There's a moment in Terminator: Resistance when the whole experience gels together and the game absolutely nails the vibe of the original movie. You're attempting to make contact with a local resistance unit - who've been captured by Skynet and are being held in a dilapidated old building. Sneaking inside by night, using your torch and your infrared camera, you get your first look at a T800 model Terminator. It's patrolling, stalking the hallways. It's upright and it's vigilant, and it's armed to the teeth. The synth soundtrack is muted, lending another layer to the darkness. The shotgun in your hands feels very small - and you're suddenly acutely aware that these things aren't to be messed with. And yet, several hours later, you'll be laughing in the faces of the killing machines; gunning them down in droves with the same plasma rifles you dreaded being fired in your direction.
I finished Terminator: Resistance this weekend. The high level headline, I guess, is that I quite enjoyed it - even if it suffered from some pretty glaring flaws. The overall impression it left me with was that it's a better addition to the overall Terminator canon than most of the more recent films. As a game though, it seemed to go out of its way to contradict itself in ways that didn't always entirely make sense.
The game takes place entirely in the ruined future that the franchise established right in the opening shots of the first movie. Judgment Day has taken place, and Skynet's machines have been systematically annihilating the human race. You play the role of a resistance fighter trying to survive at the start of the game - eventually assisting John Connor's army in the final assault on the Skynet defence grid; the collapse of which is referred to in the first movie as the event immediately preceding Kyle Reece's trip back in time to 1984. Without wanting to spoil too much of the game's plot, there are some limited time-travelling shenanigans involved - although the 'twist' at the end was hinted at so strongly through the course of the narrative that I'd sussed it out multiple hours before the big moment arrived. It wasn't bad, as such - just predictable for anyone who knows the narrative beats of the franchise. Speaking of references to the movies... they're everywhere - especially the first. The wreckage of the restaurant Sarah Connor worked in is there. The trucks in the game resemble the one used at the end of the first movie. The dogs in the resistance shelter, the sounds of the plasma rifles and mechanical groans of the machines moving around... It's all there - and the soundtrack rounds it off nicely. It feels like a real labour of love; a game put together for fans of the movies by developers who were fans of the movies.
So, the setting and the narrative are fine. What of the game itself? Well, that's where the experience gets dragged down a bit. It's not a bad game by any stretch of the imagination - but it does feel a bit muddled and confused at times. For a game that's primarily a first person shooter with an apparently linear narrative, it dips quite hard into RPG mechanics - and they never really feel as though they pay off.
Carrying out pretty much any activity will earn you XP, while each level up will net you a skill point that you can use to level up a branch of your skill tree. All the usual things are there; there's a lockpicking skill, a hacking skill, one that boosts your XP earning rate called 'Fast Learner' (one of many apparent nods to the Fallout series of games - the most obvious of which is lock picking feature, which is basically identical to that found in Bethesda's RPG series), while others boost the amount of damage you can take or the amount of damage your weapons do. It's all pretty standard stuff - but to be honest it all felt a little unnecessary. I allocated skill points pretty evenly across all the different options over the course of my playthrough. I never came across a door I couldn't unlock, and I only ever came across one chest I couldn't open via hacking - making me wonder how many different routes through various levels are actually closed off or opened up to you by this system. I may be wrong... but I suspect that it isn't many.
The movement feels a little stiff, and the shooting is serviceable but notably less fluid than a lot of more recent first person shooters - the game relying a lot on its atmosphere and narrative to carry the player through it. All of that, to be honest, was... fine. As I've said, the game nailed the atmosphere it was aiming for, and the narrative was enough to make me push on through it. It's in the moment-to-moment gameplay though that some odd decisions present themselves. Night vision goggles, acquired early in the game, allow you spot distant enemies through walls - and for a game that has such a massive potential for giving you the feeling of being hunted and pursued, it's a mechanic that really damages the immersion. A terminator is a lot less threatening when you can watch it through a wall and see where it's going, and then navigate yourself into a position where it won't spot you. Some levels seemed to dish out more ammunition than I could ever fire, while others starved me of it to the point that I was constantly backtracking and scrounging. Whether intentional or a result of my own uneven playing style, I'm not sure - but the effect was jarring.
I think it's fair to say that I enjoyed Terminator: Resistance a lot more than I anticipated. It's a lot more fun than a lot of reviews would leave you to believe. That said though, the tricks it misses were the ones that left me imagining what could have been. An Alien: Isolation style experience, where you're systematically hunted by a Terminator is something that my mind keeps wandering back to as I write this. This game hints at that in some areas, but then steps away - almost as if it was afraid to embrace that concept too hard. It's a game that is fun in spite of not being as good as it could have been - a solid 7/10 that comes in, tells you a story, gives you an experience, and then ends. We all need games like that occasionally - and if you're a fan of the series it's definitely worth your time.
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