Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines
"I'll be back." ... "At £9.99."
They just wouldn't let it lie. The money men couldn't just leave a fantastic series alone and let its legend rest in peace. They had to go the whole hog and exhume the Terminator cash cow, defecate on its flaming corpse and wheel out an ageing Arnie for a familiar round of destruction, CG effects and one-liners in return for millions of dollars. But, ach, as much as I want to hate the cynical, gutless pointless self-parodied attempts at reviving the franchise, the third movie didhave its moments, and kept at least some of its less demanding fans happy enough for merely not being the complete pile of arse that everyone expected it to be.
The crushingly inevitable game tie-in, however, was always going to be a derided after its less than promising E3 showing; it was just a question of how much of a complete hash Black Ops could make of it. The answer is spectacular. Rarely - if ever - have we witnessed such a painful licensing gaff, and the six or so hours we spent in the company of Rise of the Machines surely rank alongside the most painful we've endured in twenty odd years of videogaming. The pain. Make it stop. Why do you make us relive these nightmares again?
You'd be hard pressed to imagine how a company with the wealth of experience of Atari/Infogrames could sanction an FPS so intensely terrible that it makes the hairs in our nose ache just thinking about it. But it has, and we must do our duty and warn you from ever contemplating buying this eye-bulgingly bad game. From the moment the first bullet leaves Arnie's gun, it's patently obvious you're in for a terrifying experience, but for all the wrong reasons.
If you load up the hilarious 'Making Of' propaganda video and read some of the guff, it all sounds like an immensely promising premise; a time travelling first-person shooter/beat-'em-up starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that fleshes out the basic T3 timeline, replete with tons of weapons and the chance to dish out mindless destruction to a procession of waddling Cyborgs and assorted Skynet death machines in a post-apocalyptic nightmare. And with co-operation of the movie actors (a first for Arnie, as he cheerily admits), an exclusive, Starship Troopers-esque deleted scene and a wealth of other intriguing extras there's the potential to deliver a Lord of the Rings-style game-of-the-movie experience that snags fans of the genre and the movie alike. What you get instead for your £40 is a game that drags the reputation of movie-licensed games back down to the gutter in truly disgraceful fashion, and Atari with it.
The first thing PAL PS2 owners will note is the lack of 60Hz mode. Not a huge problem, you might think, until the whopping great borders appear, bigger than any we've seen since the likes of Devil May Cry two years ago. Undeterred, we fought on determined to give the game a fair crack, only slightly suspicious that less than a handful of publications around the world have published reviews.
Lock and load, muddy funksters
But once the game gets underway, we were in absolutely no doubt as to the extent of the game's problems. The first encounters centre around dispatching a staggeringly inept posse of drunken T900s and flying F/K Fighters through a series of rubble-strewn concrete environments, as grey, dull and lifeless as your worst nightmares could imagine. Not only is the combat dull and unengaging, with weak gun sounds, repetitive Arnie speech samples and limp visual feedback, but the AI is almost entirely absent, as each enemy crawls inexorably in your general direction. This state of affairs remains for the course of the game, and is compounded by some astonishing technical flaws that truly boggle the mind.
For example, most encounters are all over in a few seconds with none of the enemies capable of producing anything approaching a good firefight. Loosing off a few well-placed rounds always sends the T900s tumbling to the floor and springing back up unconvincingly, before they eventually explode into a rudimentary shower of orange sprites once you've floored them a second time. Or better still, just wallop them with a grenade with the secondary fire button. If only killing Terminators was this easy in the movies, eh Arnie?
Sorry, hang on a minute, did we say sprites? Yes indeed. Not since the days of the Build engine six or seven years ago have these pixellated explosions blighted our screens in an FPS, but that's precisely what you get with T3 when you destroy anything, and it's by no means the worst example of T3's technical ineptitude. Check out the hilarious flame effects, or - for that matter - the animation, the texturing, or just about anything else in fact.
Firing any of the game's projectile weapons at a posse of zombie-esque enemies is even more comical, as it propels them into the air in synchronised formation with a complete absence of transitional animation. With an adequately powerful weapon, entire walls and groups vaporise into an unconvincing puff, while the standard of the texturing and scenery has to rank at the very top of the tree for breath-taking ineptitude. Not only that, the level design is so disgracefully uninspired that it's often possible to wander around for minutes on end before you get your bearings in the most samey looking environment ever created. In a sea of grey, you'll be drowning in your own bile as you struggle to comprehend how such a steaming pile has been excreted into your console - it's the sort of thing you'd be raising an eyebrow about five years ago, never mind this far into the lifespan of the fourth generation machines. We know Atari needs a quick pre-Christmas fix to sate the shareholders, but releasing this is taking commercial desperation to new depths. It's so painfully bad you'd think this was its suicide note written in blood.
