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Assembling The Perfect Terminator Game

by Jeff Marchiafava on Jul 02, 2015 at 12:44 PM

Terminator Genisys is now out in theaters, and like most of the video games based on the franchise, it's not great. However, the countless missteps in James Cameron's killer-robot series don't change the fact that the universe is the perfect setting for an awesome game. If I could go back in time and kill all the crappy Terminator-licensed games, this is the dream game I'd replace them with.

Welcome To The Wasteland
While the best Terminator movies take place primarily in the present day (or the '80s/early '90s as the case may be), the hellish, post-Judgment Day landscape has the most potential for an awesome video game. Sure, running from a single, indestructible enemy worked for Alien: Isolation, but wouldn't you rather face off against a variety of different Terminators in an unending clash between humans and killer robots?

As such, my dream Terminator game would take a page from Terminator Salvation (the movie, not the crappy licensed game), dropping players into the role of a struggling resistance fighter (but not necessarily John Connor, since the lore is hopelessly convoluted at this point) in a massive open world that's already been ravaged by nuclear war. Players would explore the wasteland for resources, contact and establish resistance outposts, and coordinate attacks on enemy bases while (hopefully) avoiding the complete annihilation of the human race. The gameplay would be composed primarily of first- or third-person action, but a variety of RPG and XCOM-style strategic elements would augment the combat, such as resource management, recruiting unique NPCs to the fight, and researching better weapons and defensive tools from the technology recovered from fallen foes. There'd also be plenty of firefights and Red Faction: Guerrilla-style destruction, because at the end of the day, you can't stave off a robot apocalypse without blowing some crap up.

Man Versus Machine
The Terminator movies are built on over-the-top action, but beneath all the shootouts and explosions is a game of wits between the dwindling humans and their newly sentient mechanical adversaries. Sarah and John Connor's attempts to stay one step ahead of the machines and discover Skynet's latest advancements added an intriguing and intellectual angle to the stories (even if the time-traveling elements have never made a lot of sense).

Rather than telling a predetermined story via scripted missions (like the actual Terminator Salvation game did), my dream Terminator game would mimic this mental chess game by pitting you against a simulated Skynet – an A.I. architect that commands its legion of Terminators and dynamically adapts to your decisions and the changing battlefield. Like XCOM, there would be the constant and real threat of a game-ending fail state (i.e., the Terminators ferreting out and destroying the last remaining pockets of the human resistance). The A.I. would not be omniscient, and would be bound by many of the same gameplay mechanics that you are (capturing and defending resources to grow its sphere of influence, researching and implementing upgrades to its soldiers, etc.), effectively selling that you are matching wits against an artificially intelligent opponent, and guaranteeing that no two playthroughs are ever the same.

Lead The Resistance
John Connor is considered humanity's savoir in the Terminator series, but even he can't win the war alone. As mentioned earlier, a major component to the game would be uniting human survivors to form the resistance. The player would establish communities at various points across the map, which could act as safe houses (assuming they don't get discovered and overrun by killer robots), fast-travel points, and command centers from which to carry out missions. Like in XCOM, the human survivors you recruit would have randomized abilities that improve over time, and could be given tasks to carry out on their own (similar to the Assassin's Creed series) or accompany the player during missions. Also like in XCOM, if these NPCs died, they would stay dead, creating real consequences for your decisions and failures. It would be up to the player to decide what type of missions to undertake. Do you try to capture that abandoned factory in hopes of using its machinery to bolster your ammunition production, even though it means taking on a pair of patrolling HK-Tanks? Is it worth trying to rescue your captured scouting party from a nearby work camp even though it means risking even more lives? Whatever you choose, Skynet is guaranteed to react with plans of its own.

The Ultimate Ally
Ever since Terminator 2, the series has toyed with the idea of humans using reprogrammed Terminators to aid them in the fight. This component would also be implemented in the game: Players could capture and reprogram Terminators to help defend them in battle or carry out devastating offensive attacks. These robotic allies would sport their own unique research tree, and could be upgraded with a variety of different weapons and programming. However, they would also carry their own risk, should Skynet figure out a way to reactivate them or gather intel from their memory banks. Can you ever really trust a killer robot?

No Fate But What (You) Make
I saved the most ridiculous idea for last, but it's integral to the series nonetheless: Ever since the first movie, humans and Terminators have been traveling through time in hopes of tinkering with history enough to give them an advantage in the future. As technically difficult as it would be to implement, imagine how awesome it would be if you could hop back in time to change a particularly bad outcome? The time-travel element would likely best be limited to more scripted missions that could dynamically pop up based on the state of the world. Perhaps you could give you scientists a head-start on researching a powerful tool, or save your highest-ranking resistance fighter from being retroactively offed by taking a trip back to a pre-apocalyptic L.A.? Other time-travel missions could let you relive classic moments from the film series or the underrated Sarah Connor Chronicles. And hell, since it's a dream game anyway, you could even do a 1:1 light-world/dark-world approach that lets you mess with time continuums on the fly – just don't blame us if you have to bust out a box of straws to keep track of what's going on.

What would you want to see in a Terminator game? Share your thoughts in the comments below.