Friday, 21 September 2012

The Terminator (MS-DOS) - Guest Post

Here's a pickle. Ray's gone to all that trouble playing those Judge Dredd games and I've already played the only Judge Dredd FPS, Judge Dredd: Dredd vs. Death, back in January!

Never fear, I've had a look around and I've found something completely unrelated to play instead!

The Terminator Bethesda DOS title screen
Prepare yourself for a shock. Some might say a Future Shock...

The shock is that I'm not really playing Future Shock. Future Shock was the fourth Terminator FPS by Bethesda in 1995. This here is the very first Terminator game also by Bethesda from 1990!

Los Angeles 2029 A.D.

The machines rose from the ashes of the nuclear fire. Their war to exterminate mankind had raged for decades, but the final battle would not be fought in the future.

It would be fought here, in our present.


Sure is a sunny day here in Los Angeles tonight.

On the main menu, the game offered me the choice to play as either the Terminator or heroic future-dude Kyle Reese. Of course, I picked the Terminator.

My mission, I assume (as it's not explicitly stated on-screen): locate and eliminate Sarah Connor, thus preventing her son John from leading the human resistance against SkyNET in the future. I'm also not wearing any clothes, so that's a priority.

There's no ambient sounds or music; all I can hear is my mechanical... heartbeat? Whatever it is, it's very loud and annoying.


I seem to have the ability to detect cars! Where is it? I don't see it! I turn so slowly... where's the mouse support? :(

Ha! So it is a car! And I can drive it? Neat!

Now all I need to do is figure out how to get it started. Pressing the cursor keys does nothing. Time to look at the manual and damn is there a lot of controls.

First, I'm getting rid of that bloody heartbeat sound effect. (The cryptically named 'System Status Strobe' option.)

Next, press S to start the car and reach over to the Home/End key area to select gears aaaaaand we're off!


This map is HUGE!

I was expecting to be stomping around at night in grey, identical corridors shooting cops. Instead this is an open world sandbox game with vehicles and buildings. It's a first person Hunter where you can play as the Terminator!

This place where I am right now isn't very exciting looking. There's bland cube houses lining every street and wide open grassy plains eveywhere. I sorta thought the buildings would be taller in LA.

Seems SkyNET knows that Sarah Connor lives in this city, so my car just stops at the edge of the map. Where to?

I can't just go around in a car mowing down women randomly until I find the correct Sarah Connor. This is The Terminator, not Duel.

If this is like Hunter, I might be able to enter one of these buidings and talk to crudely constructed polygon men for information.

Drug store, huh?

I should see if they've got any clothes. I don't think I have any money, not that that ever stopped the real Terminator.

No clothes, but bugger me if they haven't got everything else!

By moving the cursor, I can buy or steal bolts, nails, WD41, knives, files, wrenches, hacksaws, pruning saws, angle rulers, soldering irons, wires, dog food, crutches, vaporisers, heating pads, curling irons, hairdryers, stress pills, diet supplements, diet pills, vitamins, lighters, tweezers, scissors, tape, bandages, sterile pads, antisporen oinment, cotton balls, baby oil, talcum powder, petroleum jelly, hemorrhoid medicine, antigas, aspirin, cough medicine, decongestant, lozenges, mouthwash, toothpaste, toothbrushes, morphine, insulin, antibiotics, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, foot powder, calamine, tampons, condoms, pregancy tests and pliers.

And laxatives, if you want to give Sarah an especially cruel and unusual death.

It's also giving me the option to steal or buy the cash register. I'll try to steal it, hoping the game will understand that I really want the contents rather than the cash machine itself.

Aw man!

This is the police. This one guy.

It's as if Playmobil made a Terminator playset.

I take it back. Playmobil's more detailed.

And HOLY CRAP do those guys have real guns?! When did Playmobil get so violent?!

The cop just started shooting at me even though I'm completely unarmed. I can't defend myself, so I hobble over to the nearest car and zoom off to safety.

I've no idea if I managed to steal any money. For all I know, I'm a naked guy running around with a cash register under one arm and a crate of laxatives under the other.

I don't know if he hit me because I've got the HUD turned off. It takes up tons of screen space! There's a friendly 'chirp' sound when I pass a location of interest. Let's see where I've ended up!

Not my fault! I thought I parked it!

I might've just stuck it in Neutral though. Some poor bastard's gonna get a car to the face.

