Look! A game with Arnold as the Terminator on the front! Did I own this back in 1994? Of course I did! Is it another LJN rush job? Of course it is!
There were two Terminator 2 tie-ins for the consoles, with the arcade game port being leagues more enjoyable. This version, a side scroller, has you controlling the Terminator through 7 levels which parallel the movie to the letter. You’ll start at a truck stop, find John Connor in the mall’s arcade, rescue Sarah from the mental hospital, and try to destroy Cyberdyne HQ while the SWAT team harasses you. In nearly every level, the liquid metal T-1000 will dog you incessantly. If he (or anyone) manages to kill you or either of the Connors, the game is over. This pretty much hits the highlights that any fan of the movie would expect.
Admirably, this isn’t entirely the generic, platform cash-in you would expect. Quite a bit of the background can be destroyed or shot up, and I remember enjoying the (admittedly cheap) glass shattering effects and exploding equipment when shooting past background scenery. Rooms will show the results of a protracted gunfight, and blowing open objects sometimes even burps out worthwhile extra ammo. However, police will respond to any chaos you cause, and two early levels let you play it “low key” – shoot out the alarm when searching Connor’s house, and the cops won’t show right away. Don’t shoot anyone in the shopping mall, and you can stroll calmly all the way to the arcade where John is hanging out, avoiding draining battles with mall security. This idea is abandoned in the later levels as the action ramps up, but still, it’s the little things.
The Terminator’s HUD constantly updates throughout the mission, pointing out critical information when needed, and keeping the “flavor” to an unobtrusive amount. Civilians and police will be identified the first time they’re seen, item pickups get bracketed, and you can track the status of your objectives in brief updates, or in the Start menu. Finally, the game will literally pause and let you know all objectives are completed, making it crystal clear that you’re safe to head to the exit. They hit exactly the right level of notifications here.
Then there’s the T-1000. He’s handled pretty magnificently – probably one of the best 16-bit platformer villains, which, admittedly, isn’t saying much. True to the film, he’s a liquid metal robot that’s a master of subterfuge. He’ll frequently disguise himself as objects in the background, morphing from a tree or water fountain into his police form as you approach. Shooting him gives different effects based on the weapon, and as automatic fire starts to cut him literally in half, he’ll melt away in retreat. The combination of dogged determination and appearing from nowhere is both true to the character and keeps you alert. And yes, he can indeed appear disguised as other people. Hmm… why are you getting so close, Sarah?
Gameplay itself is based around completing objectives appropriate to each level before finding the exit. In the truck stop, you’ll need to beat up bikers for their weapons. At John’s house, you’re searching for his photo ID and whereabouts. In the hospital, you’re breaking Sarah out. The Connors follow you around levels once they’re discovered, and you’re required to shield them from harm. Pressing Start shows their health and allows you to toggle them between “stop” and “follow” states. Sarah can defend herself with a pistol, and John is needed to open the vault in Cyberdyne, but beyond that, they’re baggage. You’ll need them when you get to the exit though, and they can absolutely be attacked if you leave them behind, so it’s a balance of how best to keep them out of trouble.
Health is measured in percentages. As the Terminator, you can take a tremendous amount of punishment, but not as much as you’d likely expect. Luckily you regenerate between levels, and if your health ever falls to zero, “backup power” kicks in and gives you an extra chance with 50% health. If either of the Connors fall, you can “transfer” health to them with the Down arrow if you make it to them quickly enough. The Cyberdyne office level is where you’re most likely to need this, and it’s important to note that health kits are extremely rare.
You only get in trouble as SWAT teams and T-1000 strikes wear you down over time. Early levels are a cakewalk as a result, and only Cyberdyne or the hospital offers serious resistance. Level objectives alone can be completed fairly easily, and so, enter the “future objects.” This is essentially a forced Easter egg hunt that requires you to scour every room and corner of a level looking for metallic boxes. The narrative is some nonsense about these being leftovers from SkyNet’s time travel experiments, but the result is you have to find and collect each one before you’re allowed to exit the level… on top of the existing objectives… while the cops are pounding you and the Connors with gunfire. This is where things start to get tedious.
There are no passwords, of course, so I suppose this is an attempt to draw out the game’s length. Maps or enough playthroughs will help you learn the locations and speed up your runs through each level, but it’s still artificial busy work. I never beat the game back then because of this. That I’d rather go outside and play either proves that I have historically had a very low tolerance for bullshit, or that this is indeed a broken and pointless addition.
Yet this is actually not the most frustrating part. That award goes to the driving sections between each level. Here, you’re asked to speed along in a 3/4 perspective, dodging civilian traffic and police cars out to actively ram you. Everything you hit knocks some life off the car, which cannot be repaired or regenerated. There are no second chances either – die here, no matter how far along you are, and it’s game over.
You’re further asked to navigate to your destination using nothing more than a directional compass. Maps are laid out like realistic suburbs, with streets that dead end, cul-de-sacs, and multiple situations where the compass is pointing to the northeast but you cannot get that way from here, so you’re going to have to turn around and find the next main thoroughfare to go north for a bit before you’re able to finally turn east and oh great another cop rammed us and now we’re dead.
The car takes much less damage than the Terminator does, and while you get stronger vehicles as you follow the narrative, you’re also asked to drive further and with greater police presence. I’m pretty sure that from 1994 to today, every single time I died was in one of these levels. If navigation wasn’t enough, the controls make it even worse. Left and right on the D-pad move you around within the lane, and you’ll need to hold a modifier button to enable turns. It’s a flaky system that never seems to register right away, so cue you spinning around trying to make a turn while cop car after cop car dogpiles you.
While you do all this, you’ll be listening to one of two themes in the entire game – one for the platform levels, one for the driving. They never change, and the synthetic “wailing guitars” start to grate on your nerves far before you’ll be hearing the last of them. This one befuddles me, honestly, as the graphics and artwork aren’t too shabby at all. Makes you wonder why they couldn’t throw an extra composer in there as well, but the answer, of course, is LJN.
There’s other annoyances as well. The Connors have no sense of self-preservation, they simply follow you and stand still. If you don’t actively position yourself between them, the T-1000 will easily stab the shit out of John while he stands motionless. Nearly everything can be destroyed, but everything EXPLODES when this happens. Sometimes you can use this to your advantage, but often, it means a stray bullet detonates some innocuous object nearby, and catches you or a Connor in the blast. Finally, there’s a final boss fight against the T-1000 where you shoot its thrashing form inside the vat of molten steel, and dodge fireballs dropping from the ceiling. ’nuff said.
Judgement Day doesn’t feel too far off the mark. Character sprites are small, but its graphics are strong overall. It handles well. Having to trawl the level for future objects, and having John and Sarah be dumb as a bag of hammers, are both annoying, but manageable. Unfortunately, it’s the driving levels where things fall apart. Either giving vehicles more health, or offering passwords, would have reduced the frustration here significantly. Could have used a bit more time in the oven.
Looks good. Very faithful to the movie. Destroying the background a nice touch. Great implementation of the T-1000 as more than a simple bullet sponge.
Brutal driving levels. Forced hunt for future objects in the platform levels. Only two tracks of music.