Reviewed: February 20, 2008
Released: February 4, 2008
Turok is one of those video game names that is nearly as famous as Pac-Man. Ask anybody who was playing video games back in the mid 90’s who had a Nintendo 64. I missed out on the console original but I did get to play Turok when he came to the PC a few years later. Then all was quiet on the Indian vs. Dinosaur front until 2002 when Acclaim tried to revitalize the franchise with Turok: Evolution. Critics panned the game but I personally found it to be a refreshing change of pace for the original Xbox. I guess I just love dinosaurs.
Now, Touchstone and Propaganda Games resurrects the name and tries to reinvent the series for a whole new generation of gamers with their next-gen FPS simply titled, Turok. This new vision turns our simple Indian friend into a hard ass agent of death and ex-member of Wolfpack, a group of mercenaries whose leader, Kane, has gone rogue, and dug himself and a small army into a remote planet.
Turok joins up with Whiskey Company, a group of soldiers sent to that planet to find out just what is going on, but as they enter orbit their cruiser is shot down. Turok and a handful of soldiers survive the wreckage that is strewn across the surface of this lush tropical planet, but there is trouble in paradise. Not only must Turok and his crew face off against Kane and his massive army, they also find themselves at the bottom of a food chain dominated by prehistoric dinosaurs and giant insects. Break out that bow and combat knife and try to survive…
At first glance Turok appears to be much like every other FPS game out there. You have a variety of weapons that you use to dispatch a variety of enemies, both human and other, as you explore a half-dozen large indoor and outdoor levels. The story is mildly engaging, told via flashbacks and in-game conversations, but falls short of completion before the final boss falls. But Turok adds a bit of cultural flavor to the mix by emphasizing Turok’s heritage and the tools that are a part of it.
Normally, a combat knife is considered a weapon of last resort, only to be used when you have depleted all other ammo, but the combat style in Turok actually encourages and rewards the use of your knife with exciting action moments and stylish kill animations. Whether you are sneaking up on an unsuspecting Wolfpack soldier for a stealth kill, or merely defending yourself from a surprise raptor attack, these rapid-fire trigger sequences are a huge adrenaline rush.
Turok also wields a bow, admittedly a high tech composite device with a nice assortment of arrow types, but a bow nonetheless. While the bow is fun at first, you quickly realize that the reload and prep time for an effective shot makes this weapon nearly useless in confrontational combat. Quick fires are less accurate and deadly. You really have to hold down the trigger for the more powerful “stick to the wall” shots. It’s great for sniping the lone soldier or perhaps for your first shot, but you’ll need to switch to more conventional weapons when you find yourself outnumbered or looking into the hungry jaws of a T-Rex.
The weapon selection is a bit predictable with all of the staples in place; shotgun, chaingun, pistol, assault rifle, but then they throw in some futuristic weapons that can tip the game a bit off balance. The plasma rifle, despite the painfully long reload times, is easily the most dominating weapon in the game and once you get it you’ll find little reason to use anything else unless the situation demands it. Sure, there are a few levels where the awesome sniper rifle makes life easier, and there is no denying the guilty pleasure of the sticky bomb pistol that launches a yellow projectile that can be remotely detonated by a second squeeze on the trigger.
The knife and bow are static weapon options in your D-pad selection menu, and you are free to swap out the other two slots with whatever weapons you find lying around, and there will be plenty. You can also dual-wield weapons or even combos of different weapons, and there are some interesting and effective combos to be had. The damage model is a bit suspect. A headshot will bring down most soldiers, but if you miss plan on unloading a few clips to bring down a single man. The larger dinosaurs will also eat up your ammo reserves or you can opt for the quick knife kill.
As much fun as these weapons are on their own, each also features a secondary fire mode that can prove even more entertaining. Sure, a chaingun is fun, but how about deploying it as a turret. But the most fun is using the game’s advanced AI to do the dirty work for you. Remember, there is a fully functional ecosystem in place here and the dinosaurs aren’t picky about who they eat. The flare option on your shotgun is great for “lighting up” an enemy soldier making him a tasty target for any nearby dino. A few rounds into a raptor nest will send the angry parents searching for anybody with eggshells on their boots. Some of the best moments in Turok are just sitting back and watching nature resolve its own conflicts.