I've found a weapon shop. Clothes!

I bought myself a hunting jacket and a pair of boots; it's better than nothing. I assume I bought it, there's no prompts telling me whether I did or not and there's no inventory screen. The game didn't even tell me how much money I had or how much the items cost. There's no way to equip them either, so here's hoping that buying 'em will serve whatever plot-related purpose they're supposed to.

I can't see anybody here to talk to. This must be one of those modern gun shops that run on the honour system where they leave everything out on display, unlock all the cabinets and just leave the customer to it.

I bought myself an M16 and several cases of ammunition. Smells like progress to me. What's next?

Well, if I remember correctly, ol' T-800 looked up Sarah Connor in the phone book. And according to the readme, I've gone one of those already.



Dang it! He must have picked up the business section instead of the residential section! This is completely useless!

Ooh! Like in Hunter, I've got a map! It shows me where all the vehicles are and where the major structures are... but I don't need to know any of this stuff!

I have a gun and I have a car. The only other thing I need is the location of Sarah Connor.

And I've only got around 70 square miles of real Los Angeles to search. Yep, this is the real Los Angeles.

Here's the game area in real life. By my calculations, it covers an area 9.6 miles across by 7.2 miles down. I can fast travel anywhere within the map, as I'll be able to in Bethesda's The Elder Scrolls series four years from now.

Here's the same map, bigger.

Fancy that. One of the very first open-world games with vehicles and it's based on a real city and they include a map (looking at YOU, GTA 3) and fast travel. I don't think fast travel and cars would mix again until Test Drive Unlimited, twenty-six years later.

The places of interest are listed on the local area map as Bank, Drug Store, Shooting Range, Drug Store, Hospital and Sport Store. They're all useless. Sarah is a waitress and none of those places have waitresses.

The best idea I can think of is to go to one of the hospitals and see if I can find patient records under the name Sarah Connor.

I'm completely lost, by the way. Even though the different regions of the town are somewhat distinct, there's nothing around here that you could really call a landmark. I'm just driving all over the place until I think of something.

Is that blue up ahead?

Yes, I'm drowning.

I almost expected him to be doing a 'thumbs down'.

There's one advantage to playing the villain. If you win, you win! If you die, then the good guys win! Either way, you can be satisfied with a job well done.

"I'll be back."

The end.

Alright, alright, let's try this again.

As soon as the doctor puts an instrument on you, he yelps and runs and calls the police.

You stupid fool robot! I was expecting to use my robot computer powers to get a list of addresses. Why the hell would I want the doctor to examine me?

If they want a fight, I'm ready for them.

When you kill people, you get a daft clips of them dying in the lower left of the screen. They're usually wearing completely different coloured clothes to the person you actually shot.

I still don't know which one of these numbers is my health. I think they're just my current map location and bearing. Giving the Terminator a heads-up-display finally makes sense and they miss off something important as his health!

I'm dead again. Let's leave the slow, tedious combat at home and move onto something more fun.

Here's an interesting looking building! Hold on a second, let me think. I've seen that somewhere before.

Of course! That's gotta be the Griffith Observatory! (Wikipedia link)

This must mean I'm in Griffith Park! Wow, I had no idea! There's a little less elevation here than I expected; the ground is entirely flat in game. Here's the approximate view in real life (external link).

I've ditched the car and I've taken to Fast Travelling instead. Sadly, the Hollywood Sign is just a bit too far North to appear in the game area.

This is way more fun than whatever I'm supposed to be doing. They should retitle this as Virtual Los Angeles and make it a photography game.

I'm trying to find some other recognisable landmarks but some twit keeps yanking me out of it by shooting me.


This guy in grey keeps following me and trying to shoot me! Who IS that guy? He doesn't look like a cop, so what did I do to him?

Stop chasing me! You and that woman of yours!



Argh! I haven't got a gun yet! Uhhhh...! WAIT THERE!

Need a weapon! Anything! Think, Arnie, think!

A van!

Gimme that van!

Okay, start engine. Stick it in 'drive'. GO GO!




Did I win?

That guy wasn't wearing grey was he...?

I've lost them... DAMN IT!

KYLE REESE! I'll get you, if it's the last thing I do!

