Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Survival Simulator 2029

The Terminator is a great science fiction film.  The sequel, while more of a remake than anything else, was good fun.  Sadly, pretty much everything after that has been garbage.  On the video game front there have been a lot of attempts to adapt the franchise with varying degrees of success.  Pretty much all such adaptations fall into the category of shooters with first person, third-person, side-scrolling or light-gun configurations.  One noteworthy example was the 1991 DOS game, simply called Terminator, in that it basically looked and felt like a crude version GTA.  Players could choose between Reese or the titular terminator and the game would end as soon as the terminator or Sarah Conner were eliminated.  It was even possible to play the game two player provided you could find a way to connect a pair of PCs together back then.  Sounds cool, but honestly I never really cared much for the time traveling, modern-day aspects of the IP.  Instead, my interest was, and still is, firmly set on the future conflict.

To me the war against the machines is where a video game adaptation could really shine.  There have been a few attempts, Bethesda made a game entitled Terminator: 2029, which obviously puts players in the boots of a future human resistance fighter under the command of John Conner.  Sadly, the game has the player running around in a super-suit (supposedly stolen from Skynet), that frankly gives players a mood-killing advantage.  You see...the most interesting part of the setting is being this relatively weak human having to scurry around the moonlit ruins of Los Angles, avoiding H-Ks (Hunter-Killers), just trying to survive.  Conceptually, swap out zombies for huge intimidating robots and you're halfway there.  The infiltrator units also bring up some potentially exciting gameplay in that the player might encounter what looks like other people, but not know if they are friend or foe.  Of course the T-600 series of terminators reveal their true nature up close, but a T-800 (aside from being on the big side) is anyone's guess.  Dogs could always spot a terminator, making them a valuable asset.  Weapons, whether it be plasma rifle, slug-thrower, or canister-bomb, are all important tools of the trade.  Vehicles, and vehicular weaponry (such as rocket launchers and mounted guns), are also extremely important for knocking out the heavily armored Skynet units.  Speaking of Skynet, it needs electricity, raw materials and industrial centers in the same way humans need food, clean water and medicine.  In some way there's almost a strategy element to the setting...

One question that I've heard bandied about regarding this Human/Machine conflict is the notion of biological and chemical weapons.  Specifically, Skynet doesn't seem to use them, but it's never explained why?  The simplest answer is that even though Skynet is self-aware, it may still be governed by certain basic functions of its programming (or "laws" if you prefer that term).  Hence, it might not be able to use WMDs aside from the nuclear arsenal it was provided with upon activation.  One setting which explores this idea in more detail is "Reign of Steel," a table-top RPG for the GRUPS ruleset.  In a nutshell, it's the Terminator circa 2029, except with the focus pulled out from southern California to a global view.  Depending on what part of the world you're in the robot conflict looks considerably different.  Local administrative AIs are given a degree of latitude as to how to deal with humans.  Some, such as the AI in charge of Mexico seek to destroy all organic life, while the AI in charge of England allows humans to live in a robot dominated police-state.  Others still allow humans to live so long as they keep their ecological footprint to a minimum (i.e. hunter-gatherer societies).  In essence it's a kitchen-sink for every robot apocalypse that has ever been created in entertainment media.  You could if you wanted have the computer game Earthsiege, the movie "Oblivion," the anime OVA "Casshern: Robot Hunter" and the short story "Second Variety," more or less all on the same planet just separated by geography and (to a lesser extent) time.

As you can probably gather, there's a lot of storytelling potential here.  Much like the blogpost I did recently on the Aliens franchise though, the games we have seen are surprisingly lacking in creativity.  Most are simply copies of the movies they were based on.  Then again, that's the basic problem with pretty much every film in the Terminator franchise after the original.  Rather than expanding on the lore of the setting, we get rehash after rehash of the same basic plot points and visual cues over and over ad-nauseam.  Still, given the choice I think I'd rather have more early access survival games where robots are the threat, rather than zombies, if for no other reason than a change of pace.

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