When I'm deciding what game to write about for VGJunk, sometimes I give careful consideration to a number of factors - is it a genre I've played recently, or a console I've neglected for a while, that kind of thing. Sometimes I just happen to have seen Terminator 2 recently. Thus, today's article is about Midway's 1991 arcade lightgun title Terminator 2: Judgement Day!
This article should be shorter than usual, because I don't have to explain the gameplay (it's a lightgun game, point and things and pull the trigger) or the story. Everyone's seen Terminator 2, right? I was about seven years old when the movie was released, and I still remember that it was a Big Deal, with massive amounts of promotion and breathless articles about the amazing, futuristic, computer-generated special effects that could make Mulder's future replacement on the X-Files appear to have the consistency of wallpaper paste.
Just in case you are a tiny child or have only recently escaped from a sinister cult who prohibit the watching of movies, a brief summary of the plot: robots become sentient, rise up and destroy humanity in a nuclear firestorm of global proportions. Well, most of humanity; pesky pockets of human resistance remain, somehow struggling on despite living in a landscape that looks as though it's been used as the venue for a pay-per-view fight between Godzilla and the Cloverfield Monster. The humans are lead by John Connor, and the machines' solution to his pesky habit of uniting mankind is to send a robot back in time to kill John while he's a kid in pre-nuclear-holocaust Los Angeles.
John sends his own Terminator back to protect his younger self, a sentence that makes you wonder about the wisdom of having time-travel plots in your movie if you look at it for too long. This friendly Terminator is played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, and that's who you'll playing as for the course of the game.
Look, there's Arnie now. He's digitised! How futuristic. I know I usually complain about digitised graphics and their tendency to make games resemble footage taken with a webcam from 1999, but it doesn't look too bad in this one. It's aged, but more gracefully than most, and it helps that the actual actors from the movie (barring Linda Hamilton) returned to provide motions for the game.
Here come the Terminators, those loveable and marketable metal death-skeletons. You're going to have to shoot them all as they follow their Space Invaders-inspired attack pattern of walking towards you and occasionally moving sideways. Your weapon is a futuristic laser blaster that doesn't require reloading but instead has a power bar that slowly refills when you let go of the trigger. Get used to not having any gun power, because there won't be many chances to let go of the trigger in this game.
As you can see, I have some human comrades to aid me in the battle against the machine menace. There were originally four of them, but one of them fell to a regrettable friendly-fire incident where I accidentally launched one of my limited-use missiles into his back. It seems that John Connor didn't quite manage to overwrite all of this Terminator unit's programming.
Sometimes a Terminator will pop up right in front of you. Its ability to sneak up on me like that really highlights the design flaw of not giving the Terminators necks that can look downwards, because this guy must have crawled along the floor to get that close without me seeing him. Let's hope Skynet never figures this out and develops Smurf-sized Terminators.
Weirdly, the closer a Terminator is to you the more damage it can take before exploding. Distant units can be picked off with a single shot, but once they get into your personal space your deadly laser blasts become little more than a mild irritant. They even look irritated when you shoot them in the face. Did you ever shoot your parents with a water pistol? Yeah, they look kinda like that, which is impressive considering they only have one facial expression and that's the cold and implacable visage of death itself.
Hey look, golden Terminators. I have no idea what sets them apart from normal Terminators beyond the obvious quality of their goldenness. Maybe they've just returned from a mission eliminating human resistance in Hawaii and they've still got their tans. Well, whatever their deal is I say bring it on - the more enemies on the screen, the more chance I have of hitting something when I fire.
I retract my previous statement. Things have quickly escalated beyond my ability to handle them, what with the addition of missile batteries and flying machines. Matters are not helped by the message informing me that I've picked up a guided missile. The missile itself is great, it's the reminder that I've just collected it that's the problem, because it covers half the bloody screen.
Anyway, missiles. I was struggling early on because I didn't actually check how many of them I had. A more powerful special weapon is a common feature in these kinds of games, but you usually only have three or so to work with. Not so in Terminator 2, where I have managed to accrue 95 of them. That means I could use them with greater abandon than usual. Things calmed down considerably once I'd launched thirty or forty high-explosive rounds into the Terminator hordes.
