Game titles linked to Movies have generally obtained a bad press. For many years gamers have been stuck with bland experiences that barely represent their cinematic inspirations. However, there are a few gems that prove that movie tie-ins can enhance the narrative experience and extend it considerably. This is the case with The Terminator game which released on the Mega-CD on March 8th, 1993. This is more than just a retelling of the James Cameron film, it also delves into the future war which we were only tantalized with. This is one of the best concepts in licensed games, delving deeper into a chapter that is only hinted at through flashbacks (or rather, flash-forwards).
Taking the role of Kyle Reese, the hero of the movie and father of future resistance leader and savior of mankind, John Connor. You have been sent back in time to protect John’s mother, Sarah Connor and defeat a cybernetic killing machine called The Terminator. This mechanical assassin has been sent back to kill Sarah Connor and retroactively removing the human threat by removing her before she gives birth to John. If John is never born, then the machines win and Skynet takes over the future. You can’t let that happen and in typical Sci-Fi fashion you set out to save the future by shooting the hell out of mechanical nasties.
Before he can do all this, however, Kyle has to get to the time machine. The first levels see our hero fighting robots and other futuristic baddies across fields of skulls. Eventually, you will make your way to the factory and begin your time-traveling mission. These sections of the game fill in some of the gaps from the original movie. Until recently this is a section of the Terminator narrative not featured in most of the movies and games in the franchise so this is fairly exciting for fans.
The gameplay reminds me of the early Contra game titles. Kyle is a fairly dynamic character, he can run, duck, jump and shoot his way through the various levels. The creative and authentic level design helps this game stand out from the other shoot em ups. The stages are more complex than the likes of Contra but not as labyrinthine as Turrican. It’s still action-orientated and there are lots of enemies to shoot, however, you do need to think through the level to progress. There’s a powerful shift in tone once you travel back in time. The ’80’s theme and nostalgia hits hard and almost offers an almost whole new experience for the player.
Graphics and Sound
From the moment that Kyle runs through a dilapidated building. It’s obvious that the developers have put a lot of care into giving us smooth but swift animation. Kyle’s fluid leg movement and trenchcoat billowing are evidence of some of the best sprite work that consoles have ever seen. I mention the speed of the animation due to the comparison to other highly polished games of the era such as Prince of Persia. These titles looked silky but they controlled sluggishly, Kyle in comparison responds immediately to the player’s controls. The early levels are sparsely populated due to the nature of the future war. This changes in later levels as we are faced with some imaginative enemies such as robotic hounds, mohawk punks and police officers. Each of these is animated beautifully.
In addition to this slick animation, The Terminator features a vibrant color scheme and imaginative backgrounds. Even the apocalyptic sections feature appealing details, such as the moon shining above the blue skies, smoke arising from abandoned campfires, lightning bolts flashing in the distance and piles of skulls scrolling by in a cool parallax style. The graphics help with the authentic ‘Terminator’ feeling, the characters look like their cinematic representations. The Mega-CD version also features grainy FMV ripped from the movie, not groundbreaking nowadays, this was a powerful storytelling device in the early ’90s.
The Sound design and Soundtrack are designed by genius Tommy Tallarico. His tracks such as Metamorphosis and Visions with their reverberating percussion and rhythmic staccato notes really help to add to the atmosphere.
Virgin Interactive could have made a simple action game that only follows the events of the movie, but by exploring Kyle’s early years in the future war we are given a better understanding of the narrative. It’s graphical detail and high octane action makes The Terminator a must-have title for the Mega CD.
Looking at one of the best-regarded movie tie-ins of the ’90s, The Terminator is an expanded journey through the narrative of the movie. Featuring smooth animation and authentic environments, this game is a must-have title.
Chris McAuley is a Northern Irish born author, comic book and gaming columnist who has now branched out from talking about comics to helping create them. An acclaimed colourist for 2000 AD and Marvel he has worked on flagship titles such as Judge Dredd, Roy of the Rovers and Hulkverines. Chris also has a commitment to the Indie scene being an inker and colourist for ‘The Lang Way Hame’ a Scottish comic which is tipped for an award later this year. With close ties to heroes of the industry such as the ‘Godfather of British comics’ Pat Mills and Spawn creator Todd McFarlene,