Dumdum dum dumdum. Dumdum dum dumdum.
That beat lands right from the opening title screen. Iconic, and everything I wanted to set the mood. I was hooked on giving this game a try from 12 seconds into the trailer whether that same beat dropped. The heartbeat of the Terminator franchise.
Now that trailer is actually from 2 years ago. Terminator: Resistance Enhanced is the next-gen version of that last-gen game which originally released just before the pandemic, and largely flew under our radar here at Gaming Nexus. But now the game is back, with upgraded frame rates and resolutions for the PS5. That next-gen version originally released a few months ago near the end of the spring. We're only now getting around to reviewing it because a brand new DLC campaign, Annihilation Line, has shipped expand the experience. This review will take into account both the base game and DLC.
Dumdum dum dumdum. The beat hits again just after the opening cinematic. The action is frantic and like so many FPS you must learn to walk run before you can run shoot. You've got a Terminator hovering over you and must make a break to cover to save your skin before this game is ever going to put a weapon in your hand. The entire first mission lays the foundation, Terminators are cold metal killers. You cannot take them on, only run and never stop running. There are other machines that can go down with a few rounds from a pistol or sub-machine gun, but a T-800... run.
But along the way of that very first mission, the first cracks in the game are visible. There are a handful of NPCs in that first level, more throughout the game and all of them are so poorly done all the frame rate upgrades in the world can't help this game look like something that looks like it came out not 2 years ago, but more like 12 (check out the above trailer). The stiff movement and audio doesn't even remotely match the facial animations. This is not a mis-synched clip edited poorly, this is the NPC experience. While we're on that trailer, you'd think you're in for an action heavy squad based shooting experience, but that's not really how the game plays out. It's as much a stealth game as it is a shooter, and the majority of missions are run solo with your squad often just consisting of a single voice on the radio leading you through the objectives. The machines do look pretty good, and the environments do sell the desolation of a post-apocalyptic machine-run metal-scape, even if level after level starts feeling a bit same-y.
But the cracks crumble into chasms when the game itself divorces itself from its own foundation only a single level after laying it down. You can't fight a Terminator, you can only run... until the very next level when there are carefully placed turrets that can kill them for you. But surely we won't have the crutch of turrets every level? No we won't, because in the very level after that someone tosses you a plasma rifle and then all of the sudden you can actually fight a Terminator. As a matter of fact, you can fight an entire level of Terminators and mow them down one by one. Of course this is still the metal-scape where resources are rare and surely you must scrounge for survival... unless you just loot the corpses of the trail of your dead. Then you basically will never want for ammo again. By the time you get to the point that you unlock the upgraded plasma weapons, the tension isn't about needing the higher powered tech, but more about whether it's even worth firing the new gun until you've whittled down the hundreds of rounds of last-get plasma ammo still clogging your inventory.
The sound design is probably the worst I've ever played in a game. The background music is bad and spiked up so loud that it is probably more aptly called foreground music, the dumdum dum dumdum's are rarely even seen and even more rarely actually warranted, dialog is poorly written and delivered, and the only thing worse than when it is working as intended is the frequent bugs when the music or audio will drastically muffle or change pitch from one scene to the next.
But the real issue with this game is simply that it doesn't know what it was meant to be. It was told the names of the characters and dropped them into the story line, but never grasped their meaning. It crafted an action-packed trailer and delivered a plodding stealth exploration game. This is a game that should have spent more than a single level and cut-scene building the tension for the Terminators before just making them slightly more bullet sponge-y enemies like all of the others. You are "marked for termination" in a major plot point but don't spend a single level truly running from that fate. As a matter of fact you spend multiple levels actually running toward that unstoppable force with reckless abandon. You could have crafted 3/4 of the entire game around that marked for death plot line playing cat and mouse the whole way, always rushing to stay one step ahead of a soul-less hunk of metal and the dumdum dum dumdum echoing from one tight escape to the next rushed getaway. But instead you spend one opening scene as the mouse before being transformed into a plasma shooting wolf. The cat never really stood a chance.
This game is so out of touch with its own lore, it not only pits you against a giant walking mech with a quest to quietly snap a photo of it for "research", it then tempts you to take it down as a one-man army and then attaches a PlayStation trophy to the feat. And it's not a hard trophy to pop (speaking of trophies, the game is a leisurely stroll to platinum if you're into that sort of thing, unless it glitches out on you, like it did for me on multiple occasions. I had to run a 2nd play through to sang multiple missing trophies, some even "unmissable" story related ones). It wants to create tension but fails to actually lean down your own godlike strength to actually pull it off. It introduces a scavenging economy and then makes everything in the shopfront useless to spend your credits on. You can just pick up most of the guns off the ground in the next mission, unless you really want the one with the useless scope (trust me you don't, the only thing worse than the sound design is the scoped rifles). You kill a flamethrower Terminator in one level, then the protagonist expresses shock and surprise in the very next level when they claim to see a flame throwing Terminator for the first time. You do remember looting that corpse right? The evidence is piling up in your backpack's inventory.