Until I reached the boss, that is. It's a Hunter-Killer, and it can take more punishment than a dominatrix's client list while pumping out missile after missile after missile. There's no trick to defeating it: certain parts of it, like the missile launchers, will flash when shot, letting you know that you can destroy them. Shoot them for long enough and they'll explode. Explode all the explodable bits and the entire boss will explode. Explode is one of those words that starts to look really weird if you look at it for too long.
67% accuracy represents a significant increase on my usual level of lightgun-game marksmanship. I told you having all those Terminators on-screen at once would pay off. Arnold Schwarzenegger's voice even congratulates whichever player performed best during the stage. One of the benefits of playing alone is that Arnie is always congratulating me. That is possibly the only benefit.
In stage two, Skynet has uncovered the location of the human base and has sent an army of Infiltrators - human-looking Terminators with a crispy Schwarzenegger-flavoured outer shell - to, um, infiltrate it. They do this by walking in through the front door and shooting anything that moves, which is infiltration in the same way that me singing Dio songs in the shower is opera.
You can shoot the skin off the infiltrator units to reveal the endoskeleton beneath. Just enough of me remains untainted by cynicism that I can say it's really cool.
Given that I'm writing this a few days before Christmas, it seems appropriate that for the second half of the stage you'll mostly be shooting at these floating bauble drones. Hatching into robotic life from those blue vending machine capsules you can see in the background, their main mission objective seem to be to fly in front of your crosshairs in order to stop you shooting the more threatening targets. At least I think the Terminators are more of a threat, because one of this game's flaws is that it's really hard to tell when you're taking damage without constantly looking at your energy bar, something that's not really feasible when a million soulless killing machines are trying to put their robo-feet up your backside. There's no screen-shaking, no flash of red, no cracked glass effect to show that you've been hurt, so you can't associate losing health with the attack that caused it and thus the game almost feels as though it's on a timer as your health is constantly chipped away.
Okay, that's a simple enough objective. Stop Skynet. Or stop the Terminator that went back in time. Or possible both of them. Yeah, that's it. Stop the Terminator and Skynet to ensure the survival of young John Connor.
I found old John Connor, does that count for anything? He's going to take me to the Skynet time travel facility so I can go back to the Nineties and protect him, but for now he can protect me. After all, he's the world's finest military mind and an unparalleled guerilla fighter, right?
Aww, crap. As soon as things started heating up John Connor ditches you, leaving you to fend off the advances of these deadly yet surprisingly festive missiles yourself. Stopping a missile by shooting it even though it's practically rubbing up against my eyeballs doesn't seem as ludicrous is it usually does in this kind of game, so score one for the Terminator, I guess?
John reappears, and now he's got a ride. You mission is to protect the pickup truck from harm, because if it takes too much damage it explodes, killing the one hope for the survival of the human race and forcing you to start the stage again. Because this is a Terminator game, you can put your unlimited retries down to the magic of time-travel. The truck is on fire, which implies that I'm not doing a great job, but this screenshot was taken towards the end of the stage so things aren't as bad as they seem. They key to success is making sure you use your missiles to blow up the flying Hunter-Killers as soon as they appear on screen. The golden Terminators are less of a threat, perhaps because most of their CPU power is dedicated to running alongside the truck. I don't have a truck either, so I must also be running alongside the truck. I have to question John Connor's tactical acumen if he didn't put the superhumanly-accurate killing machine in charge of that big gun on the back of the truck. Seems like a no-brainer, that one.
If you manage to keep John alive, you'll eventually reach Skynet's main base / Terminator factory / time-travel research centre. Halfway through stage three already, and we haven't even arrived at the plot of the movie yet.
As well as the all the Terminators and orbs you've fought before, this area introduces the snakelike "Silverfish" robots that slither around on the ground. A nice concept - snakes are fairly adept at navigating a wide variety of terrain, and once you've designed one body segment you can mass-produce them easily - but on closer inspection I'm 90% sure that their heads are made from toys of the snowspeeders from Star Wars.
I recognised them as snowspeeders immediately, which probably tells you a lot about just how much of an engaging, interesting person I am.
I'll spare you the details of how I fought my way through literally hundreds of Terminators, speeder-snakes and flying drones and take you straight to the boss. The boss is a wall, but an important wall. A wall that's made of computers. A wall that hides the key to unlocking mastery of time itself. It is also a wall with a great many rocket launchers, so you'll be wanting to blow them up first.
