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Terminator: Dawn of Fate Review
game: Terminator: Dawn of Fate
two star
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Infogrames
date posted: 09:10 AM Fri Nov 1st, 2002
last revision: 06:34 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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Terminator: Dawn of Fate is a cinematic masterpiece. Every moment of the game is saturated with a brooding, ominous, downright scary atmosphere. The levels are punctuated with finely rendered cut scenes that immerse you in the futuristic nightmare world of the film. For Terminator fans, this could have been the game that made us a part of one of the greatest sci-fi stories of all time. If only the game itself wasn\'t absolutely unplayable.

The story is that of humanity\'s final showdown with Skynet. You must face down HKs, hordes of endos, and fully disguised infiltrator cyborgs in order to get Kyle Reese to the time displacer so that he can travel back to 1984, act like a lunatic, get arrested, save Sarah Connor, and father a revolution. Reese\'s allies in this fight are Justin Perry, a tattooed uber-soldier; Catherine Luna, an armored femme fatale; Alexander Stone; and the man himself, John Connor.

In terms of presentation, this game is working overtime. The developers went to great lengths to accurately portray the somewhat cheesy, low-budget, yet thoroughly awesome post-apocalyptic landscape James Cameron created in the first film. This is it, from the sleek HK design with their purple laser beams to the skulls crunching beneath the treads of tanks.

It doesn\'t hurt that the graphics are terrific. The quality of the cut scenes takes this game to a level that challenges the special effects of the film. And these aren\'t your typical between-level flash and sizzle cinematics. They are story driven scenes that are peppered throughout the game. The in-game characters and environments are quite good. Special effects like lighting, shadows, laser blasts, explosions, the sheen on the metal endo-skeletons, are all impressive. The only drawback I can think of is Reese\'s head. The programmers weren\'t allowed to use the likeness of either Arnold Schwarzenegger or Michael Bein, but they went a little too far when they traded in Reese\'s movie star good looks for a grizzled freak sporting a Dragonball Z knockoff hairdo.

The sound is top shelf. First of all, they incorporated the original theme music into the game. It says something that this familiar, foreboding, electronic score, along with a big \'T\' and a number in a teaser trailer can get your blood pumping, and it makes all the difference here. Also, the voice acting is very solid, lending credibility to the story.

The atmosphere is amplified by the twitchy, ammunition-starved gameplay that makes you wary of what lies around every corner. The gameplay, in theory, is actually fairly well conceived. It is a third person action shooter with ten massive levels. You begin each mission with a few simple goals-escorting John Connor through a war zone, for example. Then, through exploration or contact with other characters, you add more taxing assignments, all while taking on an onslaught of merciless machines. There are several kinds of weapons and explosives at your disposal, and adrenaline boosts when you need a temporary rush of power. At the end of each level you are able to use Skynet Tech Points that are acquired in the field to purchase upgrades to your health, armor, ammo, and adrenaline.

The game all but disintegrates on the level of gameplay execution, however. Every level of performance is flawed, beginning with a horrible camera system. The game tries to implement a fixed position camera like that of Resident Evil, but can\'t make it work at all. The levels are divided into way too many angles, which are all extremely limited. I swear that nine times out of ten I couldn\'t even see the enemies that were attacking me. This is unacceptable in any situation, but it is especially brutal in a twitch-fest action game like this. The camera angles are also extremely incongruous. One shot will often be followed by its exact opposite perspective. So, you can be walking down the hall, pressing forward on your analogue stick when poof, the camera jumps to the other side, forward becomes backward, and you run into a wall. Or worse, you are running away from a group of robots when the camera shifts and you inadvertently turn around and run right into them.

There are two methods of target acquisition in the game and neither one works particularly well. There is the lock-on method, which lets you lock onto a target and hold it while you dodge and strafe. Problem is it never locks onto the target you want. More often than not it will lock onto a guy across the hall while the guy right in front of your face is beating you senseless. Sometimes it will even lock onto an enemy that is protected by an obstacle, who you can\'t possibly hit anyway. Letting go and pressing the button again will not necessarily move your reticule to the next target, either. The other method is switching to a fixed first person perspective, but it is too slow and unresponsive to do much good.

To add insult to injury, the game really doesn\'t follow the same logic as the action in the movie, either. If Reese couldn\'t take out a single Terminator on his own, you wouldn\'t expect him to survive being trapped in a room with a dozen of them. I know; an action game like this pretty much requires that you do battle with multiple opponents, but couldn\'t the programmers have used the actual infiltrators a little more sparingly? They are just way too easy to take out. Consider that your characters have hand-to-hand combat moves and carry plasma batons. The plasma baton, which is basically a glorified cattle prod, can kill a Terminator with only a few hits--or one good stab if the robot is down. You can knock one on its can with a good sweep kick, then stab it with your little electric stick and the fight is over. Imagine how exciting that movie would be: Reese travels back in time, kills the Terminator in two swift moves, knocks up Sarah, celebrates with a burger and fries.

The Xbox and PS2 versions of Dawn of Fate are virtually identical, with no difference in levels or special features. The only differences are those that we have come to expect from the two systems-the PS2 suffers from a loss in textures, a slow down in frame rate when the action gets crowded, and longer load times. The Xbox\'s processing power and hard drive win every time.

I wish I could recommend this game for Terminator fans who would at least want to experience the story. However, as is the case with so many other prequels, I believe the back-story involving the defeat of Skynet works better as exactly that-a back-story. After all, when you remove Sarah Connor from the story, as love interest or mother figure, it loses its heart. Kyle Reese and John Connor become stone-faced soldiers, servants to the war against the machines. How involving can it be to watch cold-hearted warriors face off against soulless robots and an advanced AI computer? There\'s little in the way of the human condition to latch onto here. And when you mix that with a camera system that makes walking in a straight line impossible, a targeting system that actually wants to kill you, and a combat system that works against the driving dynamic of the story, Terminator: Dawn of Fate becomes, in a word, unplayable.