines in 2029. This basically covers everything in the 2029 sections of the original film, and covers nothing else, since this wasn't long after T2 was made. John Conner is your commanding officer, and the only other two characters in the game are a black guy named Merlin, who stole the armor, and a female lab technician who is wearing a crop top without a bra. Its all so '90s it hurts. Mission briefings basically go, destroy this, retrieve this, and then return. Maybe in a time limit. You also get debriefings along with the lab technician telling you what new weapons and utility equipment you can use.
The menu
A novel story plays through the game. Most FPS titles don't have that Wing Commander style branching story, where depending on whether or not you manage to complete your objectives, you get different outcomes. I say this, but its not really that different, at least as far as I could tell. I won most of the missions during my playthrough, and after replaying some sections, my failed mission didn't really have an affect on the story. One mission involved destroying a defense grid in a bunker, and the first time I didn't know what I was doing. This was so Merlin and his squad could do some mission or another. The first time, I failed, and Merlin's squad died and Merlin got stuck behind enemy lines. After finishing the game I replayed it and I won...and Merlin's squad died and Merlin got stuck behind enemy lines. And the next mission is to recover him, and whether you win or lose Merlin is safe. Since the game hypes up some member of the resistance as being a traitor, and this is never revealed as far as I can tell, which makes me wonder at what point the game actually branches away.
The armor
Combat and moving is fairly easy. You move along a tile grid, by default with the arrow keys. Sidestepping, which I didn't find out about until I had won the game, is done by holding down the Ctrl key. That's the only bit of tactical help you get, outside of carefully moving behind walls. Combat consists of pointing and clicking. Its a bit hard to hit enemies, you need to hit the area that causes the target information to come up. You could use missiles, which you just get a lock-on for; Or grenades, which you have to hold down to throw. I'll explain why I didn't in a moment.
Getting new ballistics

Enemies range from the usual terminators, to the flying hunter-killers, to tanks, to stationary turrets and finally kamikaze drones. The stationary turrets are predetermined along the level, but everything else spawns during gameplay. Which sounds interesting at first. But there's not that much logic to how or when they seem to spawn, at least, none that I could tell. The game implies you can take a stealth route, but there weren't any that I could see. And the enemies spawn infinitely, so its possible to get pinned down. You have in theory, infinite health, but you have to stop to repair and heal damage. Combined with little ability to dodge, none if you don't read the manual, and its very easy to get stuck in this game, fighting endless hordes.

Note the enemies on the radar

Health is divided into three, and later four factors. A regular health, healed by the medikit module. Losing that means you fire slower. Armor health, which shows up most obviously by changing colors on the armor display on the lower left. The armor's armor, which doesn't show up, and can't be repaired or healed unlike the others. The final is shield, which regenerates automatically, no input from the user needed.
The HUD, while it looks very busy, is a bit limiting once you start playing it. You select your primary and secondary weapon by left-clicking and right-clicking on the weapon or utility on the top of the screen. Stuff like armor isn't selectable. The radar, on the bottom shows enemies. The armor shows health, with armor as the armor itself, shield as a blue aura, and the regular health as "health" color-coded depending on how bad a shape you're in. For navigational aids, you have the map in the lower right and coordinates, which is more necessary than you think.
Utility effects are usually applied automatically, like the repair module. Grenades are thrown by holding down the fire button until you get the range you want, and you see where it lands by the radar on the bottom, which also covers enemies. Missiles lock onto a target after some considerable wait, and then you fire. It takes some time for them to reach them too. Lasers have a heat bank which slowly decreases as you fire.

