Like its titular death machines, Terminator: Resistance is a game out of time, it’s just that it’s been sent from the past to destroy you rather than the future. This is the kind of shooter we left behind over a decade ago.
Terminator Resistance may run on the latest iteration of Unreal Engine, but it’s a long way from achieving anywhere near the polish of a AAA title. That’s not to mean it can’t look vaguely OK at times – there’s certainly enough detail in various scenes – but it boasts the grey and brown colour palette of last generation’s shooters, and that dour constraint immediately makes it feel like a throwback.
Once you pile on the stilted animations – yes, I know some of them are robots, but you’ll be convinced that all of the humans are skinjobs too – shonky faces, graphical glitches and pop-in, and a frame rate that is so variable you wonder if it’s an intentionally weird effect, you’re looking at a game whose production values have been scrabbled from the bottom of the bargain bucket.
Given how old-fashioned everything feels I was almost surprised that there’s a jump button. Your character seems to float through the environment rather than walk, with no hint of the motion sway we’ve come to expect from a gritty shooter and movements at a glacial pace. Visually and mechanically there’s elements here that are more PS2 or PS3 level than PS4.
It’s not all bad news, though. It has just enough drama to occasionally put you on the edge of your post-apocalyptic seat, and the game’s audio is a distinct high point. From the atmospheric soundtrack that builds from the iconic staccato drags of the original movie’s theme, to the relatively well-delivered voice performances, it hits the right notes. They may not look that much like real human beings, but they do at least sound like them.
You play Jacob Rivers, a member of the Resistance who somehow manages not to die despite being surrounded by machines that are fundamentally built to kill him. Having escaped the Annihilation Line, you group up with a small bunch of survivors, with the sole aim of continuing to survive. The story, such as it is, skirts between boredom and being thoroughly uninteresting.
There’s no grand narrative here, and beyond some of the characters’ personal stories there’s very little to become emotionally involved with. Your little apocalyptic crew are still probably the most interesting thing here, and there are conversation options that allow you to get into their good graces – or, terrifyingly, their pants, in the most awkward video game sex scenes you’ll have seen this decade – but the writing swings from believable to GCSE English project from sentence to sentence. After a while, I spent more of my time trying to see how close the lip-syncing was (answer: not very).
What Terminator: Resistance gets right is replicating the menace of the Terminators. Skulking around the apocalyptic landscapes feels realistic enough as long as you buy into the potential danger you’re in. They initially feel as terrifying as they should, but the decrepit stealth action soon proves to be as dated as the rest of the game, neutering the few thrills to be found here.
A bar at the top of the screen tells you if you’ve been detected by any enemies, with the aim of promoting stealthy play, but all it does is tell you that there is an enemy somewhere nearby, further robbing the game of its atmosphere. Much like the rest of the game, it’s nowhere near as clever as you’d expect it to be. Terminators, the lethal, humanity-annihilating robots, can’t see further than ten metres, and everything that spots you in the game will be fooled by kneeling round a corner for a little bit.
While the Terminators themselves are pretty lethal you can wade through every other Skynet creation with little worry at all for your health bar, which undoes the setting even further. Your only real constraint becomes ammunition, but if you hunt around you can find tons of the stuff throughout the levels, or you can loot it off pretty much every fallen robot. There’s also crafting materials that let you produce even more.
There’s one or two vaguely neat ideas, like the ability to upgrade your rifle with chips scavenged off Skynet’s creations, and having to match the chips up so that they form a circuit loop. You could also hack a turret or two to help you out in a firefight, and there’s a minigame to let you do that too. The minigame – I kid you not – is Frogger, just without the frog. It’s sad to say that it’s probably one of the more enjoyable elements of the game, I just wish they’d kept the frog.
I did still have some fun with Terminator: Resistance. The hilarity of revelling in its own shonkiness really did put a smile on my face at times, and there are some moments to enjoy. Sneaking through a hospital full of T-800s, or the straightforward action of running from an ambush does more than enough to keep your attention. Still, as the big franchise tie-in for a beloved series, you’re probably better off just downloading the Terminator skin for Gears of War 5.