SummaryA technically amazing game with interesting ideas that falls flat on execution.
The GoodThe game has quite a few interesting ideas. The adage in the promotional poster "you can't keep a bad 'droid down" tends to hold true here. I remember being upset that no matter what I did, when I put a Terminator Infiltrator down, it would keep getting back up. Turns out once they're knocked down, you have to MAKE them stay down. When faced with a great number of enemies, and the player often is, target management becomes an important factor of survivability. If an enemy is knocked down, it becomes critical that the right decision is made: Do you destroy the knocked-out bot, or do you engage his still-standing buddy to the side, and come back to the other later? It adds a lot to the gameplay.
Some areas of the game are incredibly suspenseful. In one of the earlier levels, The Arboretum, you must make your way through a dimly-lit indoor park. The thing is, there are no Terminators to be found here. Instead, the level is filled with an overwhelming number of Seeker units, essentially floating bombs that follow the player and only alert their presence with a barely-audible hum. This turns an otherwise boring level into a frantic race for survival, where no place is safe, and a seeker could be behind you at any given time. This exciting scenario is an exception to the rule though, as I later found out.
The graphics were mostly well-done. Terminator Rampage was released on November 12, 1993, basically a month before DOOM was released. At the time of release, Terminator Rampage was one of the first first-person-shooter games to exhibit true full-screen display. The sprite (2D Prop) objects were animated well, as they were mostly digitized (as with the weapons) or 3d-rendered (as with the enemies). The only real fault here is that some of the base wall textures are bland and used in really odd locations (Why does a gymnasium/recreation center look like it is in the middle of a rusted-over gulag?), but this has more to do with the level-design itself than graphics.
The music is particularly pleasing. In a move that would later become a Bethesda staple, Terminator Rampage supported dynamic, situational music. When exploring, the music is calm and subdued, but when an enemy is encountered, it ramps up to a fast-paced action set of music. It creates a nice change from games where one hard-set music piece is present throughout entire levels, and considering how insanely large levels are in Terminator: Rampage, it is nice to have the variety. Technically, the music is well-composed. The instrumentation is spot-on, and sounds fantastic on just about any General-MIDI device. Even the Soundblaster 4-Operator FM music sounds decent enough. It is somewhat a pity though that about half of the tracks (the exploring scores) are re-used from Terminator 2029, but the music is so fitting that it isn't very distracting.
The BadThe sound effects aren't the best, and can range from decent to ear-screechingly bad (mainly dealing with rising doors that make up about 50% of the levels after sublevel 5). It isn't a main detractor though, so I'll just move on.
Terminator: Rampage was oft-criticized in its day for being a resource-hog that demanded a top-of-the-line system. This criticism holds true. In a time when most people were running 386 SX-33 systems, Terminator Rampage practically demanded a 486 DX-66 with 4meg of free Expanded (EMS) memory and a decent 1meg or better video card. While these requirements might sound pathetic today, they were ridiculous for the time.
Of course not all the problems of being a resource-hog can be attributed to the high requirements. Compounding the issue is the fact that the engine is very, VERY clunky. The movement and scrolling, even at the lowest detail level on a super-powered system is slow and choppy. It is somewhat confusing given that the game uses the same engine as in The Elder Scrolls: Arena, but Arena was far smoother and playable. The keyboard and joystick control options are useless, and provide either an infuriatingly slow turning radius or completely imprecise, choppy aiming control. I suppose that this was the price that had to be paid for the amazing visuals and large play-area.
The main problem with Terminator Rampage, despite all of its interesting ideas and polished graphics, is the disappointing, confusing, and frustrating level design. There are really two separate areas of criticism here, so they should really be split up: The gameplay itself, and the actual level design.
As to the gameplay, the game takes a primitive Wolfenstein-styled approach. Kill everything that moves, get the elevator key, collect parts to make a Phased Plasma Rifle (the V-TEC rifle as it is called ingame), and progress to the next sublevel. The game offers no real improvements on the genre and is only aggravated by the slow, unoptimized controls. The game also exhibits an almost unheard-of difficulty. Enemies dish out a lot of damage, but health and ammo are placed so sparsely that finding any can take an hour or more. By that time though it is likely you will either be so far from being able to heal adequately or so bored that you've already given up. The placement of weapons and health are so sporadic and isolated in the humongous levels that it makes playing the game without cheating an exercise in masochism. It is like Bethesda had a team meeting and asked themselves "How can we make this game so impossible that it artificially extends the playtime by hundreds of hours?" These factors may not be a deathblow to the gameplay by themselves, but when coupled with the atrocious level design, they ascend into a new rung of frustration.
And the level design. Imagine if you will, the levels in Wolfenstein or Corridor 7 if you have played those games (essentially small to medium-sized mazes that are relatively easy to navigate). Now cube the size of the mazes and add a single key and V-TEC part in some far-off corner of the level with absolutely NO indicators to where they might be. Fill said levels with overwhelming amounts of enemies, give inadequate supplies, and make the flow and setting of the levels have no purpose whatsoever.
Essentially, all of the levels are gigantic mazes repeated over and over again with only slightly-variating textures and settings. The levels only get worse as the game progresses, like the developers ran out of ideas and thought to themselves "Well, we don't know what to make anymore, so we'll just fill the last 20 levels of the game with nondescript brick walls and dirt tunnels." I actually spent the time to beat this game when I was younger, and I wouldn't even think of attempting it again. It makes the game, above all else, boring. Unfortunately despite all of the game's strong-points, the simple fact that it loses the entirety of its fun factor over a short period of time ruins its staying power.
There was a reason Doom completely drowned out Terminator Rampage in the Christmas rush of 1993, and that reason was playability.
The Bottom LineWhile the game is impressive on a superficial basis, its lacking level design, drawn-out gameplay, and flawed execution bring what could have been a fantastic and groundbreaking game to a level best described as mediocre. It is unfortunate as the game really wants to succeed at its core, but poor decisions on Bethesda's part in regards to fun-factor and playability ensured this Terminator's fate: to be beached upon the shores of hell in the wake of the FPS revolution soon to come.