When Wez played Terminator Salvation last month he really wasn't sure how the final game was going to turn out. The game was clearly far from the usual movie tie-in dross that we've become used to, but there was also little to suggest we were going to get a game that is going to trouble our game of the year list come December. Now, having had the chance to play through a bigger chunk of the game, this time on PlayStation 3, we're still confident Salvation is going to be one of the better movie licensed titles we've played in some time.
Our hands-on began with Chapter Three, which sees main man John Connor emerge from a drainage tunnel alongside his female friend Blair. As you probably already know, the game doesn't include Christian Bale's voice or likeness as Connor, which is a shame, but Blair is played by the superbly named Moon Bloodgod, the same actress as in the movie. The pair are attempting to get to the LA River and follow it into Skynet territory, but before they can even think about that a friendly helicopter gets into trouble and crash lands. It's up to you to get to the crash site and help out the survivors of the crash.
In order to do that Connor and Blair need to fight through a fairly strong machine resistance, with pesky Spiders patrolling the ruined city and Wasps flying overhead, waiting to take you out with their machine gun fire. As we explained in our previous coverage of the game, Salvation is a cover-based shooter. In some games the cover system is there as a token gesture, more or less to provide a few more options to players, but here it's essential. Step out into the open and you'll get taken down before you've had time to blink. Thankfully the cover system Grin has created here works really well (including a handy pop-up that shows what cover you can get to next) and allows you to make the most of the machines' weakness to being shot from behind.
Flanking the enemy is the key to success in Salvation, so much so that certain enemies simply won't collapse into a pile of scrap metal until their weak spot has been consistently targeted. Spiders have a fairly small weak spot on their backs, which we soon realised after a few less than respectable deaths without even making them spark. There's a level of depth here that we simply weren't expecting from a movie licensed title, with the spiders scanning the area with their menacing laser eyes, and you sneaking around them trying to remain undetected. Once you're in position to target their rear you can let rip and they'll explode in no time, but getting to that point is harder than it sounds.
The game is played, based on what we've seen so far anyway, always with at least one buddy fighting alongside you, with the idea being to flank everything – there's even a two-player split-screen cooperative mode, such is Grin's desire to get you playing how you're meant to. One player can distract the machines with a fairly useless frontal assault, while the other sneaks around the back to hit them where it hurts. So far the AI when not playing with a real friend is OK, but it would be good if your buddies did a little more to get the machines facing the desired direction.
Once we'd reached the crash site is was time for more flanking-based combat against waves of machines. This time Connor had to make his way to a raised platform behind the zone the machines were attacking from, giving him positional advantage. This gameplay style is likely to divide opinion amongst gamers as it's not nearly as instantly gratifying as you might expect from a movie attached to a massively expensive summer blockbuster movie, but we quite like the more tactical play style. More of the same occurred in a later level, set in a more rural but equally destroyed town, except this time against “skin jobs” - humanoids with gattling guns and, as the name suggests, skin.
These sections play well, although might become a tad repetitive, but the other gameplay type has almost certainly been included to ramp up the intensity and provide the instant thrills the cover-based action doesn't deliver. It's our good friend On-rails Shooter again, and if the preview build is anything to go by, you'll be playing a lot of these levels in the final game. First up we had to defend a train we were riding through an underground tunnel. Connor and Blair were hauled up at the rear, equipped with rocket launchers. Bike-like machines were chasing them, so they had no choice but to assault them with their never-ending supply of ammo. Later on another on-rails section saw the two driving buggies, defending a school bus (not carrying kids we should add) as it drove through a ruined city and onto a freeway. Here the action was a bit more dynamic, with the camera moving about far more, but there's nothing here we haven't seen and played hundreds of times before.
Having said all that, the on-rails sections look pretty sharp, complete with lots of destruction (cars blowing up all over the place) and some impressive lighting effects. The standard on-foot levels aren't ugly, but the PS3 build we played had a rough edge to it that goes beyond the general feeling of decay and destruction Grin has no doubt tried to achieve. Character models of NPCs are especially poor when compared to top tier shooters, but thankfully the machines all look great.
As we approached what appeared to be an enemy camp of sorts, after defeating plenty of “skin jobs”, spiders and wasps, our time with the game came to an abrupt end. With the game due at the end of May, to tie in with the release of the movie in the first week of June, it won't be long before we can bring you our final verdict, and from what we've played we wouldn't be too surprised if Salvation ends up being one of the highest rated movie games of the year.
Terminator: Salvation is due for release on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on May 29.