Terminator: Dawn of Fate

Read our hands-on report of Infogrames' Terminator game, which serves as a prequel to the original Terminator movie.

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The robot designs in the game are exceptionally well done.
The robot designs in the game are exceptionally well done.

Unlike the original Terminator, few movie franchises are revered almost two decades after they debut.But a full 10 years after the last installment in the series hit theaters, the public's outcry has convinced Arnold Schwarzenegger to take up the torch once again and return to the role for which he is best known. Oddly enough, planning for the Terminator video games at Paradigm Studios began in earnest long before the third movie was announced. As a result, the upcoming games will not feature the same plot or settings as their theatrical counterparts and will instead act as a prequel to the first Terminator movie. However, this has given the team at Paradigm plenty of room for creativity, resulting in a game that lays the foundation for the Terminator storyline while providing a unique yet engaging plot that Paradigm hopes will keep players on the edge of their seats.

As the prequel to one of the greatest action flicks of all time, Paradigm has quite a bit of responsibility in developing Terminator: Dawn of Fate. The development house is responsible for creating not only the back history for the property, but also the machines, characters, and tales that compose it. To this end, Paradigm has already done an admirable job. The story takes place just as Skynet has invented the first humanoid terminator. John Connor's army of humans, Tech Com, must beat Skynet to a time machine before the sinister corporation uses the device for its own bidding. But this is just the primary plotline--a variety of subplots add tension to the proceedings and help keep the tension at a maximum throughout. At the game's outset, one of Tech Com's leaders defects to Skynet after finding that his brother, a former Tech Com soldier, was left on the battlefield to die. The traitor, Alexander Stone, quickly becomes the game's primary antagonist next to Skynet itself. But ultimately, Dawn of Fate's underlying theme is the future struggle of man vs. machine.

The game sports some impressive lighting effects.
The game sports some impressive lighting effects.

During the course of Terminator: Dawn of Fate, you'll play as three different characters, but none of them bear likeness to actual characters in any of the movies. Apparently, there are separate licenses required for the franchise names and characters, and Infogrames has managed to secure only the former. Despite a lack of recognizable likenesses in the game, Paradigm has still managed to assemble a motley crew of playable characters. Kyle Reese is the gung-ho militant who will stop at nothing to crush Skynet under his combat boot, Katherine Luna is the femme fatale, and the boy whom Arnold protected in Terminator 2, John Connor, has taken up his destiny as leader of the resistance.

Much like Capcom's Devil May Cry, Dawn of Fate is played from a third-person perspective with an array of dynamic camera angles. And also like with Capcom's demon hunter, you can send your character in any direction you choose with the analog stick. In the early build we played, the quick camera angle changes took a while to become accustomed to, but the developer stated that this will be reconciled by the game's ship date. The rest of the control scheme is workable: The X button shoots your weapons, the B button makes you roll, the Y button reloads, and the A button lets you attack in a hand-to-hand style. To switch weapons, you must hold down the white button and then use either the directional pad or analog stick to select your armament from a menu. Pressing the black button lets you shoot from a first-person perspective, but you're unable to move while doing so--leaving you vulnerable to attack.

Any third-person action game wouldn't be much without a vast arsenal to pull weapons on hand--and neither would a Terminator game. Thankfully, fans of both the genre and the movies will be impressed with the 15 weapons available in Dawn of Fate. You'll get your hands on a wide selection of real-world weapons and explosives, including an auto pistol, an assault rifle, a rocket launcher, a PCM 400, canister bombs, and C4. You'll even get to fire advanced alien weaponry like pulse cannons, as well as wield advanced melee weapons like the plasma baton. All the weapons in the game automatically lock onto targets, and if you have weapons in both hands, you'll be able to fire both at once. Hand-to-hand skills are also a part of the equation--your sweeping kicks can knock down your opponents, allowing you to finish them off with a bash from the plasma baton. So far, the combat is a bit unbalanced--you can fill a terminator full of lead, and it will keep coming, but a simple drop kick and a bash from the plasma baton is often much more effective.

The close quarters in the indoor environments add a lot of tension to the game.
The close quarters in the indoor environments add a lot of tension to the game.

