Friday, January 31, 2014

VGR The Terminator (PC)

One of the very first classic 3D First Person Shooters on the computer!

Finally remembered and brought back to the world courtesy from yours truly!

VGR: The Terminator (1990)
From Bethesda Softworks
Played on PC (DOS)
Also available on /

Type Open world/FPS
Year 1990

Published by Bethesda Softworks in 1990, The Terminator was one of their very first games, actually their fourth developed game.

While no earlier game came out from the 1984 original Terminator film, the guys at Bethesda saw the potential in the franchise and made sure to get the license right when work for the development of a sequel began. That's right, this DOS game was the first official Terminator video game. They actually sublicensed the rights for the home console videogames (by Virgin).

Entirely written in old school assembly, with over 35'000 lines of code, this game offered a very unique "first person" experience at a time 3D seemed a really huge futuristic challenge. The game feature not less than 20'000 3D objects, with over 700 frames of animation, it was one of the most impressive and complexe games at the time. Instead of featuring the usual screen-by-screen representation of classic dungeon crawlers and other early 3-D "FPS", it actually featuring a real 3D environment!

Like in the movie, our story begins in Los Angeles 2029 A.D. The future war between men and machines is ravaging the Earth, humanity is almost running it course tired of decades of war.

But it all begins here. In the present. Tonight...

WHAT THE...?!?

Okay. It actually all begins in what appears to be a sunny day in downtown Los Angeles.

In this version of the events shown in the first Terminator film you can either choose to play as The Terminator or Kyle Reese.

Both "campaigns" feature their own original principal objective. But after that it's up to you to either play around or track down your target.

You see the game actually features a huge 3D-rendered LA, with over 10x6 miles (60 square miles) of the real life Los Angeles. That's roughly 16x10 km for the rest of the world.

From Beverly Drive to Mulholland Drive, going through National Boulevard. You can find several familiar buildings, streets and landmarks such as the Dodger Stadium, Griffith Park and a lot more!

That's why the game comes with this very handy game map in the original box:

- and several other helpful little notices. But the only one you really need to help you out around is the map. (and perhaps the cypher)

An actual in-game map is also available in the game. You can load up both either a nearby zoomed-in map or the above big green map to make your way through Los Angeles. Your character can fast travel around but you will usually encounter enemies by fast traveling on the huge map.

The game is sort of an arcade open world FPS (with little adventure game elements thrown in for good measure).

The Terminator's goal is to simply locate and eliminate Sarah Connor. The Terminator has access to a complicated HUD screen which indicates and points towards the location of Sarah Connor and other X, Y map placements and more.

Kyle Reese must both protect Sarah Connor and destroy the machine. A lot less clutter on the screen without the Terminator's complicated indications but also a much more complicated game. Sarah Connor can be killed while looking for your targets or telling her to run away. And the Terminator's is near-impossible to destroy...

A precursor to modern sand box games such as the GTA series and similar types, the game doesn't give you much information and forces you to follow anything really.

You can simply spend your time by goofing around.

It's an early attempt at an open world-type of game with no real story to speak of besides killing a couple targets. No levels. The game just drop you right in the middle of LA.

Some difficulty levels, which decide the way the enemies will get on your case. There's a "Full Game" mode and a "Short Game". The shorter play gives you randomized equipment, the full mode will have you work to get to your targets.

You want weapons? Find a weapon store either in the phone book or by accident. There's plenty of places around. Then you can either steal one of the several guns, but don't forget some ammunitions too, or buy those. Need cash? Why don't you simply rob a bank!

But doing that will attract the attention of the police.

You can also find several other stores to get some supplies (merely aesthetic, in your inventory screen, no real purpose behind that). Such as clothing (even though you can't see your character model, it's more of an imaginary-role playing-type of thing).

You can also find a military complex with hi-tech weaponry, etc.

The Terminator might not need band aids and other healthy items, but both characters can heal "body party" in the healing menu. But like the fast travel ability you will need to get out of fire, in a quiet hiding spot to do that. The more you use this healing ability the less points you will get (for the hi-score ranking).

There's also the Hospital were Kyle might need to drop by.

The idea is to wander around the civilians NPC, go around town. It's a constant game world, the address will never change it's the real LA, albeit in a simplistic 3-D rendition. With a cemetery, an airport, etc.

You can simply have fun left and right.

If you get in a shootout with the police, be careful.

You can save a load a game.

Sometimes you will encounter the Terminator, or vice-versa.

You can hijack cars to drive around.

They're kinda difficult to get around, it's like driving an actual car, using the gear, etc. Only hard since it uses like a dozen buttons...

And that's where the main problem lies in this game. Not its simplicity (you're the only one actually driving around, all the cars are stopped around town).

But the game uses quite complicated and unintuitive controls. There's like a zillion keys to just walk and interact with stuff. Then more for driving, doing stuff in the stores, etc.

You actually really need to print the keyboard layout on a paper sheet to be able to play this game correctly (I know it, I had to do that)!

And it's such a sloooooow game... I mean, even for the time. Even for the technology involved to make this game back in 1990.

Kyle Reese actually has 10 levels of speed, while his "running", level 10, only corresponds to most game's slowly walking. The Terminator only has 7 speed levels... And it's way too slow...

This was Bethesda Softworks' very first Terminator game, and it shows. They would go on to make many more much funner Terminator games. And even they later role-playing franchise would be based on some ideas presented in this very early first title.

There's certainly a fun immersive idea at the core concept of this game.

Not much sound effects and no proper music beside the Terminator theme song at the main screen.

Sarah Connor's heartbeat represented on the T-800's screen while looking for her.

It's a simple game to play but kind of difficult to get into or learn at first glance.

As the Terminator it's a very simple game, just wander around until you find one of your targets, one usually not that far from the other. You can even simply fast travel around until finding them.

As Kyle, you have to get to Sarah Connor no matter what, protect her from the T-800 and defeat a near-unkillable monster.

It's a great idea to be honest. The perfect Terminator translation into game. Which only really sounds much better than how it actually plays.

Bear in mind that it's a very simple game, despite the great technology behind it for the time. Playing in a very simplistic 3-D L.A., fighting off Playmobil -looking dudes.

And be careful not to end yourself drowning in a water spot you failed to notice while driving around... Ahnolds can't swim.

Overall, a unique experience in terms of game concept, kind of similar to how Ghostbusters featured an out-of-the-box idea to adapt a movie.

Its only real problems in my eyes aren't the dated engine, simplistic graphics and confusing gameplay really. But how slow and boring it can be, as well as how easy and short a game through can be.

I don't really think it aged that well. Certainly some alternate challenges, and more sounds and some music could have helped it.

Anyways, it's a great arcade-FPS experience, one of the very first games of this kind and should be remembered along the likes of Wolfenstein.

There's some great untapped potential in this game, if only it was remade nowadays with a much better game design and mechanics. And I'm not speaking necessary as a Terminator. Just the idea of tracking down your prey in a huge open environement, searching for your target. (As a Predator game maybe?)... I could imagine it as a massive online Terminator-type of game... sigh...

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Invaders!

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