PIXEL MEMORY: THE TERMINATOR

Written by Gav James-Weir

With the incoming sequel/reboot film that literally NO ONE asked for, it seems a good time to revisit this forgotten 90’s tie in on the Mega Drive. (and yes, I did consider a ‘Genysis/Genisis joke but I would be a week or so too late on that one).

Back in ‘the day’, I owned just three  games for my Mega Drive. Not having the luxury of buying games the moment they came out I relied solely on renting them. To own a copy of any game for myself, that was something special. The three games I owned? Sonic, Sonic 2 and The Terminator. I don’t even remember where The Terminator came from. I think it was a shot in the dark by my parents who, knowing my slight obsession with the film (owing to their lapse policies on appropriate age ratings…), saw to it that it was the best Sonic games and this that greeted me one Christmas morning.

First of all, let’s talk presentation cause this 4 meg cart (I think) has it in tonnes. That iconic, pounding theme? All there in wondrous 16-bit form. That title-scrolling-over-itself-intro thing? Perfectly recreated. Probe Software, those bastions of the quality film tie in, did wonders with the small amount of power at their disposal on this game. Each level starts with a big digitised film image including character portaits and dialogue! Oh my! It’s just like watching the film!

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 16.51.34

…Ok, maybe not. But this is impressive for pre-Sega CD presentation. Graphics are pretty tasty too. Sprites themselves lack fine detail, but the backgrounds are full of it. The level set in the Tech Noir nightclub looks awesome, full of neon and orange lighting with neat little touches, like the dudes at the bar or the DJ and his enormous speakers. It’s this focus on the presentation that might be a reason why they could only fit a fairly pathetic 4 levels on the cart.

That’s right… 4 entire levels, but as mentioned, they do look fantastic. You start as the film does in apocalyptic L.A, fighting massive Hunter Killers (damn impressive sprite that one) with the aim of destroying Skynet’s security and getting your ass sent back to sunny 1984. Once there, Michael Biehn dons a white trench coat that 100% does not make him look like a flasher at all no way and a beast of a shotgun. The sound on this thing rivals Doom 2’s Super Shotgun for earth-shattering blasts. You can fire it rapidly too; the best way to deal with pretty much all enemies is to crouch and hammer the shoot button, unleashing a volley of shotgun blasts to their groins.

Take that, generic 80's punk

Take that, generic 80’s punk

Then on you go, recreating key scenes from the film – Present day L.A streets, Tech Noir, the Police Station and, finally, the showdown in the Factory; another great level. A total maze of a place, you’re pursued by the T-800 in full endoskeleton form, constantly appearing from just off screen, limping slowly towards you like mechanised death. Despite the rough-by-today’s-standards-graphics, this level manages to capture the tension of the film with the constant chase from an unstoppable force. It is possible to blow the legs off of him so he becomes an oddly nimble crawling Terminator and then it’s just a case of finding the machine that will crush him and leading him onto it. It is a bit strange that he always seems to be in front of you, but he’s more of a puzzle piece in that you have to work your way around him to find the end of the level. Ok, it’s not quite battering it round the head with a pipe and then blowing yourself up by ramming a pipe bomb in it’s rib cage like Reese does in the film, but it does well in expanding the set piece for a game.

Capture

The music certainly pays it’s part in this level too, a really brooding, heavy track that sets the tone. The soundtrack as a whole is pretty excellent, making the most of that 6 channel sound chip and all composed by a guy called Matt Furness who, I’ll admit, I’d never heard of until researching this. It turns out that he created some superb music during the 16-bit era. There’s some great examples of his work in this here thread, worth giving him a listen if you’re a fan of this sort of thing.

So onIy having this and the Sonics, I replayed it many, many times and had made completing it an art-form. Battering through from the ruins of L.A to crushing the Terminator in the factory at the end in under half an hour was something of an achievement considering the pretty harsh difficulty of the game (with enemies respawning almost constantly). So pleased I was with this feat of game-playing prowess that I actually wrote to the Gamesmaster TV show to see if I could do it  for some sort of speed-run Golden Joystick challenge. Unsurprisingly, I never got a reply and seeing as most playthoughs on Youtube are under 15 mins, I was probably well off that trophy and a big ol’ congrats from Patrick Moore anyway.

And Dominic Diamond was a right cock. Wouldn’t have wanted to go on anyway so there. Not bitter at all.

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