Based on the 2003 summer film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines is a first-person shooter that closely follows the events as depicted in the film. Terminator 3 also marks the first time Schwarzenegger's likeness and voice have been used in a video game. Cast in the role of the original Terminator, players must embark on a time-traveling odyssey that will take them from the apocalyptic wasteland of a SkyNet-controlled future to present-day Los Angeles in a desperate attempt to save mankind.
Players will explore more than 20 areas while pursuing the deadly T-X Terminator, some of which include laboratories, military bases, and downtown city streets. Once players meet up with their assassin counterpart, they will be able to use a combination of weapons and melee attacks to impede their rival's progress. Included in the arsenal of available weapons are rocket launchers, lasers, assault rifles, and grenade launchers. The Terminator can also smash opponents against walls and perform two-handed chops or powerful kicks, among other moves, to subdue attackers.
In an attempt to blend film and game into a seamless whole, Terminator 3 features an extensive use of film clips to help further the story. In addition, the film's director shot five minutes of exclusive footage designed specifically for the game. These new scenes, shot with Arnold Schwarzenegger, are designed to reveal more about the Terminator's origins and its mythology. Rise of the Machines also lets players experience the role of the Terminator before it was sent to rescue John Connor, fighting on the side of SkyNet to battle a ragtag group of freedom fighters in the distant future.
Anyone who's played the team-based Battlefield: 1942 should immediately understand the basic mechanics of Terminator 3: War of the Machines. You play as either a mechanical killing machine on the Skynet side or as a fleshy resistance fighter (equally adept at killing) on the Tech-Com side. Each side has a handful of character class choices, each ostensibly offering its own strengths and weaknesses. Human suppliers, for example, have limited weapons but can dole out ammunition; flying Terminator FK's can zip around quickly, but can't capture bases. Humans have a few vehicles they can drive, and the Terminators have one (although two of the Terminator classes are vehicles). With the exception of the Terminator's lumbering tank mech, though, all the vehicles are cars -- you won't find any boats or airplanes here.
War of the Machines offers three gameplay modes, including an objective-based mission mode, basic deathmatch, and a capture-and-hold game where you earn points by securing and keeping bases (similar to Battlefield's conquest mode). The game is specifically designed to be played online, though you can play parts of it with computer-controlled bots. So, at least in theory, all the ingredients are in place for a decent online shooter.
Unfortunately, things went sour somewhere. First, the game's performance is terrible. Even in single-player games, the engine would constantly choke and stagger, making us wait for it to catch up with what was supposed to be going on. The graphics are passable, but nothing special, and the model animations are stilted and seemingly incomplete. The sound, too, is sub par -- everything from explosions to ambient noises sound flat and unimpressive.
War of the Machines' biggest cluster of problems, however, spout from its failure to live up to its own basic design. At heart, it's a game designed to be played over the Internet, but I was only able to find two-four online servers at any given time (there's a built-in matchmaking service), and those servers all seemed to be running on dinky cable modems with outrageous pings. For a game designed for online play, it's dumbfounding (emphasis on "dumb") that Atari hasn't provided a single dedicated server at the time that this review was written. At best, it shows a basic lack of understanding in how to launch an online game; at worst, it suggests that Atari simply lost interest at some point and couldn't be bothered with anything beyond getting the game on shelves.
The aforementioned single-player game isn't much better. There is no traditional, story-driven campaign, which will disappoint many fans of the Terminator franchise. Like Battlefield: 1942, it just drops you into multiplayer maps with computer-controlled enemies and allies. Unfortunately, the options available in setting up a single-player game are mysteriously anemic -- you can't change the difficulty or AI levels, you can only play the capture-and-hold variant (which is too bad, as the mission is far better), and you can't change respawn times or capture/time limits. Technically, you could get around these ghastly limitations by starting a multiplayer LAN game with only your computer on it, but I don't expect many players to figure that out; it's inexplicable why these options weren't allowed in the single-player game to begin with.
Once you get a solo game started, things don't improve much. The artificial intelligence is dumber than a bag of rocks (and I'm talking the really stupid kinds of rocks, like quartz or feldspar). Enemies will often run right past you and into danger. It's so easy to win games against these opposing nitwits that it doesn't come within a mile of being fun. The pinnacle of the AI's prowess seems to be saying things like "Attack the human!" over and over and over again. You can play as Arnie if you're the highest scoring unit on the human side, but he's basically a fast-moving heavy unit, and barely has any lines in the game.
The game's environments and level design are the last straw. The limited environments wobble between post-apocalyptic cityscapes and military installations set right at the brink of SkyNet's disastrous awakening. The maps are rife with pointless dead ends, long stretches of mundane terrain, dry land, and not much that keeps you interested.
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