Don't fear spoilers. In spite of the name it shares with the movie, Salvation tells a tale from the early days of the war against the machines, back before T-600s introduced rubber skin and long before Arnold's T-800s popped up with inconspicuous human flesh stretched over massively conspicuous muscles the size of basketballs.
That makes the game spoiler-free for those awaiting the new movie starring Christian "You and me are f**king done professionally" Bale as John Connor. It's a rescue mission which takes a small resistance squad deep into the heart of Skynet-controlled LA, apparently starring the bloke from Fracture as John Connor, and a story told in around the same time it'll take you to watch a few episodes of The Sarah Connor Chronicles.
Again proving themselves the masters of 'blink and you'll miss 'em' games, GRIN's latest opus clocks in around half Wanted's length at two and a half hours including cut-scenes and endless load times. Yep, GRIN's Shatengine 2.0 strikes again with yet more forced loads against static backdrops as the game ejaculates the next awful level from the disc to your 360. The all-too common loading screens in Wanted broke the flow of a decent action game, and while Salvation borrows the engine and most of Wanted's ideas, it misses what made that game so good.
Whisper it... Wanted's clever trick wasn't the bullet-bending and slow-motion gimmicks; it was how the level design used the gimmicks. Wanted's levels broke every rule of design by being largely linear, corridor-like paths with little circular space to navigate. Conventional wisdom suggests the best shooters offer you space to encircle and outflank your enemies - consider any room in Halo 3, or the best battles in Gears of War - lots of cover, and space to navigate without getting your face shot off. Wanted's designers either didn't realise or didn't care about such nonsense, and found fun in throwing you down a death-filled corridor using the cover-chaining system to navigate the space and close the gap between you and floods of generic baddies.
Terminator retains the cover-chaining, but misses the point entirely. In both look and design, Salvation is Gears Lite - two-player co-op, ruined cityscapes, and circular combat zones. Cover chaining becomes a way to covertly navigate behind the machines and blast them in the back; something you'll do over and over again.
There are only three enemies here - four if we're being generous. Aerostats are flying machines which do little other than annoy; Endos and T-600s are two different flavours of Terminator; while the crab-like walkers are apparently ubiquitous post-Judgement Day and hassle you on every stage. Hunter-Killers and odd motorbike Terminators show up in the occasional set-piece, but it's mainly man-vs-crab in a battle which can only be won from behind.
A Terminator enters and walks straight towards you; one player distracts the Terminator while the other loops around and shoots it in the back. So goes every major fight in Terminator: Salvation. There's none of the push and pull, give and take you find in a pitched Gears battle; when every enemy is a walking tank or a flying drone, there's very little strategy for them to employ.
In the later stages, a human-shaped Terminator endoskeleton can eat over 130 bullets from your heaviest weapon or two rocket-propelled grenades to the face as they walk towards you emptying their miniguns. For the last half hour - an impressive fifth of the total play time - you can only discard bullets and shells in favour of grenades and rockets, running from ammo dump to ammo dump, camply tossing grenades like a human mortar and hoping for the best.
Naturally, your AI team-mates are short bus-riding thickos and never draw enough of the Terminators' fire. As you 'covertly' move around the area behind five feet of cover the machines will rotate on the spot, ignoring your team-mate's occasional random pops and emptying their guns in your direction in a breathless stream of hot-leaded death. Your AI buddy can be replaced with a friend so long as they're local; Salvation skimps on Live and even system link co-op.
Everything you'd expect to find in a halfway decent stop-and-pop shooter you'll find in Salvation, but none of it in the quantity or quality to make a worthwhile game. When the machines rise up and overthrow humanity, we can blame Japan's insistence on building humanoid robots, America's insistence on developing smarter AI, and the entire staff at GRIN; if you had to dedicate your processor to running Terminator Salvation, you'd be pissed off too.
A shooter with all the usual pieces but none of the smarts needed to entertain.
- Bowling shoe ugly
- Cretinous AI
- Every cliché in the book