Retro Review | Terminator 2: The Arcade Game

Retro Review | Terminator 2: The Arcade Game

Terminator 2: The Arcade Game, a cheap cash-in or a game that actually expands upon the movie?

In 1991, after a huge wave of advertising, Terminator 2: Judgement Day blasted onto the cinema screens. Reportedly the most expensive film ever made at that time, the $100 million budget was clearly up on the screen with large actions sequences, huge explosions and many amazing effects including one of the first major uses of CGI to create the amazing look of the T-1000 Terminator.

As we all know, the film was a huge success.

As with any film of this magnitude, there was a huge wave of merchandising to help promote the film. Ocean Software acquired the home computer/console rights and created a game that followed the film’s plot-line very closely.

Whilst I would play this game at a later date, it was a licensed game that caught my attention in the local arcade.

Created by Midway, the upright arcade cabinet featured the film’s logo and was emblazoned with a huge promotional picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger. But it was when I first glanced at the screen that it really caught my interest.

Whilst I loved Terminator 2 and saw it in the cinema several times, there was one aspect of the film I fell in love with and I wish it had been expanded on further, the future war sequence.

I loved the depressing bleak apocalyptic future for the human race. The way that we were fighting back against a superior mechanical force with limited resources. The human resistance was dirty, dishevelled and run down in stark contrast to the bright new silver killing machines built by Skynet. In particular, the Hunter-Killers that take to the skies as sleek attack craft or the land-based variants that roamed the wastelands as huge tracked machines.

This is what I saw in the Terminator 2 arcade game. Here was a first-person shooter that expanded upon the entire future war sequence from the film. To keep the experience as authentic as possible, much like Midway’s hit fighting game Mortal Kombat, all the graphics were digitised sprites of actors, props and models.

One of the many “Arnies” looks pissed!

This blew my mind and even at a whopping £1 a go, which was expensive for a play on a machine at that point when on it was usually 50p, I had to play.

From that moment I started playing, I was hooked. I regret to think how much money I have actually spent on those machines in my youth.

To control the game were two guns mounted to the cabinet for dual-player action. This game wasn’t a true light gun game as they were, in fact, elaborate joysticks to move a targeting sight around the screen.

The physical guns resembled UZI 9mm but with modifications on the front to make them look similar to the futuristic guns that featured in the game. There was a small button near the front of the gun that you rested you non-trigger fingered hand upon and this was used to fire grenades.

You are playing as the Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, from Terminator 2. The arcade game expands upon what happened to you prior to meeting up with the young John Connor in 1991.

The first level opens on an empty futuristic wasteland at night. Two Hunter Killer units fly straight towards you and try to kill you with a salvo of missiles that are easily shot down.

Then the first Terminator, the infamous silver T-800 skeleton, walks towards you from the distance. Gun him down and another appears and so it begins.

The scenery scrolls from right to left and you must sight to stay alive as Terminator units come from all angles. Hunter Killer units can be seen flying past in the far distance and occasionally a tank fitted with missile launchers will also rumble on screen and try to take you down.

No matter where the enemy was in relation to you, be it a Terminator standing right in front of you taking up half the screen in a beautiful digitised sprite, or something in the far distance, it could all be destroyed.

John! Can’t you read the sign!? Are you sure you want to go in there?

The game does have several sequences whereupon it stops scrolling and you have to fight on the spot. The first of these is when you encounter four fellow human resistance fighters crouched behind a wall.

You must protect them, as well as yourself, as the Terminators lob large futuristic grenades at you. (In fact there the same ones as used by Kyle Reese (Michael Biehn) in the short future war sequence from the original Terminator film). But you must take care as it’s also possible to shoot them and you will gain a large point reduction for every human life lost at the end of the level.

The game will also feature another stopping moment at the end of the first level where you must win your first boss battle, a huge Hunter Killer tank that fills almost the whole screen.

Terminator 2: The Arcade Game plays like this throughout its short runtime with a change of environments that follow the plot of the film.

Other gameplay elements also exist to slow down your progress, to keep pumping the machine full of cash.

You will find a health bar that runs vertically down the side of the screen. Obviously the more your shot, the lower it falls. The bar runs out, your dead, game over.

Gun Power was a secondary bar that sat horizontally at the bottom of the screen. The longer you hold down the trigger, the slower your rate of fire would become. This adds a small tactical element of having to actually let go of the trigger when you could so to allow time for the gun’s power to recharge. A slower rate of fire would mean precious seconds being used to kill the larger enemies.

Bonuses were left lying around the landscape as crates you could destroy to reveal their contents. These included smart bombs (destroys everything on screen), extra grenades and gun cooling units, an extra that allowed you to fire the gun at maximum power for a short time without having to worry about slow down.

I notice no one is attacking Eddie Furlong!

The second level will see you protect a human hideout from a Terminator attack. Not only are there standard Terminators, but now Arnold shows up in his famous Terminator 2 look with a leather jacket, trousers and black sunglasses.

