Terminator: Resistance was the most 2009-ass game to come out in 2019 and then again in 2021 through its Enhanced version on the PlayStation 5 and PC. It was an ugly, low-budget shooter on all platforms, yet it was the only Terminator video game since, coincidentally, 2009’s Terminator Salvation, which gave it some form of significance. But it wasn’t as hideous on the inside since it was more competent than the piece of shovelware it desperately looked like; a descriptor that also applies to the new Annihilation Line DLC. And even though it is still dated and mindlessly entertaining, this expansion makes the lack of solid Terminator games even more evident.
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This position as being a passable Terminator game is not without its value. While it sounds like a backhanded compliment — and it kind of is — there just aren’t any great Terminator games out there. The series has a presence in the medium and the only time a quality Terminator gaming experience comes around is when one of the series’ stars makes a cameo in some other game like Mortal Kombat 11 or Gears 5.
Terminator: Resistance wasn’t some ascension into video game greatness, but was an ascension into video game OK-ness. Annihilation Line is just a hair above the main campaign in Resistance, mainly because it follows all the same guidelines, but spruces them up here and there.
Even though it’s working with the demoralizing dark blue-tinted skies from the films, the game’s color palette is still lacking and seems to only have two colors: blue and gray. However, there’s one level with a red sky that gives some much-needed variety to the game’s desolate (and, again, dated) environments. A small upgrade, but an upgrade nonetheless.
The gunplay and light RPG mechanics surrounding it are standard and unchanged from the base game. There’s still a bit of a disconnect during combat and stealth because quickly mowing down a few Terminators is just as bizarre as seeing one abandon a hunt after a handful of seconds. If the T-800 in The Terminator gave up as quickly as these ones do, the film would have been just a few minutes long.
However, declawing the robots is what makes it such a smooth experience. This is not like Alien: Isolation that takes the threat of the iconic antagonist seriously in its gameplay. This is a game where players turn their brains off and shoot. The former is more engaging and memorable, but the latter is more digestible, if less honest. The new enemies in this expansion like the bulkier, mini-gun toting T-600s and “rubber” T-650 variants aren’t dramatically new — their guns go “bang bang” and not “pew pew” — but they do show this game’s commitment to digging into the franchise’s lore.
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Annihilation Line’s willingness to mine that lore and use that background as a way to inform its characters and story is why it ends up being more than the forgettable expansion it probably could have been. This side tale oddly takes place right in the middle of the main campaign and sees Jacob Rivers accompanying the legendary Kyle Reese and two others in a mission to cross the dreaded Annihilation Line, the area referenced in the base game through fearful whispers.
The reason they’re going into that hostile territory is more complex and unfolds gradually over its three to four-hour runtime. And, more importantly, the mission is relevant to each of the four characters and explains why they matter in the broader context. Some of the details are a tad sloppy, but the fact that Teyon managed to give the two new characters small arcs and intimate character moments is an appreciated footnote to the game’s over narrative. They’re not just random meat bags and that added nuance helps give stakes to the story at large.
Reese’s personal involvement is a little less obvious, but it’s clever and fits into the grander scheme of the Terminator films as it appears to be some sort of test from John Connor in regards to his upcoming trip into the past. The DLC even pays respect to that first film as it takes players through and contextualizes one of The Terminator‘s flashback sequences. It does the legwork throughout to earn its final scene callback, something a lesser game would have haphazardly thrown out there as a cheap, nostalgia-driven gimmick.
Terminator: Resistance generally gets away with more than it should as it doesn’t have any direct peers. There are no other Terminator games (or much Terminator-based media at all right now, for that matter) to point to as a means to get a Terminator fix. It doesn’t have its Alien: Isolation, Batman: Arkham Asylum, or Spider-Man; its video game that transcends the weight of a licensed game and is truly fantastic without qualifiers.
The hunger benefits Annihilation Line, too, because it’s yet again the only way to play a modern Terminator game. It has its strengths but they’re mostly in the context of the drivel it could have been and the lack of competition in the Terminator space, which leaves it in a place where being good enough is, well, good enough. Taking those comparisons outside of the realm of the franchise is where its “good enough” foundations start to wobble as games like Doom Eternal, Titanfall 2, and Far Cry 6 are relatively on a whole other level. However, it wields the power of its license somewhat well by putting a decent amount of effort into its narrative and finding ways to tie it into the lore while not ignoring its own original story.
Annihilation Line is still attached to a game that was sent to 2021 through the Time Displacement Equipment, which means it is visually drab, has merely passable gunplay, and is full of characters that animate as if they were from the PS3 and Xbox 360 era of games. It was true in the main campaign and is still true in Annihilation Line. But while not even close to the apex of other modern first-person shooters, this expansion is a throwback from another era that is unremarkable and somehow still entertaining with functional gameplay and a better-than-expected story that doesn’t fully get there, but admirably tries quite hard and gets further than it should. Like the new T-650s it features, it’s outdated and has an ugly, rubbery face that’s easy to see right through, but it’s still undeniably a Terminator at its core and that’s what matters.