Genre: Run-‘N-Gun Developer: Virgin Games Publisher: Virgin Games Players: 1 Released: 1992
In 1984 a very young and crazily ambitious James Cameron, who would later go on to become the self-proclaimed “king of the world” thanks to the massive box office draw Titanic and its chart topping Celine Dion theme song, made the risky decision to transform the apocalyptic omens he experienced in a sweaty fever-induced nightmare into a low-budget sci-fi action movie. Cameron did the right thing, as the film’s creepy atmosphere, inventive action scenes and frantic warnings of an impending nuclear holocaust scored big with a movie audience coming of age in an era marked by Reagan’s Star Wars program, Chernobyl, the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster and the decimation brought upon by the shattering ground zero of AIDS.
About a decade later, Virgin Games followed in the footsteps of Mindscape (who published abysmally awful Terminator games for NES and SNES) and released an action game based on the hit movie for the Sega Genesis, Sega CD and Game Gear systems. The excellent Sega CD version was one of the ill-fated platform’s oft-overlooked and much-needed highlights and should not be confused with the cartridge version released for the Genesis. Both put you in the role of human throwback Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn in the movie) who travels from the future to 1984’s L.A. to protect Sarah Connor, the woman who will give birth to the leader of the future resistance and is “targeted for termination” by Skynet, the machine bent on enslaving and exterminating the human race. Both also use brief cut scenes with images and text from the movie to precede each level and set the right mood.
The game is comprised of four levels: the future, downtown L.A. ( including the scene in the Tech Noir club), the police station and the Cyberdine factory. The level and character designs are very reminiscent of the movie, right down to Reese’s outfit changing from combat gear in level one to a dirty trenchcoat in the rest of the game.
The gameplay is pretty straightforward and doesn’t deviate too much from the classic run-‘n-gun arcade genre, except that in level one you have to solve a little puzzle in order to be able to proceed to the past. You have to carefully place a time-controlled explosive that goes off after you leave the lab so Skynet won’t be able to send yet another murderous cyborg through the time traveling machine. The controls are not bad but don’t expect the smoothness of Aladdin, another Virgin Games title for the Genesis. In fact, you’ll often find yourself getting pulverized by machines in level one simply because you were trying to get used to the awkward control scheme. The game would have been much more playable and enjoyable with tighter and more responsive controls, especially since the Sega CD version controls much smoother. My guess is that it was released after the Genesis version and Virgin remedied some of these problems for it.
Terminator has beautiful graphics that are up to par with the majority of Genesis titles released after 1992. Most of the first generation Genesis games like Dick Tracy and Rambo III had grainy visuals that were often only a little nicer to look at then Master System games of the late eighties; however, after Sonic the Hedgehog (and after facing the harsh reality of no longer being the only 16-bit machine on the market), developers started pushing the hardware to pull off stunts like Sonic 2, Streets of Rage 2 and Mega Turrican. The backgrounds are colorful with nice details here and there such as the police cars driving by in level two. The sprites are nicely drawn but sadly there is little variety in the goons you’ll encounter.
The music is another highlight of the game. Whereas the CD version has a more rock-oriented soundtrack, for the cartridge the developers created atmospheric high energy beats (which are more fitting) and subsequently went nuts with the Genesis soundchip’s drum computer.
Unfortunately, the game is painfully short and pales in comparison to the CD version which has several levels set in the future with a rich variety of Terminators (including robot dogs) to gun down and a seperate level at the Tech Noir club. If you’re a huge fan of the Terminator and of the artful symmetry found in the first two cult movies, you’ll be more than happy to own two different versions of the game for your favorite Sega system, Years after their releases, they shouldn’t be too difficult or expensive to obtain. If you’re a Sega CD owner who’s just looking for a decent action game, there’s no need to purchase this cartridge since the much richer CD game makes it virtually obsolete.