Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance Review

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance

by Alex Avard |
Updated on

Platforms: PC

Six films deep into The Terminator’s time-hopping saga, and we have officially reached a point in the franchise where any new chapters ought to come with their own opening crawl, Star Wars style, to catch us up. Take the awkwardly worded Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance. Set in the Dark Fate timeline (a.k.a. the one shared by the 2019 film of the same name which ignores any canon beyond Terminator 2: Judgment Day), players may be surprised to find themselves in the midst of mankind’s future war against not Skynet, but Legion, with nary a mention of He Who’ll Be Back in sight.

Even so, far removed from the events of present day Terminator though it might be, Dark Fate – Defiance is a relatively well-oiled war simulation, one which uses its source material as the launchpad for plenty of taut, tactical skirmishes against both man and machine. At the end of the day, this is a crunchy real-time tactics game painted with the broad strokes of ‘80s science fiction, and while that setup may not win any awards for innovation, it’s just about satisfying enough to keep you busy amidst this quieter period of the gaming calendar.

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance

Dark Fate – Defiance’s best comparator is perhaps Relic Entertainment’s original series of Company of Heroes titles, whereby players command small units of soldiers across dynamic theatres of war. Instead of managing WW2 infantry, however, you’ll guide a ragtag resistance team called The Founders, former soldiers of the disbanded US military starved of resources, manpower, or even a coherent government to lead them. Legion, meanwhile, is a thriving war machine churning out all manner of metallic menaces, from classic T-800s to quadrupedal war dogs mounted with laser turrets. This immediately stacks the odds against you, lending Dark Fate – Defiance a uniquely survivalist streak.

Unfortunately, the game’s production value can’t quite keep up with that generously proportioned scope.

This sense of vulnerability is compounded by the fact that resources such as ammunition or vehicles are limited, and when a soldier within a unit is killed, opportunities to replenish the squad back to full force are few and far between. Your best friend in such circumstances, then, is the environment around you. Units can go prone to avoid damage, hide in grass to get the jump on enemies, or hunker down in buildings for extra defence against an unexpected onslaught.

Legion’s tactics, meanwhile, are anything but covert, marching straight into the heat of gunfire with all the fascist bravado you’d expect from a battalion of Terminator troopers. What they lack in battle strategy, however, they make up for in terms of pure power, and the sound and sight of a fresh batch of chromatic warriors bearing down on your squadron can be a genuinely tense and terrifying affair. Outsmarting your enemy through a mix of both careful planning and on the fly improvisation, swapping ammunition and unit types to exploit enemy weaknesses, thus makes for a satisfying gameplay loop that holds potent staying power across Dark Fate – Defiance’s lengthy campaign.

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance

That campaign’s mission variety is another of the game’s strong suits, ranging from tower defence style siege encounters to more measured, multi-quest recon adventures across sprawling open maps littered with quirky local NPCs. As far as the narrative itself goes, however, don’t expect much in the way of either meaningful universe expansion or standalone storytelling. Developer Slitherine’s penchant for wooden dialogue remains as prevalent here as it did in Stargate: Timekeepers, while the game’s only notable contribution to Terminator lore here seems to be the introduction of a new human enemy faction: a guerrilla resistance group known as The Movement. Their presence seems more geared towards serving gameplay variety than story, however, allowing for opportunities to fight other humans alongside Legion’s mechanised warriors.

Beyond its campaign, Dark Fate – Defiance also features a handful of multiplayer and quick play Skirmish modes that lets players command either Founder, Legion, or Movement factions in short-burst tussles against each other or the computer. It's perhaps best enjoyed as an opportunity to practise and hone some of the more advanced strategies picked up from the main campaign, and though these excursions may not have the same replay value as other live service experiences, they at least serve as a nice epilogue for those still hungry after the main course of Dark Fate – Defiance's campaign.

Unfortunately, the game’s production value can’t quite keep up with that generously proportioned scope. With the exception of its authentically realised T-800 models, the game’s dry visual style struggles to conjure up the same sense of palpable atmosphere as, say, the future war sequences of the Terminator films, with low-detail environments and achromatic colour palettes that keeps this particular future looking rather flat and dreary.

It can sometimes give the impression of a Terminator story in desperate need of a budget, but that franchise window dressing ultimately isn't the main selling point here. Instead_, Dark Fate – Defiance_’s real strengths lie in its refreshingly purist approach to the war tactics genre, with compelling combat that can hold your attention regardless of any personal affinity for the franchise itself. The track record for Terminator games has been about as wildly inconsistent as, well, that of its cinematic counterpart but, with its tightly designed, Terminator-infused tactical trials, Dark Fate – Defiance may have just helped to raise that historically low bar a little bit higher.

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