Approaching a turret
Everything in the game revolves around this enemy spawning issue. While you can repair while moving, you're going to take more damage than you recover, even if you have four pieces of armor and two repair modules. And that leaves you without a way to fight enemies. Similarly, the missile and grenade weapons take a while to use, and are in limited supply. Further screwing with the matter is that most later missions have a time limit. Which the first time around is quite strict. Anything not dedicated to increasing your laser's power or capacity or your defense quickly goes by the wayside. For a good chunk of time every mission gives you a half dozen new toys to play with, its disappointing to see the effort wasted.
Finding an inert pack of Terminators
And all these flaws come to a head in the final mission. An endurance slog if there ever was one. You have to find four keycards, to get into an area with four reactors to destroy them, to get a key to return to the central area. Finally you destroy a central reactor, and retreat to a shuttle in under 30 seconds. When you don't know where any of this is except vaguely. A third of my playthrough was on this mission. And because I didn't pay enough attention to the briefing the first time, I missed that I was supposed to use the detonator on the central reactor. Which meant I had to play it again. I annoyed enough by this I just bypassed the keycard section and cheat teleported. Accidentally discovering in the process that enemies appear around the player, which is that just teleporting means they teleport along with you.
Destroying some target, note the radar in the center of the GUI
Despite these flaws, it was fun. The upgrades come swiftly enough that you always have new toys to play with, even if you aren't likely to use them for long. Every mission has an intense period at the end where you're desperately trying to get back to base, more so if its timed. And despite the mission's simplicity, I still got that aha moment from figuring out exactly what I had to do and accomplishing it. I think if there was some way to detect where or how enemies spawned or even that radical choice of pre-placed enemies, this would be a genuinely good game, rather than a flawed one.
Shooting through a fence
There's a wide arsenal of stuff, but what you're really going to be using in any situation are the highest power laser. Maybe a grenade. Maybe. 2/10

There's surprising diversity in enemies. Most enemies fall into the walk around and shoot at you, but there's some variety here. Flying enemies, suicide bombers, and fake allies. If the game was more intelligent about putting them down, this would be pretty sweet. 3/10

Token resistance members in a few missions. 1/10

I feel like more thought was put into the level design than anyone would ever notice. I don't see it, but I get that feeling. Beyond that almost every mission goes the same way. Shoot endless enemies, destroy some stationary objects, go into a bunker and retrieve something. 3/10

Player Agency:
Move around with the arrows, aim with the mouse, various hot keys. Sidestepping is accomplished by holding down ctrl, which is every bit as awkward as it sounds. Clever in that you can set up your robot armor in various ways, like selecting what you want as a primary and secondary weapon, but even utility items are used in this manner. You get an inventory, but its very awkward to use. 4/10

There's curiously less to do in the environment than the game implies. You have a few items that should do something, but don't really. Instead you only pick up some items and destroy some stationary enemies. 1/10

This is a perfect recreation of the 2029 scenes in the original Terminator, except with midi music. Obviously, owing to its nature, its an inferior copy, but its still cool to see. 5/10

You have a selection of well-done pixel art and well-done, but early 3D models. If I'm not mistaken this is one of the earliest titles to use prerendered 3D graphics to depict enemies. It doesn't look bad, but its very dark and honestly its hard to see things sometimes. The limitations of pure Dungeon Master style games are made apparent by this game as well. 5/10

Its the story of the Terminator that the movies never told you, as such, its fairly obvious since its a prequel...kind of. What I thought was clever was the variation on the story. Its minor, but its still fairly impressive. 4/10

Average midi tunes, not really memorable, but not terrible. Actual sounds, not just soundcard blips. I recognize some of them. The voice-acting is very obviously spliced together in awkward ways, but does its job. I wish I had subtitles though. Sound glitched quite horribly towards the end, putting a big damper on things. 4/10

That's 32. One point above Wolfenstein 3D. I can see where people in general might approve of Wolfenstein over this one. There are issues here that aren't quite true of Wolfenstein 3D, namely, infinitely respawning enemies and repair loops.

Period reviews were average. Sound seems to be a surprising issue among these reviews, perhaps the floppy version sounds worse than I give it credit for. I don't notice any issues unmentioned by me. Modern reviews don't give it much thought, considering it a button masher that gets boring pretty quickly. As I never noticed one reviewer mention the endurance slog that was the final mission, you should take those reviews as being from those who didn't finish the game.

From a sales standpoint, the game did all right. Quite a few sequels would come out, and an expansion, included in the CD version, would come out the next year. I may play that once Halloween is over, I am slightly tired of this game right now.

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