In this boss battle, the focus is on survival. The Skynet Wall spews out a near-constant stream of rockets and electrical blasts that demand all your attention, leaving you with little opportunity to actually hit the boss itself, but if you just keep firing enough of your shots will get through to cause some damage and after a long and tedious fight you can finally go back to the Nineties.
Yes, I am aware of this. It is the entire premise of both this game and the movie on which it is based. Thanks anyway, though.
Now that we've caught up to the events of Terminator 2, the game promptly ignores the first half of the movie. No hassling bikers for their outfits, no facing off against the T-1000 in a shopping mall and most surprisingly of all, no chase scene through the flood channels of Los Angeles, a scene I've always considered to be the most iconic one in the movie beside possibly the liquid nitrogen bit. Instead you're taken directly to Cyberdyne headquarters so you can destroy all their work before they invent Skynet. That's your mission briefing for this stage, it literally says "DESTROY EVERYTHING!". Yes, even the cuddly purple dinosaur hanging from the ceiling. We can't take any chances.
Trying to prevent you humanity-saving rampage are all the cops in Los Angeles. When you shoot them, they crawl away clutching their non-lethal injuries, which is a nice tie-in to the movie where John tells the Terminator he's not allowed to kill anyone. The unfortunate side-effect of this is that it makes me a little self-concious about my marksmanship when I clearly shoot a policeman right in the face and he drags himself off-screen holding his leg.
What else is happening in this stage? Well, Sarah Connor keeps running in front of my crosshairs, I know that much. The police completely ignore her as she scurries around setting bombs, but I had no such luck and I ended up shooting her every time she popped up on screen. Fortunately I don't think you can kill her, but by appearing suddenly and moving quickly she distracts the player from shooting at their real targets - that is, every other square inch of the screen.
Oh good, now it's John's turn to get all suicidal. My mission to keep John Connor alive could possibly have been simplified by not bringing him to largest gun battle in US peacetime history. It's not just guns, either - those scientist are showing admirable / moronic (delete where appropriate) loyalty to Cyberdyne by facing the Terminator armed with nothing more deadly than bottles of Orangina. It's lucky for them that the Terminator has been ordered to only shoot to wound, because the orange-flavoured soft drink is only refreshing when taken orally and not when someone chucks it at your head.
John rushes to collect the leftover bits from the Terminator that was destroyed in the original film, because Terminator 2 is a paradox-spotter's dream movie. He needn't bother, because as the counter at the top of the screen shows I managed to leave over one hundred pieces of equipment undestroyed. In my defence, I don't think it's actually possible to destroy all the equipment, at least not if you're playing alone. There's simply too much of it and too many other things to train your guns on: maybe if you ignored all the police officers and beverage-toting scientists you'd stand a chance, but because we're in the present now high-powered plasma rifles and portable missile systems aren't so easy to come by and you're forced to use a machine gun and a shotgun, and they don't have quite the same destructive capabilities. Still, it's a nice touch - it would have been easy for the developers to not make that change, but they definitely made a real effort to provide an authentic Terminator 2 experience.
The T-1000 pops up, but he's too late and we are outta there. What's he going to do, chase us in a helicopter?
Well, that seems a trifle unfair. Up until now T2 has been a particularly tough entry in the lightgun genre, but that was mostly down to the sheer number of enemies and projectiles the game throws at you. In this stage, however, the game's credit-munching tendencies really take off by placing you in a gunfight where one mistake will send you back to the start of the stage. The helicopter swoops in from off-screen and attempts to ram the van containing John and his mum, and you have to scare it away by shooting it a few times. If you're not quick enough it hits the van, kills the occupants and forces you to either start again or wheel away from the game in disgust.
Then the T-1000 gets a truck, which is much easier to deal with because you can see where it is all the time and it can't fly in from above. I don't know why the T-1000 is sitting in the driver's seat, the only place where he'd be a visible target. He could have moved further back and operated the vehicle with his stretchy limbs or just pooled into the footwell. He would have won then, because I would have been able to see him. The real reason for Skynet's failure is that it can't think outside the box.