This, of course, brings a variety to the gameplay. We know Skynet builds Arnold model Terminators as that is the factory standard. But where are all the leather jackets coming from and why even dress them that way? (I’m just being picky looking back on reflection!)

The next level brings a slight change, still set in the future, the resistance leader John Connor is driving to Skynet in a pickup truck. As he drives left to right on the screen, you must shoot down the various enemies that Skynet sends to stop him. This will lead to the next level that will see you fight your way through to the huge computer, Skynet itself.

Defeating Skynet will reveal the time field generator, the time travel machine that will allow you to travel back in time to 1991. This is when the game follows the film’s plot more closely.

A brief montage of video clips from the film speeds through the films opening half (you travel back in time, meet John Connor, save him from being killed and that a liquid metal Terminator is out to kill him).

The next level is set within the offices of Cyberdyne, the company that will eventually build Skynet if history is left unchanged.

Now the gameplay has an extra added element. As you may remember, the heroes of Terminator 2 travelled to Cyberdyne to destroy everything to make sure Skynet would never be created. Your role in this level is the same. However, you must still fend off the lab technicians throwing vials of yellow acid, security staff and the SWAT teams.

The T-1000 breaks the fourth wall and tries to attack you directly!

I have played this game many times in my youth and never managed to destroy enough of the offices to 100% completion. It’s only recently in playing the game via MAME emulation (YAY! Infinite credits) that it’s easiest to ignore all enemies and concentrate on destroying the office. It’s also harder than it sounds as you literally have to shoot almost everything, computers, desks, soft toys hanging from the ceiling and even the blue flashing beacons. It all counts towards that important goal.

This level will feature the appearance of John Connor as the teenage boy, played once again by Eddie Furlong and his mother Sarah. Linda Hamilton didn’t want to reprise her film role for the game and so stuntwoman Debbie Evans took her place.

Your weapon in these modern-day levels is a machine gun, the grenade launcher has now been replaced with a shotgun.Both Sarah and John will run across the screen leaving you bonus weapon upgrades and shotgun shells. They can both be shot with a cry of “NO!”, but they won’t die.

Considering the game runs on 1991 levels of hardware, the screen is running at a resolution of 400×256 pixels. Whilst it looked great at the time (I think it still does), you couldn’t tell that it wasn’t Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor.

After you have successfully destroyed (or not) the Cyberdyne offices, as per the film, you escape via a SWAT truck. You must prevent the truck from being destroyed by the T-1000 when he attacks via the helicopter and the Benthic Petroleum tanker that is filled with liquid nitrogen.

Trivia: The fake company Benthic Petroleum is the same company that ran the underwater drilling rigs in James Cameron’s previous film, 1989’s The Abyss.

The final level takes place in the steel mill where you must protect John Connor from the T-1000 (Robert Patrick reprising his iconic film role) in a final shoot-out. Bizarrely, this also includes SWAT guys (I presume) who abseil down on ropes wearing welding masks. Well, it is hot in a steel mill!

Completing the game will have one of two possible outcomes. If you reached the 100% destruction rate in the Cyberdyne offices, the arcade game will present a congratulatory message and scroll the production credits.

If you failed to reach the 100%, the game will restart back at the beginning and you must try all over again!

Just popping down to the shops…sorry, I meant Skynet!

What I really love about this game was its attention to detail and that it really felt like a true part of the Terminator universe. This was helped by the digitised graphics that helped the game feel “real”. Something I don’t think hand-drawn sprites would have achieved.

The sound is also 100% digitised with real samples used for speech and the noise of explosions, weapons etc. There are plenty of speech samples from Arnold alone, the arcade cabinet has him proudly claiming “Excellent!” every time you feed it your cash.

As the years passed and more behind the scenes’ information became available, it transpired that several ideas for the film that were abandoned were brought to life for the arcade game. These included the snake-like robots and the flying orb machines that attack you during the later Future War sequences.

Whilst there are gold Terminators in this game, I believe they were simply to create a bit of colour as nearly everything Skynet builds is silver!

The game was ported to the most popular home formats with obvious limitations. From my quick YouTube research, the Super Nintendo (Famicom) is the best home version as it uses scaled down sprites from the original arcade machine. All the other versions use redrawn sprites from scratch and to me, it just doesn’t look right.

The other major problem is that even the most powerful home consoles of the time couldn’t match the dedicated arcade hardware. In other words, the amount of on-screen enemies at any one time is drastically reduced on the home console version, more of a Terminator 2: Arcade Diet Edition.

Lucky shot! Unfortunately, he’ll require several of those to take him down.

For me, it’s the original arcade release every time. The original ROM image is very easy to find on the internet and you’ll also require a copy of M.A.M.E. (Multi Arcade Machine Emulator)for your computer.

With the emulation providing unlimited credits of play, maybe you’ll discover the love for this game that I have and enjoy a great blast in the world of Terminator 2.

Enjoy those forty minutes while you can…it’s not a very long game.

John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.