Review by Ryan Harrison
Hasta la vista, baby.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day, one of my all-time favourite action/sci-fi movies, was a phenomenon back when it hit the cinemas in the early 1990s. It's still regarded by many as the best entry in the Terminator franchise, and its titular star played by Arnold Schwarzenegger is one the all-time greatest movie characters. The second Terminator movie would soon have a number of video game adaptations, and one of them in particular is a light gun arcade shooter, that was ported to a few home consoles. Developed by Probe Entertainment Ltd. and published for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive by Acclaim in 1992, it's T2: The Arcade Game.
Incorporating a few elements of the movie's plot into this game, you take control of the T-800 Terminator, reprogrammed by the human resistance to aid their efforts in the war against the machines and tasked with guarding the life of John Connor. Playing in a similar kind of vein to Operation Wolf in which you scroll through a series of stages while shooting down enemy Terminators and other such machines like Hunter Killer tanks and jets, you also have to do your best to ensure human casualties are kept to a minimum, as well as ensure that John stays alive. Also much like the movie, you start out in the apocalyptic future battlefield setting, progressing through levels of increasing difficulty as you travel to Skynet's headquarters before travelling back in time to the present day to save John – while still a child – from the biggest threat of all, the T-1000.
Now, T2 was a pretty good – and admittedly rather tough game when it came to the arcades, but the Genesis port, limiting your credits and having a challenge factor that can at some points feel more downright cheap than anything else, is not without a few good points, but I feel doesn't really live up to the arcade original. Gameplay-wise, this is very much your classic side-scrolling light gun game in which you simply aim and fire away at the various enemies that show up on-screen; some can be seen in the background coming at you from far off, while others may pop up right in front of you without warning. More often than not, filling them with gunfire will cap them off after a second or two, and for some of the tougher and more resilient enemies, you can pop a missile or two into them from a limited supply.
You'll notice that beside your Energy gauge at the bottom of the screen is another gauge labelled Gunpower; while shooting away with your standard minigun weapon, this will deplete and your weapon's rapid fire rate gets progressively slower and thus will be less effective; you'll either be required to wait for a few seconds to allow it to regenerate, or by shooting open various crates laid in parts of the stage, you can acquire clips from within them to instantly refill your meter. This adds to the challenge in that you'll have to shoot down enemies only as and when they appear or decide whether or not it would be more worth your time using a missile or two instead.
Depending on the number of enemies you kill and how many of your bullets hit a target, your performance is ranked at the end of each stage and your score totted up accordingly; you must also be sure not to shoot down civilians, such as fellow human soldiers in the first stage or some of the holocaust survivors dressed in scruffy street clothes in the second, for instance – though at first glance it could very well be easy to confuse them for enemies – since, after all, Terminators are coated in flesh to appear human! Killing innocent bystanders, conversely results in points being deducted from your score at the end of a stage and when it all comes down to it, the only reason to revisit this game afterwards is to go for a better score.
T2:TAG for the Genesis is also notable in being one of a handful of games in the console's library that is compatible with its 'Menacer' accessory (a handgun/rifle/bazooka hybrid accessory made by Sega as an answer to the Super Nintendo's 'Super Scope' accessory), and in all honesty, is the best way to play this game, though it will of course require a compatible CRT television. One of the biggest drawbacks, however, is that while the game does have a 2-Player co-op mode, the console can only support a single Menacer accessory, thus the second player is forced to playing with a regular control pad.
Speaking of control, the action buttons respond perfectly well and nothing you'd need to worry too much over if you've ever played a light gun game before. When playing with the controller, an on-screen crosshair is controlled via the D-Pad, with the A and B buttons firing your minigun and limited secondary weapons respectively, meaning there's nothing complicated and you'll have it down in seconds. Admittedly, the game is tougher and more frustrating when having to aim with the D-Pad, since enemies can be attacking from all directions and you're open to being hit while adjusting your aim, not to mention that the crosshair's movement is overly delicate, and when you're trying to shoot the additional pickups, it's tricky to hit them precisely, and again, you're also left open to being shot at from enemies in other areas of the screen.
When playing solo, this flaw proves its most annoying in the third stage in which you protect a truck being driven by John Connor as it races its way across the battlefield, yet with enemy Terminators running alongside it trying to shoot both it and you down, in addition to flying HKs bombing it from above, it proves nigh-on impossible to prevent it from being destroyed and forcing you to restart the level over, since you're having to constantly move the crosshair back and forth, and any stray bullets you fire at the running enemy Terminators can very easily miss and do additional damage to the truck. It makes playing with the Menacer and a second player more or less a necessity to actually beat this stage.
Moving onto visuals, you'll find that a lot of what you see here comes from many scenes from the movie such as the war-ravaged ruins of Los Angeles 2029 A.D., the Cyberdyne lab, a high-speed getaway from the T-1000 on the highway and the steel foundry where the final confrontation takes place. Backgrounds aren't the most detailed but do feature plenty of layers and various objects at a single time, while effects of gunfire and explosions also look okay.
There are some pretty good-looking enemy designs, with the Terminator endoskeletons appearing more or less like they do from the movie, and the likenesses of Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick (the T-1000) bear a very good likeness to their real-life counterparts. Some of the brief cut-scenes during the game's opening and between levels are none too shabby either, with the only minor complaint being of some character models appearing pretty grainy and having some rather rough animations; otherwise the graphics work very well for the most part and the game flows at a smooth pace throughout.
Audio-wise, there isn't really a whole lot of music to hear besides some rather stock high-energy background beats that have that trademark Genesis 'twang' to them, and the game notably lacking the trademark Terminator theme. The effects of gunfire and explosions work well enough if nothing to really make you take notice, and a few brief voice clips of some of Arnold's trademark quotes like "Terminated" and "I'll be back" actually sound rather good! If there is a flaw to pick with the sound effects, it's that aside from the larger boss enemies, a distinct sound isn't made to register your shots against the regular enemies, while likewise while you're taking damage your own character doesn't give any kind of a reaction sound or the screen doesn't blink which it normally would do to indicate you're taking damage; countless times I've seen my screen go dark and the "Terminated" message appear, when it isn't always clear as to what has been causing me to take damage!
T2:TAG is a game that gets difficult very early on, and with limited continues and so much coming at you at once, you can very well expect to lose a good few lives and have to replay a few stages over repeatedly. When it gets to the levels in which you assist human characters and guard them from enemy fire, it just proves too unfairly difficult when playing solo with a control pad, considering that you have to restart from the beginning every time you fail the mission instead of being allowed to continue on; so unless you're prepared to cheat to skip a few missions and unless you've got this game completely memorised from start to finish, it could well force you into having to fork out the cash for a Menacer and get a second player to join in just to give you somewhat of a chance of completing the game!
Overall, T2: The Arcade Game for the Genesis is perhaps worth a pickup and a playthrough for the collectors out there who have a working Sega Menacer and need something to go along with it, but otherwise is not too kind on the lesser-experienced players or for those who are restricted to playing with a regular controller (in my case due to having a modern television that is incompatible with the Menacer). You might also find the action to get a little stale and repetitive from time to time and boss battles being long and drawn-out encounters. Had the game been designed to ease up on the challenge and make it easier in the single-player mode in addition to the other minor flaws pointed out being addressed, it would perhaps have been even more worth adding to your Genesis game collection. Fun in parts but ultimately flawed and frustrating, it may be worth checking out if you're serious about your old-school game collecting and go with my advice on using the Menacer and having a second player join in, otherwise it's a better option to try finding, and playing the actual arcade light gun cabinet version instead.
Product Release: T2: The Arcade Game (EU, 12/31/92)
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