If the last time you played a good Terminator videogame was about eighteen years ago–when your hands went numb from the rumbling of the mounted lightgun Uzi, and you had dumped the last of your quarters to get another shot at Robert Patrick’s digitized likeness–you’ll definitely enjoy Terminator Salvation for the iPhone. This movie adaptation is not only a great shooter on its own merits, but it makes exceptional use of the Terminator license to showcase familiar enemies and add a few new bonuses for fans.
You play as the last hope for humanity, John Connor, as he leads a small group of resistance members battling the overwhelming Skynet robot army. At times you’ll also shift to the point of view of another soldier named Marcus Wright, but the two characters perform identically, and their only real distinction is the default weapon they use. Just six guns are available in the game, but the game’s variety of locations and interesting storyline more than make up for this shortfall.
Like the old arcade version of Terminator 2, Terminator Salvation is all about blowing the heads off of heartless machines before they crush your skull underfoot… but now you have a detailed 3D environment to navigate. Most 3D iPhone games get hung up on the controls, but here movement feels natural. You have a virtual joystick in one corner, and touching anywhere on the screen alters your aim and view. You can also opt to use a corner “control wheel” or accelerometer, but we found that the default controls worked fine.
These controls effectively mimic the two-joystick system that most 3D console shooters employ, allowing you to pull off complex moves like ducking behind cover with relative ease. Precise aim is also important. Watching the sparks fly from a long-distance headshot against a terminator is a recurring highlight of the game.
Other high points include taking over a mounted turret to protect your fellow soldiers, collecting pieces of a transmitter to call in an air strike on a giant robot tank, and blasting a building-sized “Harvester” Terminator from the back of a truck.
Visually, Terminator Salvation astounds. Each stage has a distinct color palette, from the gritty gray and green of ruined Los Angeles to the gleaming sterile white of Skynet’s headquarters. The character models, human and robot alike, are exceptionally well-animated. It’s so detailed that John Connor in this game actually resembles Christian Bale. The level of graphical production in Terminator Salvation is easily on par with most Sony PSP or Nintendo DS games, and even the musical cues are of movie-level quality.
The only real disappointment in Terminator Salvation is that it ends too soon. Unlockable concept art and achievements are nice extras, but they don’t add significant value to the game the way a few more levels would. The entire game can be completed in about two hours, but you’ll probably want to replay these missions with the Terminator you unlock as a reward for beating the game. This bulky monster can’t use cover like John and Marcus, but it looks absurdly intimidating.
Terminator Salvation has just about everything we’d want in an action game based on a big-budget sci-fi flick. It’s so much fun that we’re hoping more missions will be added in a future update. Even with its brief running time, Terminator Salvation is definitely worth the $10 asking price. It gives us hope for the future of 3D action games on the iPhone and iPod Touch.