Just like in the movie, the T-1000 chases our heroes into a steel mill where his truck full of liquid nitrogen becomes a liability. As any child of the Nineties can tell you, liquid nitrogen will freeze an evil Terminator solid, so it's a good job the villainous machine didn't hijack a truck carrying a thousand gallons of semi-skimmed milk.
In this boss battle, you have to lower the T-1000's temperature by shooting the truck so it spills liquid nitrogen all over your nemesis. This sounds easy, but the T-1000 is constantly on the move, each spillage is concentrated in a very narrow area and if you don't constantly keep dousing him his temperature goes back up. Oh, and he's trying to kill you, naturally. There are some parts of this that work in your favour, though - for one thing a gentle rain of collectable shotgun shells falls from the sky, and it's a good job too because your standard gun takes an age to penetrate the tanker. Your best bet is to cause a leak just ahead of where the T-1000 is walking and then shotgun his legs so he falls over and stays in the stream for a while.
Eventually he freezes and is shattered into thousands of pieces by a single bullet. Does Arnie say "hasta la vista, baby" when he does this? You bet your ass he does, and yes, it's still cool. Some things you never grow out of, and if I did ever stop thinking that scene was cool I think that would be the time to pack it in.
The steel workers are back, and they are pissed. Determined to protect the Holy Foundry from these interlopers, they have no hesitation about rappelling down from the ceiling and unleashing furious hot lead death on anyone who encroaches on their territory, even if it's just some kid and his robot slave. This section was so unexpected and so incongruous that it got a much bigger laugh from me than most videogames' honest attempts at humour, so well done to Midway for that.
At last we have reached the final encounter, and the T-1000 is determined to kill someone and he doesn't really mind who. Sometimes he'll pop up right in your mush and unload clip after clip from his handgun into your chest, other times he'll wander off and stab John Connor with his pointy metal arms. In that instance you instantly fail and are sent back to the start of the stage, so make sure you distract the T-1000 with as many shotgun blasts as you can muster if you see him heading towards John.
I'm sorry, I just can't accept that John Connor is that important to the future of humanity. I saw his battle plans in the future, he just drove right up to Skynet's front door, only surviving because I was there to look after him / absorb all the bullets. There must be someone more qualified who survives the apocalypse. No? No one? Really? Well, I suppose I'd better make sure I keep him alive, then.
After what feels like an extremely long time and with the aid of the occasional grenade launcher that floats down from on high, the T-1000 will be pushed back to edge of the smelting pool. I was hoping for a comically gently finger-poke to send him over the edge - hey, after the Steel Workers Assassination Squad I wouldn't have been surprised - but no, bullets will have to suffice and the T-1000 is terminated.
Well, I'm glad that's over, I was starting to get finger cramps. The T-1000 takes a hot bath, John Connor survives only to be emotionally scarred by the sight of the only thing he's ever considered a father being destroyed and the world is safe from nuclear armageddon.
Okay, so maybe not. Because I was too focussed on not dying to blow up every disk drive and filing cabinet in Cyberdyne headquarters, the world is still screwed. Thanks for that, Midway. If you do, by some miracle, manage to destroy all the objects, this bit of text is changed to say that the world is safe. I think that's the only difference. I'm glad I didn't bother.
As lazy an ending to the article as this is, if you like Terminator 2 the movie you'll probably enjoy Terminator 2: Judgement Day the arcade experience. While the game itself is a middling gallery shooter with sections of unsporting, coin-draining difficulty, one thing you can't fault it on is just how Terminator-y it is. Voice clips from the movie play frequently, the original actors appear - my only problem with the presentation is that at no point do you get to hear Axl Rose sing "youuuuu could be mi-i-ine", and I'm happy to accept that might not be something you're personally disappointed about.
All told, it's little wonder that this was one of the most common arcade games of my childhood: I don't think I ever visited an arcade in the Nineties that didn't have a T2 cabinet, and why not? It's a movie ripe for videogame conversion and despite the age rating it's the ultimate movie for boys: killer robots, action sequences up the wazoo and an emotional element to the story that young boys can allow themselves to be affected by because it involves Arnie. The game's not nearly as good as the movie, but I'm glad to have finally played it all the way through, and those steel workers? They were one hell of an unexpected bonus.