Unfortunately, all of the programming seems to have gone into the environmental AI because the soldiers in this game are idiots, at least from an observational and tactical awareness standpoint. You can drop a guard from a group of two or more and the rest will freeze and search for the sniper, offering themselves as stationary secondary targets. And when Wolfpack does discover your location, they charge blindly forward or even worse, take a defensive stance in the wide open. You’ll find the dinosaurs make far more challenging prey in Turok.
Visually, Turok is light-years beyond its predecessors but still falls short of next-gen glory. Far Cry has already set the standard for lush tropical environments and that was nearly two years ago. Turok doesn't come close. If anything, this game resembles King Kong more than anything else as far as textures and details. The characters appears more like stylized cel-shaded comic book characters overlaid on CG backgrounds, sometimes even with a heavy outline or glow that makes them pop off the screen.
The game gets several things right though including some creepy outdoor levels set in tall grassy plains with short dinosaurs that rustle the grass…or is it the wind? You won’t know until it’s trying to rip your throat out. The dino models are impressive, but many move so fast you won’t have time to appreciate them. The T-Rex is easily the most formidable of the prehistoric cast and you’ll get to fight two of them before the game is over.
There are some nice lighting effects, especially in the underground cavern levels complete with volcanic geysers and giant scorpion-like creatures that look like they escaped from the set of Starship Troopers. And I loved the new sub-species of raptors that actually climbed trees and blended into the bark with their own natural camouflage.
Other touches included great cinematic kills for the knife-takedowns as well as shaky-cam moments to increase suspense and immersion, like an approaching T-Rex. I also appreciated the limited HUD and the fact that all the weapons had built-in ammo counters in their visual design. The weapon reload animations were also quite nice, even if they were painfully long for some weapons.
I loved the music for Turok. It was as epic as the dinosaurs and featured themes not unlike John Williams’ score for Jurassic Park. Whenever there was a moment of grandeur, revelation, or pure spectacle, the music would rise to the occasion. It also would sink to some sinister lows, especially when exploring the terrifying underworld of giant scorpions and lake serpents.
The voice acting was excellent with appropriate rough-guy macho banter between the soldiers. I was impressed that the attitude of the soldiers even mirrored by own. It seems that every time Turok got sent out with a buddy that guy would die, and just as I came to that realization somebody in the game actually voiced that same concern.
Sound effects were creative and original for the futuristic weapons and just familiar enough for the more conventional weapons. The sounds of the roaring and screaming dinos and scorpions were excellent and slightly terrifying. The entire Dolby Digital sound mix created a rich 3D soundscape and my sub-woofer got a real workout for the numerous explosions or when the T-Rex stomped into view.
Most gamers will finish the story mode of Turok in two or three sittings. Your experience can last anywhere from 6-10 hours depending on your skill and the difficulty mode chosen. The game checkpoints frequently and ammo is abundant. The game uses the Call of Duty health system so you don’t have to worry about med kits; just a safe place to hide until the red fades.
Xbox 360 gamers will find 43 Achievements waiting for them, but sadly most of these are awarded for online multiplayer objectives and even after three weeks of reviewing this game I just couldn’t find that many people playing Turok online. Perhaps people are waiting for the price to drop, but it could take the better part of a year to earn all 1000 gamer score points at this rate.
Speaking of multiplayer, there is a very nice multiplayer package that even supports co-op play. Unlike most games, this co-op mode features new missions that backtrack through areas you’ve already explored in the solo game, but sadly, there are only three missions making this a very short cooperative experience. Standard modes like DM and CTF all make their appearance with the added excitement of throwing dinosaurs into the multiplayer mix…and they don’t take sides.
Turok is a fun and entertaining game that could have been significantly better. The designers were certainly on the right track and I loved the extreme attention to detail on the food chain and ecosystem modeling, but that is only a part of the entire game. The human AI needs a lot more work. The game is also a bit on the short side and while the robust multiplayer components would help make up for the lacking solo play, I just couldn’t find anybody to play with, at least on a reliable basis.
If you are a FPS junkie, love dinosaurs, and enjoy blasting stupid humans with awesome future-tech weapons then you’ll certainly want to take Turok for a spin. Like most rollercoasters, the ride is short but packed with excessive amounts of adrenaline and WOW moments. Hopefully, the online potential will emerge once more people start playing the game. I know I’ll be there waiting with my trusty knife and bow.