Terminator Salvation video game review: Slightly longer than the movie

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I normally don't like trashing games because of length. I think if a game is fun and well-made and sucks you in, it almost doesn't matter how long it takes to play it. I love my scores of hours spent on Fallout 3, but I also love the condensed fun of a well-constructed shooter or action game like Call of Duty (OK, not a perfect analogy, because Call of Duty has all that great multi-player, but I would have bought Call of Duty 4 just for that single player campaign, it was that good). Hell, a lot of the time I like a short game – 6 hours I can devote to really getting into it and having a complete experience. So I'm no short game hater. But Terminator Salvation? Come the hell on! That wasn't a game, that was 1/3rd of a game. That was DLC. That was a demo.

The game is a prequel to the new movie, which still makes it a sequel to the older movies and the TV show. You play as a young adult John Conner, who hasn't yet taken on leadership in the Resistance against Skynet. I kind of thought the whole point was that John Conner would start the Resistance, but whatever, fine. In this game you're just one of the guys, out in the wilds of post Judgement Day Los Angeles, blowing up robots. When you get a distress call from some fellow Resistance fighters, your commanding officer won't risk the lives of the many to save a stranded and doomed few. But you're John Conner damnit, and you'll leave no human life behind to those machines. The rest of the game is about traversing Terminator-controlled L.A. and saving those stranded but apparently well-ensconced soldiers from certain mechanized doom.

The core of the game is a perfectly fine cover based, third person shooter. You've got machine guns, shot guns, and explosives (thrown and launched flavors) at your disposal, usually scavenged from dead human who went before you. The game's one innovation is that most of the Terminators are tough to take down head on, so you have to flank them while your squad-mates attack from another angle. That's fun and offers a little but of strategy. There are also at least three different turret or rails shooter sections, which are just as annoying as those kinds of sequences usually are. By the end, you're fighting hordes of the toughest Terminators, but the rooms are so stocked with pipe bombs and RPGs that you don't even need to bother flanking anymore. Before you know it, boom, the game's over.

I'm talking like maybe four hours of game play here. One evening of entertainment. The levels are all very short and there are only eight of them. Sometimes, like with the turret sequences, that's a blessing. Sometimes it's over just as it's getting good. The simple, dull as dishwater story moves you along from set piece to set piece as you set what's supposed to be an inspiring example for the rest of humanity but ended up inducing yawns and sighs of resentment from me. It really does feel like half a game, rushed to meet a production deadline so it could hit store shelves the week of the movie. I didn't mind how short the developer Grin's other movie tie-in, Wanted: Weapons of Fate, was because at least that offered some exciting new action styles. This game is just more of the same, nary an ounce of inspiration or excitement to be found in it.

The only good thing about this game, really, is that it pours X-Box Live Achievement points down your throat with a fire hose – you'll get 820/1000 for just playing it through on normal difficulty. The full 1000 if you play on hard. Even on something as simple as achievements the developers took the lazy way out. If you're an achievement whore like me, it's a fun enough four hours to make it worth an $8 rental fee. If you're not, pass on this cheap, cynical movie cash-in. It's just too damn short.

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