For a while, Terminator games were a hot property. Bethesda Software, before they became better-known for their Elder Scrolls/Morrowind games, had acquired what must have been very generous rights for developing a whole bevy of Terminator-licensed games. I count at least four offhand, and this DOS shooter marks the first.
Terminator 2029 focuses on the “future war” scenarios shown briefly in both films. These are the sequences where tattered human rebels, under the leadership of John Connor, fight armies of military robots in the nuclear ruins of L.A. The game takes place as these rebels have just started making some significant victories. During one of their raids, they uncovered a prototype man-sized armored suit; highly advanced and looking for a pilot. You stepped up to that job.
Each mission begins with a briefing from your rebel command staff on your objectives, new equipment that has been commandeered, or advice on how to properly use your suit. Then, you’re sent into the combat zone alone to work your magic. Missions involve destroying communications, protecting items, searching for survivors, etc. All of these missions boil down to requiring you to navigate to a specific grid point on the map, do something there, and head to a new set of coordinates. Along the way, you’ll be accosted by randomly-generated robot soldiers.
2029 drew clear influences from Mechwarrior, in the sense that your walking battle suit contains hardpoints on the arms, legs, and shoulders. You can put any available item on these points, in any configuration you choose. Each of these weapons must be armed from your HUD once you’re in a mission, and can be set to fire using either the right or left mouse buttons. This allows you to fire weapons one after the other, both at the same time, a rocket on the left button and a laser on the right – whatever you deem necessary for the moment at hand. You can only configure your loadout before missions, but you can set which two weapons are “armed” on the fly. Reloads for certain weapons like rockets and grenades can also be picked up and carried in your inventory screen. You can also choose defensive weapons to fill these slots, like armor plating, or kits that increase the speed and effectiveness of your suit’s auto-repair function.
You’ll fight a rogue’s gallery of robotic foes, some taken directly from the movie and others inspired by. Flying support craft and the metal Terminator skeletons are your main opponents, and the Terminators are able to use a variety of weapons against you, effectively making them slightly different each time. You’ll also spot skinned infiltrator Terminators, but these are far less dangerous than they sound. Every real human you come across is either dead or wounded, so anytime you see a human walking around, you know he’s a Terminator. Small tanks, magnetic mines, and a few larger original creations round out the list.
2029 is not true 3-D, but a suitable replication of it. When you turn, you turn 90 degrees at a time, and a different still frame is show in the view window, with animated enemies or background explosions mixed in. Every time you walk, you move one grid square at a time. Enemies are not limited to grids, and move around freely within the frames. Enemies also are generated randomly, and this is apparently calculated each time you move.
When you’re turning, the game keeps track of what enemies are in the area. You can also follow their paths on a radar display at the bottom of the screen. Yet when you move to a new square, enemies often disappear after two or three steps. The inverse is also true – you can see nothing on your radar, take a few steps, and suddenly be surrounded. The still frames also cause you to have some trouble targeting enemies at the edges of them, where you can’t quite turn to face them directly. Backing up to get a better view will sometimes just make them disappear.
You’re highly outnumbered in every mission, and as enemies are generated randomly, you don’t quite know HOW outnumbered you are at any point. This does work to keep tension high, especially when you’re wounded, or on a time limit. However, enemies can shred you a little too easily if you actually stand and fight, a problem that is only magnified when swarms of enemies start randomly popping in. Your weapons also come with very limited ammo, or in the case of the more effective lasers, steal such a charge that you’ll only be able to fire them two or three times a minute. This is just fine for the stronger enemies who you know won’t be moving – though only the turrets guarding specific areas fall under this category – and nearly useless for the armies of regular grunts.
Since every single mission has you moving from grid coordinates to grid coordinates, and you receive nothing from actually shooting enemies, it makes the most sense to run as fast as possible to that grid point and avoid conflict altogether. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in an endless loop of shooting a few enemies, getting so damaged you have to hide and repair, then shooting a few more, who will simply regenerate anyway. Forward progress: zero. As enemies disappear once you get far enough away, you won’t have to worry about anyone chasing you, and as you can repair as you run, you can be automatically fixing any nicks and flesh wounds you might sustain along the way. The turrets will have to be dealt with, but can be done so through use of hit and fades. Bottom line is, through a combination of endlessly regenerating enemies and the massive damage they can cause, if you actually spend time fighting, you’ll get bogged down and die.
This is the major complaint I have with 2029. When the game is set up to fight enemies, but fighting enemies is mostly an inconvenience, it results in a boring game. To drive the point home, there is absolutely no benefit you get from battling enemies that aren’t directly blocking your path. Except when it rarely relates directly to your mission, such as holding a radar dish off from enemy attack for three minutes, you don’t and shouldn’t have to be fighting. You won’t get anything from exploration of the desolate levels either, which leaves you to simply sprint like a track star among your objectives. You’ll get small scraps of plot for doing so, but few make a real difference. “Oh, that team you went to rescue is dead already? Damn, well, head back to base.”
I really do like the ideas of what they’re trying to do here, and they succeed in a few areas. Between missions you can look up intel and reports on new enemies you’ve discovered, often providing some key weaknesses. You can run through a pretty decent training simulation to handle new weapons and test their effectiveness against varying foes set up in separate pens, organized by type. Your briefings are well-handled, actually useful, and written to give you a full understanding of where the plot is, and what’s at stake. You can even view a map of the rebels’ progress and secured territory throughout L.A., and the game tracks your stats and applies rank accordingly. All good ideas, all which help to make the world feel more alive. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t hold up its end of the bargain quite as well.
2029 ends up being a mostly average shooter. It’s a faithful and suitable use of the license, but it’s really quite boring most of the time. Some simple design changes could have probably fixed this – giving you health or ammo from some destroyed enemies, for starters, or points received from killing baddies that you can spend on weapon upgrades, instead of getting new ones automatically for each mission. The enemy pop-in seems to be partially design, and partially technical limitations, but the game would probably benefit from something a little more predictable, or not so overtly random that enemies teleport from nowhere. This game isn’t terrible, but Future Shock is a much better realization of what Bethesda was trying to do here.
First of the Future War games, enjoyable even if you haven’t seen the movies.
Design and technical limitations bog down what could have been a much better game.