In addition to the traditional attacking methods, Terminator includes an alternate attack mode. Dubbed the adrenaline mode, the move is triggered by the right shoulder button. Once initiated, the screen becomes blurred and your character's attack power is drastically increased. Your character will also have the ability to perform moves that he or she could not perform before, particularly in the hand-to-hand area. Adrenaline mode is governed by your character's adrenaline meter, which grows as you attack enemies. If you are trapped in a corner or are being overwhelmed with enemies, you can activate adrenaline mode and clean house. Even in its early stages of development, one thing that Terminator already does well is providing plenty of ways to dispose of enemies.

While the wide-open areas give you a bit more breathing room, they also give the larger robots plenty of space to chase you down.
While the wide-open areas give you a bit more breathing room, they also give the larger robots plenty of space to chase you down.

Speaking of which, you encounter 18 different types of foes in the game. In the early going, they lumber along as you come to grips with the fighting mechanics. But as the game wears on, they move faster, attack more intelligently, and block your attacks. Most of the enemies in the game are robots of some kind, and the primary drone enemy that litters each level looks to be a crude version of the original terminators, with glowing eyes. Many times, you'll have to fight through several of them to reach a switch you have to activate, only to have them respawn. Six larger droids are reserved for boss fights across the game's 11 levels, with each level consisting of up to seven objectives--making for quite a long to-do list. Level objectives include protecting fellow Tech Com soldiers while they perform specific jobs or activating switches that open up new portions of each level. With four difficulty settings--including a "terminal" difficulty that must be unlocked, as well as unlockable skins and cheats--Dawn of Fate might end up having more replay value than the average action game. While a multiplayer mode could also add to the game's longevity, Paradigm stated that it currently has no plans to include one.

As mentioned earlier, the lead characters in Terminator do not resemble their theatrical counterparts. So don't expect to be playing as Arnie or any of the other familiar faces from the movies. The human character designs used for the game so far are adequate, but the robots really steal the show. In choosing to do a prequel, Paradigm was charged with the task of creating all the robots and environments for the game from scratch. The resulting postapocalyptic world is convincing thanks to its dark shadows, destroyed military outposts, and abandoned cars, but it's the primitive look of the bots that place the game in time. The lighting in the game is already put to good use by setting the proper tone, and the characters in the Xbox version of Terminator feature self-shadowing for added depth. Weapons emit real-time lighting that follows your shots as they jettison down a hallway. Dawn of Fate features a host of scripted events to create the illusion of a living, breathing world that takes place independent of your character. You'll come up on soldiers performing CPR on their allies or organizing themselves into squadrons.

You'll find a large arsenal of weapons to use in the game.
You'll find a large arsenal of weapons to use in the game.

When things get hectic, there will be up to seven enemies onscreen at once, yet the frame rate predominantly holds steady. When your character is fighting in adrenaline mode, there's a nice motion-blurring effect that is used, but there's just one variety of explosion for enemies included in the game so far. The animation also looks a bit rough around the edges at present. Some of the baton attacks look particularly awkward, and the enemies are relegated to just a few animation routines so far. Besides the self-shadowing that was mentioned earlier, other graphical upgrades for the Xbox version of Terminator include higher resolution textures, more polygons for weapon models, environmental mapping for reflective objects, and bump mapping. In the early version we played, the bump mapping and environmental mapping had yet to be implemented.

Hand-to-hand combat is a very effective way to deal with the enemies you encounter.
Hand-to-hand combat is a very effective way to deal with the enemies you encounter.

The music for the game has still yet to be finalized, but what's included so far is essentially '80s hair rock with wailing guitars and crunchy bar chord riffs. A military theme plays occasionally, complete with rolling snare drums. According to the developer, there will be three primary themes used throughout the game when the sound is finished. Even in the early build we received, the music changed on the fly, building in intensity when you entered combat and gradually diminishing as the enemies were disposed of. The voice acting at this point is predominantly placeholder until Paradigm decides on the talent to use. The scriptwriting seems solid so far, albeit a bit wordy. Also, don't expect to hear phrases like the famous "I'll be back," since Infogrames' license does not allow for it.

Because of its use of dramatic camera angles and analog controls, Paradigm is going to have its hands full when it comes time to squash the camera bugs. Just a few of the game's 11 levels were playable in the version we received, and even they have several instances in which the camera and controls fail to cooperate with each other. Terminator's graphics engine is strong, with plenty of effects going on and polygons being pushed, and the art design is consistent with what you'd expect from a game bearing such a license. Terminator: Dawn of Fate is currently scheduled for release this summer, but the version we were shown seems fairly early, so take that release date with a grain of salt. Look for an update on Terminator from E3 next month.

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