The entire game never really grasped what should have been, never stayed true to the groundwork it laid even just moments before, and finally crescendo into a rather decent final mission that closed with a sloppy glitchy final battle where my controller wouldn't stop vibrating. There was an unceasing grunting noise steady as a heartbeat throughout the last cut-scene until finally the background music rose too loud and drowned out the last words of dialogue. There are moments about the base game that are decent, but the overall experience is heavily flawed.
And then we get to the new content, all of which is significantly better than that terribly low bar already set. Even before we look at the Annihilation Line DLC, we have Infiltrator Mode - originally DLC for PC that was included in the PS5 Enhanced version. Infiltrator Mode flips the script from the main campaign and puts you in control of a Terminator, complete with red vision and visual overlays, and pitted against the resistance with a series of tasks to build up intel before taking on the final stronghold to eliminate your target. Infiltrator Mode is easily better than anything from that campaign because it understands what it is meant to be: the power fantasy of stomping a mile in the boots of a Terminator. You can breach doors, wield chain-guns, and mow down resistance troops like the one man army a Terminator is meant to be. The campaign couldn't find a narrative that worked and kept shoehorning a lone resistance soldier into that role and the clothes never fit. It was a wardrobe made for Infiltrator mode, even if the gown quickly turns to rags halfway through the short 45 minute Infiltrator Mode campaign as sustained damage from the many encounters surely must be ripping the flesh slowly from your character's body.
The game moves from strength to strength with the Annihilation DLC as well. The character models were notably better, the story much more interesting, the use of squad-based action much better incorporated, and even the story itself was a better one-off mission than the main campaign that reached too far. It does fall into similar traps and settles to be something far less than it should be - you open with a single stealth mission before getting handed a plasma rifle again for mission 2. But at least within that mismatched over arching design there is a better narrative to the events as they unfold. Even the internal consistencies get a little more attention paid, here you keep running into T-600s, "older models," that aren't as overpowered as the main campaign's T-800s were meant to be but never really were.
In all, the DLC clocks in at a few extra hours, something that can be conquered over a weekend. It does suffer from the classic trope where every mission starts with a promised objective but usually getting to the end of that road just moves the goalposts into the next mission for the same objective because, well, your princess is in another castle. It does not cure the ails of the main campaign, and honestly placing the storyline in the middle of the main campaign's events with the same protagonist is a big mistake because some pretty important stuff goes down that should have a greater effect on the original plot, but doesn't because it was never pre-thought out to have done so. And the very point of continuity with the main campaign's protagonist is entirely unnecessary. There is no reason why these events of the DLC have to tie into that one person's experience. It just muddles the two stories when they could easily be the paths of two separate members of the Resistance. It's not like anyone really knows or cares who "Jacob Rivers" even is after all, but I guess it makes better marketing copy if you can advertise Jacob is joining up in this DLC with franchise cornerstone Kyle Reese. Film and games going behind the Annihilation Line as equals. Someone must be convinced DLC needs street cred, but I found it unnecessary.
Terminator Resistance: Enhanced and the Annihilation Line DLC ends up this rather weird mash of an experience. It completely misses the point of the franchise, fails to live by its own rules or at least decides to re-write them almost as soon as it lays them down, and opens with a shooter experience with underwhelming combat, some of the worst audio design I've ever heard, and character models that are embarrassingly outdated. Then it does starts redeeming that utterly shambolic base game with two much better pieces of extra content that hint at what might have been. The Infiltrator Mode is actually rather excellent, if only 45 minutes long. The Annihilation Line DLC rests on the same broken skeleton of the main campaign but at least puts a better foot forward with every step. If this is the game the developers were convinced needed to be made, then every step should have been walked on the side of the Terminators. The story of the Resistance should have been one about the determination of the human spirit to never give up even when the odds were overwhelming. There was an opportunity to really flush out the desperation of the remaining few against an unstoppable force of cold steel and even colder logic. But that's a story that can't be told with cookie cutter shooter mechanics, which is all this game really had in its arsenal. Well, that and an overpowered plasma rifle.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
First picked up a game controller when my mother bought an Atari 2600 for my brother and I one fateful Christmas.
Now I'm a Software Developer in my day job who is happy to be a part of the Gaming Nexus team so I can have at least a flimsy excuse for my wife as to why I need to get those 15 more minutes of game time in...