Here we are at the sport store, the only place in town that sells pants. Absolutely pointless, just like the shooting range. If I enter a bank, I get a dialogue box asking me if I want to "Rob the bank? Yes / No". If I'm good enough to rob a bank, surely I'm good enough to rob anything else that I could possibly need. Not that I need anything because I'm a killer robot from the future.

Photography time is over. Time to see if I can't lure Mr. Grey out.

The way they work is this:

Whenever they feel like it, Reese will pop out from behind a building and start shooting at me. It's all a big ruse. If I return fire, he'll run behind the corner of the building and instantly disappear, replaced with three cops.

Sometimes Sarah is nearby but if she gets behind the corner of a building she will instantly disappear too.

Therefore, I need to get them out in the open! No buildings, means no magic tricks. There's tons of places I can do that... parks, golf courses and car parks.

I can tell when Reese and Sarah are nearby because I get PRIMARY and SECONDARY lighting up on the HUD.

GOTCHA! Here goes!

She's taking over two dozen hits to the face! I can't tell if my bullets are doing any damage or not!

Reese keeps shooting me in the back, and he's damaged me to the point I can barely walk or turn. Now I can't change weapon or reload.



It's a shame that the Terminator has to self-destruct after completing his mission. I thought SkyNET might reward his victory by allowing him to settle down with a nice Mrs. Terminator and have some little kid Terminators.

Did you know that SkyNET's master plan was to use a satellite to disintegrate some skyscrapers?

I had no idea! I always thought it was going to hit Russia with a nuclear strike! Your plan is stupid, SkyNET, and you should feel bad.

And that's the entire game. The entire game. I just won it in five minutes. Steal money, buy gun, buy ammo, go to golf course, shoot Sarah. That was the 'Full Game', too. There's also a 'Short Game' option on the main menu.

This game was kinda crappy.

Everything's awfully slow. Moving and turning are awful. There's three pages of non-redefinable controls and they're all over the keyboard. The closest thing that the game comes to being intuitive or helpful is that it tells you the key to enter vehicles when you approach them. Everything else, such as how to start the car, how to put it in gear, or how to brake is hidden away.

I wonder if Bethesda really were planning on making Virtual Los Angeles, and somebody had the bright idea that they'd get paid loads of money if they could get the Terminator license.

And get a load of this: Even though the map and phone book pause the game, and Esc brings up a load/save options menu. According to the readme, there's ANOTHER pause on F10.

There's entire Weapons, Ammunition, Clothes, Drugs, Tools and Healing screens that I never knew about because I never needed them!

Ahh, maybe the Terminator game is all a big, cushy tutorial for the 'real' Terminator FPS experience where I play as Reese! That would explain it!

Let's try this then. A 'Short Game' as Reese.

I've started off next to Sarah with a Magnum, an AK, an Uzi and lots of ammo. Sarah just follows me around and luckily for her there's no friendly fire.

Reese is just like the Terminator, more or less. He can still fast travel and steal from shops just as easily. Stealing clothes and tools has no effect.

If you try to run the Terminator (played here by a dude in a grey turtleneck) over with a car, the car takes more damage than he does and the game... sort of screws up. The car blows up but its interface sticks on the screens, turning Reese into a glitchy hybrid car-man.

And every time the Terminator approaches, you have to see this scene. Scary stuff.

Even on the Short Game on Easy mode, the Terminator can easily take hundreds upon hundreds of hits. Should've known better than to take him on with these weapons!

I'm dead. I know it's called Short Game but this is ridiculous. I quit.

This is not a game. Yet. It's an interactive design for a game they couldn't quite make yet in 1990. It's as much an open world first person shooter as Ghostbusters was a management game.

The game is like a city scaled hide-and-seek, but it's totally random and boring as hell.

You can't chase the opponent because they leave no trace as they move though the world. You can't talk to people to find out information like 'I SAW A BLONDE WOMAN HEADING EAST' or listen to police radios to find out about recent robberies or reported gunfire. On the contrary, the opponent doesn't move through the world as a person: they have the ability to freely teleport from place to place, something I was really disappointed to discover.

I suppose that makes the game more horror-like. The enemy is a near-invincible spectre that descends upon on you at random intervals regardless of whether or not you're ready. If you're on foot, your character moves so slow that you can't try to run away to force them to disappear. Your best hope is to return fire at the opponent which will cause them to flee and morph into a group of cops, who can then barely damage you at all.

