Have You Played: Bethesda’s Terminator: Future Shock?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

If you want an origin story for Bethesda’s Elder Scrolls and Fallout RPGs, look more to Future Shock than to the first Elder Scrolls itself. This semi-open world (it wasn’t a sandbox, but the huge size of the maps meant it did feel so) first-person shooter was very much about exploring, scavenging and getting yourself into a whole heap of trouble, a concept revisited and refined in The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall and then Morrowind, and maintained (if not reduced) all the way up to last year’s Fallout 4.

Tellingly, it was Todd Howard’s first design gig (having previously been a mere producer on The Elder Scrolls: Arena), and many of the values and concepts he laid down then continue to this day.

Famously it also did 3D enemies and mouse controls before Quake did, but id impressively managed to steal all of Future Shock’s thunder despite not having one of the biggest licenses in the world (at the time) attached to it. Future Shock also did a good job of making and keeping Terminators hard-as-nails and terrifying, in a time when arcade games were happily making them mere cannon fodder.

Future Shock’s not quite a classic, but it’s an important historical document if you want to see how Fallout 4 ended up being one of the biggest games in the known universe. It should also be thought of alongside Star Wars: Dark Forces in terms of games which were smart about their source material despite having only limited technology at their disposal.

39 Comments

  1. Turkey says:

    I have vague memories of annoying flying things, some kind of ED-209 thing and something about a jeep.

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    gritz says:

    I spent more time with its predecessor, Terminator Rampage. It wasn’t a great shooter, but killing robots and security cameras in a modern office environment felt enough like System Shock to scratch an itch.

    • LexW1 says:

      Same here – it was a lot more fun/satisfying than Future Shock.

      • Psycold says:

        I thought both Terminator Rampage and System Shock were great in their own ways. System Shock was kind of goofy because polygonal games were still a fairly new thing back then, but it did have multiplayer and it was a lot of fun.

  3. C0llic says:

    I remember it as a very interesting demo that I was tempted by, but I never actually played the full thing.

  4. rondertaker says:

    absolutely groundbreaking fps that doesn’t get nearly enough credit for how much new stuff it brought to the table. you didnt even mention the driveable vehicles! deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as half-life when discussing big FPS milestones. though i think my favorite thing about it was the atmosphere/tone. the music, art and level design all did an amazing job of reinforcing and expanding on the weird desolate, melancholy perma-night of the terminator post apocalypse. combined with the sense of fighting a desperate and losing war against an unstoppable enemy, it made for a game that felt unlike anything that came before.

    it also found itself in the fortuitous position of coming out when there were only 2 terminator films, they were both good, and no one even seemed to be thinking about creating more. obviously we all wish we could go back to that point, but future stock stands as a non-canon (does it even matter when time travel is involved? probably not) time capsule from a better time.

    • arkiruthis says:

      Indeed, I think this set up the general structure for a lot of future Bethesda games. Free-roaming where you could walk into random buildings and it would load the inside as a seperate section (similar to Morrowind, Fallout, etc.).

      There was something else about this game, something atmospheric that I just can’t put my finger on. But I have such fond memories of this game.

    • PoulWrist says:

      Agreed. A game that was probably ahead of its time. A weird mix of the old and the new. Full of all kinds of clunky crap that Bethesda seem to specialise in.

    • GameOverMan says:

      I agree, it was a game ahead of its time, the first one to use mouselook by default. I had a lot of great moments playing it.

  5. theblazeuk says:

    What! This *is* a classic.

    The jeeps I’d play with my friend, one of us on wheels (keyboard) the other on guns (mouse). So much fun and still holds up in my book, given some allowances.

    One thing you didn’t mention was that it had procedurally generated interiors and loot on the many buildings you came across. The semi-sandbox world you mention was the same vaguely open approach to the map Far Cry 1 got so much praise for (deservedly). And it’s the first game I think where you threw Grenades with a button rather than equipping, and god damn did you feel happy when you moved from pipe bombs to grenades. The use of a compass and descriptions in mission briefings to navigate the ruins of LA was genius too and I’ve yet to recapture that moment of feeling immersed in a game – driving around looking for the way to the resistance base whilst being chased by a HK…

    In between the missions, it had writing better than the unmentionable Terminator sequels, despite the lack of any humans other than mutilated corpses in the actual game.

    • ragewind says:

      Agreed, a classic and one of the revolutionary games of the 90’s. That oppressive atmosphere, foraging through the waste, stumbling through the ruins while being chased by HK’s. I remember coming across a pit of human skulls, that even in their crude sprite form, made you cringe. There was a real sense of struggle and sheer dread just as the films had depicted.

      You were tossed into the post apocalypse and had to find your way and survive. One of the first great immersive experiences in gaming, and playing Fallout 4 today is so reminiscent of Terminator: Future Shock two decades earlier. They both even share the ruined elevated highways, though the dread loomed greater in Terminator.

      I’ve always thought this (inc. the standalone expansion Skynet) was the best thing Bethesda developed during the nineties. Terminator: Rampage in comparison was a regular shooter of the era, okay, but mediocre and not even comparable.

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        Phasma Felis says:

        I remember going through a house looking for ammo and finding a crib. The blankets were pulled up, with a large, dark stain seeping through from beneath.

