Rebuild a resistance against the machines and save humanity in Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance’s real-time-tactics.
I was a little blindsided by the Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo. At first, I had thought it was going to be a string of missions, loosely chronicling some sort of resistance effort against the machines after the series’ central Judgement Day. While that was very much what happened, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so well written, with a lot of powerful conversations between characters, and a world map that you journey across between missions as you attempt to rebuild the resistance. During the three-mission demo that I played, there were betrayals, acts of heroism and a lot of sacrifice, and while it was certainly a bit hammy at times, it felt appropriate to an overly militaristic, war setting.
The Terminator IP is one that has had more than a few video game outings over the years, however, they’ve almost all been first or third-person affairs. In fact, the only two strategy efforts until now have been mobile MMO real-time strategy games (those clan-wars-based 4X titles), which did manage to find audiences, but probably aren’t what most people think of when they think of real-time strategy games. For that people think of games like Command & Conquer, Sudden Strike, or Company of Heroes. Good news, then, as Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance is firmly in that camp, albeit it’s closer to Sudden Strike of the three as it’s a title fresh from Slitherine’s internal studios, and so follows a lot of their modern strategy conventions.
For those unaware, Slitherine’s titles tend to loom closer to the tactics side of things than the strategy side. Their recent catalogue, which features cool IPs like Warhammer, Stargate and Starship Troopers, has a couple of focuses that persist through their games: units are limited, buildings are occupiable for defence and ammo and supplies really count. In Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance there are no quick ‘park-and-win’ positions for your units because enemy types are varied enough, and special ammo (grenades, mines, rockets) is limited enough to mean that you will need to keep moving units around.
Of course, in games like these, ammo, health and vehicle fuel aren’t the only things you need to keep an eye on, because if a unit is wiped out before you extract them at the end of the level then they make a sharp exit from your campaign. Those who aren’t aware of this will be incredibly shocked to see the state of their ‘army’ after fumbling the intense, third-demo level which is a defensive mission where you have to oversee the full evacuation of a military base against overwhelming numbers. In my first attempt, I was convinced that this was a kind of prologue ending and so only exited with half a dozen units, with named characters dead as they covered my exit… a second run (a restart/retry feature would be welcome for the campaign rather than having to save-scum) saw me with a dozen troops under my command as I hit the game’s map screen and moved to regroup.
The metagame, which isn’t explored in the demo, is interesting because it almost pivots the campaign into a run-based based, resource management game. Your troop can have supporting survivors, who can then be trained and inserted into your squads to get them back up to full strength, and you can also use raw resource to replenish your troops’ ammo, however, personnel require resources over time, and resources are very limited (and a one-size-fits-all resource). This means that if you do keep a wide selection of units alive and insist on keeping them fully staffed and stocked then you’ll likely see a population drop due to the drain on resources. It’s really interesting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how this affects the wider campaign.
As Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance approaches release I have a few small concerns. For a start, the UI is a bit of a fight. It features a lot of iconography and I’ve spent far too long mousing over them and waiting for tooltips. In addition, some of the mission text and the objectives require an English-language pass as they’re a little vague. Beyond that, though, my only real complaint is that the Legion’s vehicles are almost indistinguishable… I guess the solution for this would be more iconography, possibly on the mini-map.
All of that said, Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance is a great real-time tactics game, and while it’s a little supercharged with rootin’ tootin’ overly-cinematic bravado and military exceptionalism, it’s a great little bundle of cool features that wears the intellectual property well.