Atari hasn't had much luck up to this point with its license for Terminator 3, the last installment in the Terminator film franchise, starring longtime action hero and current California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox was a substandard first-person shooter, riddled with bugs and distinctly low on production value. On the PC, Terminator 3: War of the Machines was a team-based online shooter that had absolutely no dedicated server support, a practically nonexistent offline single-player mode, and even more bugs than its console-based brethren. The last of Atari's 2003 lineup for the T3 franchise is Rise of the Machines for the Game Boy Advance. The GBA version of Rise of the Machines is a third-person shooter, played with an isometric camera view. Of all the T3 games released this year, Rise of the Machines for the GBA is easily the best one; but once you get beyond comparisons to the rest of the motley Terminator 3 bunch, the game doesn't hold up on its own merits.
In Rise of the Machines, you once again take on the role of Arnold Schwarzenegger's model 101 T-800 series Terminator. Your basic controls as the Terminator give you two distinct weapon abilities--one for shooting your current weapon and the other for throwing and planting explosive devices and for punching when you have no explosives equipped. Using the left trigger button, you can also make the Terminator walk, run, or strafe, and the select button puts him into a scan mode that turns the screen red and helps you detect otherwise hidden people and objects.
There's a nice variety of weapons in the game, each with multiple degrees of firepower. However, some of them feel a little too overpowered for the level of challenge the game generally puts forth. This is especially notable with the punching function, which does more damage than more than half your guns and explosives. The only real difficulty with shooting comes from the game's isometric camera view, which can make it a bit difficult to line up your target properly. This isn't much of a factor when you have a gun with a wider firing range, but when you're using weaker guns, it can be rather frustrating.
The game loosely follows the same type of story arc that the console versions did. You start off in the movie's bleak, postapocalyptic future, where the human resistance sends you back in time to help protect John Connor, the leader of the resistance, from an evil female terminator who is programmed to kill him before he can lead the human uprising against the machines. The game's 12 missions are split up half and half between the future and the present, though ultimately, the difference in time period is really the only difference you'll notice between any of them.
Though Rise of the Machines gives you some varying types of mission objectives, they all essentially revolve around running through a level, killing everything in sight, and then maybe hitting a switch or protecting someone briefly while he or she hacks a computer. Some objectives literally take no longer than 20 seconds, and others can go on for several minutes. Most levels are also fairly easy, mainly because none of the game's enemies are particularly tough. It takes only a couple of shots to bring down nearly every regular enemy in the game. Bosses take more hits to destroy, but their attack patterns are usually quite easy to decipher, so they're also fairly simple to take out. Additionally, the game loads you up with weapon and energy power-ups to an almost gluttonous degree, leaving you with little worry about ever dying. The single-player story mode ends up being only a couple of hours long.
Terminator 3 also has a multiplayer mode, with two different types of games. Using the GBA link cable, you can play a two-player co-op game, where you and a friend play together through a single level, wasting as many enemies as you can. There is also a capture-the-flag mode for up to four players, where you have to track down a flag that's hidden in a level and bring it back to your designated base point. The winner is the one with the most captures. While both of these modes are a nice idea conceptually, their execution fails altogether. The capture-the-flag mode can be rather confusing, since you'll constantly have to travel between sections in the level using teleport points, which don't actually tell you where you'll end up, and it's pretty easy to end up wandering around with the flag for a minute or so, trying to figure out where your base is, only to get popped at the last second by an opponent. The co-op mode is just flat-out boring. It's just the same thing over and over again: Enemies spawn, you shoot them all until they stop spawning, and then you move to the next room, which looks exactly like the first. Again, the multiplayer component is a nice idea, but the hasty and subpar execution of the mode essentially renders it useless.
Terminator 3's graphics are also below average. The game does a few nice things here and there, with some neat-looking explosions and occasionally cool enemy designs. For the most part, though, everything else just looks pretty nasty and underdeveloped. The game's levels are all primarily linear in design, though there are lots of wide, barren spaces where you'll generally find yourself just wandering around with little, if anything, going on in the background. The areas that do have real backgrounds don't look all that great, and most of them repeat a lot of the same elements over and over. The Terminator himself doesn't look good at all, and if it weren't for the token sunglasses on his face, you'd barely even know it was supposed to be Arnold. Animations are limited to only the most basic movement functions, giving everything a very stiff feel. The game's audio is a little better than everything else in the game, though only marginally. At no point does the infamous Terminator theme song appear in the game, but the in-game tracks that are included are pretty good and set the proper atmosphere. Each gun has its own distinct sound effect, and the various "robot" noises enemy Terminators make are also adequate for what the game is trying to get across.
Though the GBA version of Rise of the Machines does fare better than any other Terminator 3 game to date, it still suffers from a lot of the same problems the other T3 games did, including the feel that the game was simply rushed through production as fast as possible to cash in on the license at the right time. There are many other shooters available for the Game Boy Advance that are better and less thrown-together than Terminator 3, and as such, it really isn't worth your time.