The Best Terminator Game Was Made By Bethesda in 1991

When they realised what Skynet had done, the Resistance sent a warrior back through time. His mission: to save the future by protecting the past. So they’ll be disappointed to learn that he ended up wrapped around the wheels of my Terminator’s stolen car. That’s not quite how James Cameron’s movie ended, but the joy of riding roughshod over canon, and Kyle Reese’s mangled corpse, is one of several reasons Bethesda’s 1991 The Terminator deserves a remake.

True, there’s no shortage of other Terminator games (as well as a few Grand Theft Auto mods) but most are simply action titles that see you blasting countlesss robotic foes. The infiltration aspect of Terminators — they could be anyone, anywhere — rarely figures in.

Most games, including the upcoming Terminator: Resistance, are set in the future, cast you as Blando T. Whitebread and kit you out with all manner of futuristic Terminator-killing weaponry. As unsettling as Terminators might look, with human teeth set in a gleaming metal skull, they lose their menace when you start popping their heads off with a plasma rifle. At this point, they’ve gone from grimacing, mechanical murder skeletons to generic cannon fodder. You’re not worrying about them infiltrating your ranks because they’re too busy lumbering helpfully into your line of fire.  From a programming standpoint, it’s probably easier to create a wasteland than it is to craft a bustling, functioning city. But if you’re going to make the Terminators so ineffectual you might as well swap them out for zombies and be done with it.

Bethesda’s The Terminator, on the other hand, actually makes Terminators (or one specific Terminator) terrifying. In doing so, it remains the most accomplished Terminator game to date. Despite being released the same year as the action-oriented Terminator 2, it opts to tap into the first movie’s fear factor. When you’re watching Arnold Schwarzenegger sucker punch a Terminator whose arsecheeks can become two smaller Terminators, it’s easy to forget that the original is, at heart, a horror film. It has some sci-fi elements, but its premise of being pursued by a relentless, implacable foe is pure nightmare fuel. And Bethesda’s game is well prepared to throw you in at the deep end.

Back to the Future

With no instructions other than to safeguard or terminate Sarah Connor (depending upon whether you’re playing as Reese or the Terminator) you’re dropped into a 3D cityscape and left to fend for yourself. As The Terminator, this is unsettling enough. But as Kyle Reese, with his easily punctured organs, you’re frantic. When it comes to gathering supplies there’s no finding a hand-pistol in a bin; here, you’ve got to wander around the open world, walk into a gun shop and whistle innocently while sliding an AK-47 into your coat pocket. Get too greedy, and you’ll find the police waiting for you outside, guns at the ready. Provided, that is, you live long enough to arm up.

The game ramps up the tension by recreating the cat and mouse element of the movie. It’s not that The Terminator will show up when you’ve had a few minutes to get settled, or when you’re ready to try and kill him; as Kyle Reese’s movie counterpart puts it, “It absolutely will not stop, ever, until you are dead.” Your robotic nemesis could be twenty miles away or he could be about to step round the corner, guns blazing. This year’s Resident Evil 2 Remake’s Mr. X character was similarly relentless, but you could at least duck into a save room; here, there’s no safe haven. You can roam for half an hour without seeing him and then, just when you’re starting to wonder if there’s been a glitch and he’s dropped off the map, you hear machine gun fire.

Encounters like this force you make split-second decisions, adrenaline pumping through your veins; do you send Sarah away, hoping you can find her again before the Terminator does? Steal a car? Try and take him on, knowing the cost if you fail? Spend a few hours with Bethesda’s The Terminator and you’ll understand why Kyle Reese was such a wreck in the movie. Even if the game didn’t stop you from leaving the map, the Terminator would still follow. If Sarah and Kyle fled to another continent, three years later they’d be at their son’s birthday party when Mr Funny Flange, family entertainer, suddenly pulled out an Uzi. Bethesda’s game may not let you duck beneath a table in Tech Noir or crush the Terminator in a steel mill, but it perfectly channels the spirit of the movie and the menace of designer Stan Winston’s chrome creation. 

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Hasta La Vista

There may, however, be a glitch in Skynet’s mainframe, a reason or two why this game has never been remade or republished. While Bethesda Softworks developed and published the game, their license to publish Terminator games has likely long since lapsed; Terminator: Resistance is being handled by Teyon and Reef Entertainment. The movie studios of today are also more cautious about how their properties are used. Captain America might be allowed to punch Hitler in the face, but Disney would likely balk at him using his small intestine as a skipping rope. Skydance, who hold the rights to The Terminator, did approve the use of Arnold’s Terminator in Mortal Kombat 11, itself a remarkably bloody game. But having him slaughter Sarah Connor or Kyle Reese might raise some eyebrows.

After two middling-to-dire titles, Alien: Isolation breathed new life into the monster and is one of the most terrifying games I’ve ever played. It received positive acclaim upon its release and rightly frames the alien as a figure of fear, as it was always intended to be. Bethesda’s The Terminator did the same for its sci-fi menace, albeit before the wave of games that made them into stock enemies.

Remaking Bethesda’s The Terminator could be the shot in the arm the Terminator franchise needs. Nearly thirty years later, it still captures the mood of Terminator better than any other game. This cybernetic cat and mouse game deserves to be experienced by a new audience — but even if it never gets that upgrade, I know I’ll be back.

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