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Revenge of the License – Terminator 2: Judgement Day

Terminator 2: Judgement Day was that rarest of Hollywood beasts, a sequel that surpasses the original film in almost every way. Naturally a film that made this much money and caused such a gigantic stir in the summer blockbuster crowd was bound to sell itself to the highest bidder when it came to the home console market. In this case, the owners of the Terminator franchise decided to double their pleasure. They licensed Acclaim to create a T2 arcade game, which resulted in the imaginatively named T2: The Arcade Game, a quarter-munching lightgun shooter. This was a good choice, and should be applauded. It’s also not the game we’re talking about today, because I missed last week’s deadline and my editor has made it clear that ‘being on vacation’ is no excuse for not getting any work done. So instead of writing about the cool game based on this property, we all get to suffer through 1993’s Terminator 2: Judgement Day on the Sega Genesis, created by Bits Studios (a subsidiary of Acclaim, which explains how they got the contract) and published by Flying Edge.

On second thought, don't start to play.

On second thought, don’t start to play.

Everyone needs to know right off the bat that Flying Edge was the LJN of the Sega Genesis world. With the exception of three titles (Arch-Rivals: The Arcade Game, Empire of Steel, and Super Smash T.V.), Flying Edge worked exclusively as a publisher to see that licensed games from franchises like The Simpsons and Robocop made it to store shelves in the Sega aisle. They had a run starting in 1991 with this game until presumably someone from the future sent a cyborg back to stop them from inflicting further damage to Sega’s already-shaky reputation in 1994.

Turn off the sound and hum Dwight Yoakam's "Guitars, Cadillacs"

Turn off the sound, hum “Guitars, Cadillacs,” and this scene is improved 200%.

Bits Studios has been referenced before in this series as the developers who crafted the Game Boy version of Alien 3. Sadly the rest of their catalog is nowhere near as praise-worthy, as these guys are also responsible for producing Last Action Hero, a licensed title so terrible I was threatened with six different varieties of bodily harm just for pitching an article about it during a meeting. (Note to self: people from Arkansas have no sense of humor.) Now, with all that out of the way, I’ve stalled for as long as I possibly can. If you haven’t hit the ‘Back’ button yet, I can only presume you’re in for the long haul.

Come with me if you want to grieve.

If the film Terminator 2: Judgement Day was a car, it would be a Ferrari.  If Terminator 2: Judgement Day for the Genesis was a car, it would be a pick-up truck, albeit one that was used by drunken rednecks to tear through your garden, demolish your mailbox, and turn donuts on your lawn–a custom we refer to as ‘yard ripping’, but have certainly never partaken in, especially on a spring night after a gentle rain back in April of 1995. It mixes arcade-style 2D side-scrolling gameplay with a few top-down, 3/4 view driving sequences, and the occasional adventure tidbit–given that’s basically the structure of the film itself this should be a winning combination. And yet, like stirring anchovies into your favorite ice cream flavor, Bits Studios decided mixing terrible controls, a number of non-intuitive challenges, and story additions that make no sense into the plot was the ideal way to pay homage to this film.

Our arch-nemesis makes his appearance.

Our arch-nemesis makes his appearance.

You play as the T-800, tasked with locating and protecting the future leader of the human resistance, John Connor, from violent death at the hands of any number of adversaries. The primary antagonist throughout this story is, of course, the T-1000 advanced prototype which is both faster and more indestructible than you. The main problem is that unlike the film, where the T-800 is basically one big damage-soaking badass, a video game made around this concept wouldn’t be very interesting to play, which is why every video game involving Superman gives him a life bar instead of just assuming invincibility from the outset. The developers mimic this effect by giving the T-800 a hefty life meter in the form of a percentage-based power gauge and ensuring that enemy attacks subtract only bare fractions from your reserves. Unfortunately this still puts us into a situation where a group of knife-wielding, pistol-packing bikers can completely wreck a robot programmed to do nothing but exterminate life from the moment of its activation. And until you get used to what the game expects and how it wants you to proceed, you will find this happening over and over and over again. There are two slight reprieves in that your power gauge refills to 100% upon the conclusion of each stage, and the first time you’re reduced to 0%, a reserve system kicks in to return you to 50% health, but good luck sustaining that in the midst of the never-ending bombardment you’ll receive from everyone on the west coast.

Motorcycles go boom after three hits, just FYI.

Motorcycles go boom after three hits, just FYI.

Those afore-mentioned adventure gaming aspects involve deducing how to fulfill a variety of requirements without the game bothering to explain how you do so, and generally require you to avoid certain things that the game absolutely will not warn you about. Granted once you know what those are and how to deal with them the game becomes a lot simpler, but if you mess one up you might as well hit reset because the rest of the level is going to be a living hell. One of the objectives you’ll find on every level is the discovery and retrieval of so-called “Future Objects”, which are scattered all over California like failed acting careers. In the film, as you may recall, a secondary mission objective for the T-800 involved breaking into Cyberdyne to retrieve the arm and partial CPU of the first Terminator, but that’s it. Why John’s foster parents, a mental hospital, or a random mall would have exoskeleton parts littering the grounds isn’t adequately explained. As the first film takes great pains to point out, the time displacement equipment used by Skynet doesn’t allow transport of inorganic objects so how did all this future junk wind up in the 90s?