Either I'm completely missing the point or this game is full of vast tracts of inert nothingness. The 3D world isn't used for anything. There's no staircases, bridges or ramps and you never go inside anything. You can't use the world to hide in, as I said above. I couldn't find many unique buildings like the Observatory, but somebody more familiar with 80's LA might have better luck.

There's no items in the game world to pick up. Each appearance of a type of shop sells the same thing and there must be over a hundred unique types of item in the game but none of them have any use.

I never encountered another person driving a car, meaning that there's definitely no chance of anything like the awesome car chases from the film. And I don't think you can blow up anything up. Crashing a car makes the screen go black for a second and the car just vanishes.

As far as I know, this is one of the very first 3D games on DOS and definitely one of the first FPSs. Before this, there wasn't much but the Freescape first person adventure/exploration games such as Castle Master. I suppose you could call this Castle Master Theft Auto, albeit a very, VERY rough work in progress.

If you've ever wondered why all the Elder Scrolls protagonists are slow, clumsy, dull-witted brick-people: now you know the truth. They're all the Terminator!


  1. "For all I know, I'm a naked guy running around with a cash register under one arm and a crate of laxatives under the other" <<< I my shit so hard reading this sentence xD.

  2. Now you should try again this time as Reese. Just a suggestion

  3. You almost got me with headline mentioning Future Shock... Not ;-)
    Have you decided to play all Terminator games made by Bethesda in chronological order?

  4. "Now you should try again this time as Reese. Just a suggestion"

    I did! There just wasn't much point posting a whole set of screenshots because Reese plays exactly the same as the Terminator as far as I can tell. Reese can take cars, steal from shops, kill cops, fast travel and get yanked out of FT by finding the Terminator. That's all the game lets you do with either character.

    The only difference is that the Terminator is at least ten times as difficult to kill as Sarah. All the weapon shops are identical and I couldn't find any explosives so it's a one sided battle. It's possible that you have to lead the Terminator to a specific location on the map to kill him in a cutscene but the map isn't labeled.

    I think we're thinking about it too much. It's just a crap, boring game.

    If you want to see a much better early one-on-one duelling FPS, have a look at Trick or Treat on the Amiga. Two identical wizards run around a manageably small randomly generated maze and try to shoot each other with tommyguns. You can enter doors to get random Mario Kart-like powers that can tilt the battle in your favour.

    And you got it, Patrik. Sorry about the wait to get around to the Terminator games! I'll probably try to post similarly themed games in chronological order from now on, mostly so I don't end up writing stuff like the Gloom 3 post.

  5. That driving clip is mesmerizing. Might be the finest animated gif on here yet.

  6. How nostalgic!

    You can use fast travel on the map to instantaneously move to different parts of L.A.

    The trick to winning the game as Kyle is that you can break into and rob army weapon supplies, where you can get heavy weapons like grenades and rocket launchers. The launcher has enough power to kill the Terminator. Also, it can be used to blow up buildings!

  7. Cops will rarely use cars to chase you, though since the game runs at like four frames per second it doesn't amount to much.


  8. You can blow up cars, airplanes and buildings when you get the rocket launcher or grenades at the weapon depots. In the phone book or on the map 3 are identified. Fast travel to them and get the big weapons. Then move a bunch of cars all close together into a gas station and fire a rocket at them, the chain reaction blows up everything. This game is old, but was 3D with destructible environments, which was amazing for the time.

  9. I was perplexed as you are, now, when I first picked up this game back when it originally came out. I still own my big-box copy of it!

  10. there are more things you can do as Kyle Reese:
    If you get dog food, you can use it to attract a stray dog who will bark in the direction of the terminator when it is nearby.
    If you buy or steal certain items like gunpowder and fuses, when the necessary items are all acquired you will get the option to drop time bombs with the time specifiable in seconds via a popup. This lets you blow up police cars that are following you, blow up a gas station and all the nearby cars and buildings, or blow up Sarah Connor. I don’t think I ever managed to blow up the terminator with it but it could probably be done.
    I understand how this game seems terribly dull now but try to imagine how amazing it was when it came out in 1990 - it was basically GTA3 for a 386.
    there was a flyer in the box for an expansion pack where you could send away for extra death animations for that little window that appears when you shoot someone, it was basically one of the first examples of 0-day DLC but you had to mail order it on a floppy. Absolutely revolutionary work by Bethesda in so many ways.


Semi-Random Game Box