        I just stared at it for a while.

  6. Stellar Duck says:

    Yea. Played it a tone with my mates in multi player.

    It was great fun! Also, you could shoot down the moon.

    It looked better in my memories though.

    • theblazeuk says:

      You are thinking of TFS: Skynet, a stand-alone expansion pack (whatever they were called?) that added texture support and a few new missions along with multiplayer. Less open but tighter missions and had live-action FMV rather than CGI.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Oh hell! I think you’re right.

        In my defence, I think I’ve played both.

        But yea, the multiplayer version was definitely Skynet.

        Chalk it up to old age.

    • OrangeSpy says:

      I recall the moon had some lines to this… Something like “ow, ow, ow, ow, ow ,ow…”

      • tanuki2k says:

        and if you could find away to get out side the map you could find where the moon had landed.

  7. Risingson says:

    No, I did not and I feel very bad for it, as I am sure now I won’t be able to cope with these textures.

  8. Juja says:

    Nice to see they’re still using the same game engine.

  9. GalaxyLord says:

    Is this available to purchase anywhere?

  10. EhexT says:

    Well no most people probably haven’t on account of it being not for sale and incompatible with modern systems. Hopefully GoG manages to grab it eventually. It really is one of the most impressive FPS games for it’s time and it deserves far more credit than it gets (which is none).

  11. c-Row says:

    Cry about remakes and lack of ideas as much as you want – this is a game I wouldn’t mind a modern day remake of.

  12. JohnGreenArt says:

    I never played this one, but I did play Bethesda’s Terminator game from 1990. It’s not a good game, but was a fascinating open-world experience for the time.

    link to terminator.wikia.com

  13. Greg Wild says:

    I played the demo over and over and over when I was pretty young. We’d set up a LAN, and chasing my brother around in the HK was endlessly entertaining.

  14. Tomhai says:

    Absolutely agree on that.

    Maybe it’s my memory playing tricks on me but Future shocks’ mission structure, flow and feel beats any modern FPS. The most underrated FPS ever.

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    Frog says:

    I truly enjoyed this game. I still remember a level that had you climb a tower with a staircase around it. First time I looked down and truly felt immersed in the world. Good soundtrack, great atmosphere. Vehicles to drive. It was a shame about the resolution. They did come up with a 640×480 update to the game though I think.

  16. LionsPhil says:

    Some less fuzzy footage.

    It’s a ’90s FPS alright; when he hits shelves with a stick, they explode in a fireball.

  17. mblued says:

    My first ever jump scare. I had headphones on, low health, sneaking quietly (or trying to) just to hear the terminator sound RIGHT BEHIND ME and I jumped back and fell with the chair on my noggin. Good thing the headphone had a long cable…

  18. Bweahns says:

    This was a really atmospheric game. I played a bit of the demo back in the day with a mate. I found it quite scary at the time.

  19. Niko says:

    Was one of my favorite games, very atmospheric. I think those radar towers were the first game location where I felt the fear of heights.

  20. tonicer says:

    Yeah this and shattered steel were my 14 year old me go to games for shooting stuff … and blake stone, blackthorne, quake, duke3d, hexen and so many more i don’t even know.

    Man gaming back then was so awesome … no unlocks no dlc no patches not as many bugs no quicktimeevents etc..

    Then consoles came and ruined a lot of awesome franchises.

    Stupid consoles … you always had your place but noooo you had to try and take the pc’s place too.

    Well jokes on you consoles … me and my friends never played anything on any console and we never will. (the c64 doesn’t count as a console right?)

  21. Jackablade says:

    Nightdive announced just today that they’d added Skynet (no mention of Future Shock) to their library. Organising a sequel as they’ve done with System Shock might be a bit of a problem given its a licensed property, but a lightly polished high res version seems like a reasonable possibility.

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    Phasma Felis says:

    I wish to God YouTubers would figure out that 320×200 game does not mean you can get away with offering only 240p quality. YouTube uses its shittiest, lossiest compression on 240p; it’s meant strictly as a fallback for terrible connections, and makes everything look hideous. I can understand making the mistake once, but how the hell do you look at the finished upload and not immediately realize your mistake?

  23. fsn says:

    Hi! Just a note if you guys don’t mind the shameless advertising:

    And, well yes, this game had the mood of a real terminator universe.

  24. fsn says:

    Sorry bad formating:
    FutureShock32 for Windows

  25. bill says:

    It most definitely is a classic.

    It would be my number one FPS of all time, if it weren’t slightly surpassed by Jedi Knight.

    At the time, it was both groundbreaking and awesome. Open world (ish) atmospheric apocalyptic maps. Driveable and flyable vehicles. Mouselook with a grenade on the mouse-2 button, great atmosphere, good story, etc..

    All in a game released before quake.

    I loved the way it had these huge open levels with massive amounts of (admittedly partly 2d) junk all over them, but despite the levels being wide open and allowing you to go in any direction, it somehow always managed to funnel you into going in the right direction.

    Like when you were climbing over the hollywood hills, scavenging at abandoned gas stations as you passed them, up past the hollywood sign, only to find a crashed airliner and then you found that you could actually go inside it…
    … eat your heart out quake.

    Plus the grenade launcher was great.

    The sequel, skynet, was great too. Very similar though.