When you need that one thing, check out The Store!

The Store? Why, that’s where you go to get the thing!

You want clarification? Sure thing. Your first objective upon starting the game is to locate John Connor’s current residence, and also acquire some weapons. Getting your hands on the pistol and shotgun aren’t too hard: just explore the bar’s interior, beat everyone who gets in your way to death, and you’ll run across both of them in a minute or so. Finding John’s address is a different story: how are you supposed to do this from a biker joint? Why, you ‘search’ one of the telephone booths outside of course! Cameron never addresses this in the film; a bit of logical deduction tells us John likely programmed the T-800 with the names of his foster parents, so a quick look in the phone book would get their address. This isn’t exactly intuitive, but it pales in comparison to the canyon-sized logic bomb required to complete the Voight household level.

When will they learn, you don't just wheelie up on a Terminator?

When will they learn, you don’t just wheelie up on a Terminator?

When you enter the level, your objective is to locate John Connor’s ID so you can identify him by sight, then figure out where he’s gone so you can intercept him. But your actual first objective, which is not named at all, is to disable the damn burglar alarm. Failure to locate and shoot an innocuous red box before entering the house will result in a siren going off for the remainder of the level, a situation not improved at all by the Genesis’s audio hardware. This summons approximately all of the police in the country to converge on the suburbs, and while this is bad the fact it also summons the T-1000 (who is, after all, disguised as a police officer) makes things even more problematic. Failure to disable the alarm will guarantee you take lethal damage in short order as the constantly-spawning fuzz pour into the home, especially when you consider the Voights littered the place with bombs and exploding toys. Is California’s social service department so overworked and understaffed that nobody noticed this before awarding them custody of John?

See that red box up there? That's the alarm system.

See that red box up there? That’s the alarm system.

Controlling your T-800 is a nightmare. He’s got a roughly four-inch vertical, cannot attack when jumping, is incapable of punching and ducking simultaneously, and every enemy in the game can outrun his slow, lumbering gait. I know that Arnie’s not going to set any sort of land speed record as a bodybuilder, but while the story of the film revolves around the T-800’s ‘immovable object’ facing the T-1000’s ‘unstoppable force’, you’d never know it playing this. Instead of feeling like you’re controlling an undefeatable mountain of muscle, Terminator 2: Judgement Day‘s presentation leaves you with the sense of controlling a senior citizen who can shrug off several bullets before expiring. And don’t even get me started on the motorcycle driving levels, where your terminator is tormented by increasing hordes of bikers, police officers, and an inability to steer.

The fridge is the only thing in this house not trying to kill me. Of course I destroyed it.

Yes, that’s the T-1000 behind me. Yes, I ignored him to destroy the kitchen.

Schwarzenegger’s not known for having much success on the video gaming front, but for the time the Genesis version of Terminator 2: Judgement Day struggled fiercely against the assumption a game based on this film could be good, and in the end proved itself correct. From nonsensical limitations on the T-800’s strength to a control scheme designed to make you cry like a little girly-man, from illogical objectives and the ability to completely mess up an entire level through one errant bullet to a soundtrack which doesn’t even feature the iconic film theme, this installment of T2 struggles to come up with even the slightest sliver of a reason to recommend it.

The bad ending pulls no punches.

The bad ending pulls no punches.

Now that I’ve failed to beat the game and been rudely reminded that I’m responsible for the deaths of three billion people on August 29th, 1997, I’m going to find a handy corner in the office and curl up in a ball for a little while. And if any of my editors are still reading, the next time I miss a deadline just allow the beatings to commence. The end result will be much less painful.

Wow…now that we’ve reached the end, I feel the need for some humor. Allow me to link to this comic right here to explain why we’re all doomed in the end.

Enjoy the ad!

T2 - Judgement Day ad

Michael Crisman

In 1979, Michael Crisman was mauled by a radioactive Gorgar pinball machine. After the wounds healed, doctors discovered his DNA had been re-coded. No longer fully human, Michael requires regular infusions of video games in order to continue living among you. If you see him, he can see you. Make no sudden moves, but instead bribe him with old issues of computer and video game magazines or a mint-in-box copy of Dragon Warrior IV. If he made you laugh, drop a tip in his jar at http://paypal.me/modernzorker (If he didn't make you laugh, donate to cure his compulsion to bang keyboards by sending an absurdly huge amount of money to his tip jar instead. That'll show him!)

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2 Responses to “Revenge of the License – Terminator 2: Judgement Day”

  1. […] to punish me for some transgression like ‘buying the wrong toilet paper’ or ‘going on vacation‘. But while designing a 2D platformer is simple, designing a good 2D platformer is a bit more […]

  2. […] No Escape, by contrast, is a 1994 action/adventure title which bears a passing resemblance to the film but is a much more realistic depiction of what awaits the unsuspecting in prison: unrelenting beatings, getting jumped by rival gangs, and a dodgy control mechanic that takes a few hours to get used to. And that’s just the first level! Damn, who were the sadistic pricks behind this game? I sense something: a presence I’ve not felt since… […]

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