Being a fairly bog standard FPS in terms of control, we didn't even think for a second to wise up on what it had to offer until we accidentally tapped L1 at one point and found our targeting reticule suddenly locking onto a distant target. Yes, that's right, the game doesn't even require the basic skill of being able to aim, so thereafter we went about the business of clearing each level by merely locking onto everything first, thus stripping out any remaining challenge the game may have offered. And in case you're ever in any doubt of where to go next, every level comes complete with a map, and a little radar with a blob to indicate where you should be heading next. Brain cells? Who needs 'em? Metroid Prime this is not.
If you ever do find yourself so comatose that you're stuck, the chances are the game wants you to pull a switch somewhere, blow up another random pile of rubble by, erm, shooting at it, man a turret or meet up with Captain whatsisface on an escort mission. Failing that, you're provided with three continues per level, which is fine apart from the fact that it's pointless and a checkpoint save system would've served far better. Even more baffling is the fact that upon respawning after restarting a level, most of the key enemies appear to be absent, making it a rather tiresome slog as you work your way back to your previous position.
Kilroy made me do it
In terms of gameplay variety the lights are on, but there's no one at home, the door's ajar and the burglars are all sitting around the leather sofas rolling up a fat one, seemingly unconcerned that the sirens are wailing outside. It's a truly remarkable festival of brain dead gaming where the designers doubtlessly came up with the innovative idea of letting some work experience lackies mess about for a few months while they got on with more important business, like having cups of tea and chocolate fudge brownies, while watching repeats of Kilroy ('My job is making me ill').
Either that or they randomly generated them in an afternoon when they heard that Bruno Bonnell was due to pay a visit. Surely nothing else could explain how this abortion came to be? No sane person connected to the game industry, or anyone who has ever even heard of videogames could have been responsible for creating this, could they? It defies the laws of gaming creation in the Noughties, and is so poor at times we're quite sure this will now become the new benchmark for terrifyingly bad experiences - and let's not do it a disservice by limiting this benchmark to videogames.
But it gets worse. Oh yes it does. Strapped in like a howling madman on a windmill on a blustery day is a beat-'em-up element that asks us to time travel, back to 1994 when we were so much younger and certainly naïve to the ways of the gaming spin doctors. You see, back then gamers, retailers and even gullible magazine staff could be fooled into believing that a rather sexy looking beat-'em-up called Rise of the Robots was actually a good game. It wasn't. Oh ho ho. Despite looking sexy with its high res rendered sheen (a big novelty at the time), in fact it stunk up so bad that we're still harping on about it nearly 10 years later, and anyone who recalls it will be reading this now with a facial expression that simultaneously depicts fond delight and that disgusted grimace. The kind of look you have when you're taking a really good dump after a bout of egg bound constipation. Sorry for that graphic mental image, but this is serious business.
Anyway, in late 2003 we're asked to play a sub-game in Rise Of The Machines possibly even worse than that. It's suspicious that the two games share very similar names; is it possible that the team behind Mirage's anti-classic was drafted in especially to add its unique design input? In stills it probably looks almost passable, just like Rise of the Robots did back then. Look, Arnie's faithfully represented, and the Terminatrix looks mighty fine too. But if you ever get the chance to play it (if you dare), you'll be doubled up in a mixture of wincing pain and perverse pleasure as you struggle to understand how a beat-'em-up with four basic commands (punch, block, throw, kick) can be so dramatically execrable. This wasn't meant to happen.
Mercifully they're over in a matter of a couple of minutes, but the damage is done. Your brain will forever be scarred by the memory of those fleeting, life-defining moments of pain. Games will never look so bad again next to this one. Other publishers must be secretly pleased that Rise of the Machines has emerged to make their games look like works of art by comparison. Atari staff, on the other hand, must be hoping that this sorry mess is quickly forgotten so they can go about promoting and releasing quality games. Hang on, what's this? A DRIV3R press release you say?
Possibly the only good thing we can say about the whole experience is that there's a couple of cabinets dotted around with Atari 2600 versions of Missile Command and Centipede on them (cheapskates, why not at least put the arcade versions in there). We seriously had more fun on those than we did in the rest of the game.
Shamed by the past
If you have a flagrant disregard for your sanity, your bank balance and enjoy the kind of masochistic self flagellation that true weirdos get up to in the privacy of their own home, then by all means pop down to your local gaming emporium and pick up Rise of the Machines and remind yourself how good all the other games in your collection are by comparison. Alternatively, have some fun by asking your friendly local sales assistant to give you a demo of it (make sure it's a well known chain for extra comedy value), and watch with amusement as they try and sell the game to you. If you're really good you can play along with the charade for maybe ten minutes or more before bursting into laughter and spitting out the immortal words... "I'll be back". Do anything, watch the movie, buy the DVD, just do anything but buy this comical exercise in interactive merchandising.