Reviewed: February 28, 2008
Released: February 4, 2008
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was one of the most lauded games on the Nintendo 64 when it was released on the masses in 1997. The game – which was loosely based on a comic book series – wowed fans with its blend of 3D platforming and first person shooting (FPS) elements. Since that epic first title, the Turok series has seen a handful of sequels, each an attempt to recapture the excitement of the original title but none coming close.
In 2002, gamers anxiously awaited the 128-bit release of Turok: Evolution with hopes that the newfound processing power might help revive the series. In fact, one British fan even made the international press by lining up outside a store over a month in advance to get his copy. Sadly, the subsequent release was not generally well received, and Evolution’s sales figures were much lower than expected. The game’s poor reception definitely helped hammer a few nails in publisher Acclaim’s coffin, and has gone down in infamy for introducing the gaming world to the widely accepted “worst villain ever”; the bigoted dino-wrangler, Tobias Bruckner.
Six years later, new license holder Touchstone Studios and developer Propaganda games have released a new Turok, called…well…just plain old Turok. This version of Turok aims to flip the series on its ear and take the story in a very new direction. Does it succeed?
This time around, the Turok namesake refers to Joseph Turok – a soldier of Native American descent who has transferred into a Special Forces unit called Whiskey Company. Whiskey Company has been tasked with infiltrating a remote planet and capturing a certain Roland Kane – leader of the rogue military group called Wolf Pack. Turok’s arrival in Whiskey Company is a source of tension within the group, as it is made known that he is a former member of Wolf Pack, naturally leading to questions of his loyalty.
As with any other planet infiltration game of this ilk (Quake 4, Halo, etc.), Whiskey Company’s transport ship is shot down over the foreign planet, leaving the survivors scattered amidst the wreckage and prisoners to the environment. Being a Turok game, it should come as no surprise that this remote planet is chock full of heavily armed soldiers and a menagerie of dangerous Jurassic-era dinosaurs.
If it is already beginning to sound like Turok might be a teeny bit derivative of pretty much every other FPS that has been on the market in the past five years – you are absolutely right. Make no bones about it, Turok offers up very little in terms of innovation in the genre. Everything from the plotline to the scripting, from the visual style to the controls, from the weapons to the special abilities, it all has been done before (and in many cases, better). Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Turok is a terrible game, it just doesn’t have much of a hook to draw gamers in, except for maybe a sense of comfort and familiarity.
Any FPS veteran will be able to easily jump into Turok’s boots and be able to navigate around the environment, manage weapons load-outs, and pull up zooming reticules. But there are a few serious stumbling blocks in the road to success for the new Turok.
First of all, the box art and promotional material makes multiple mentions of the game’s “superior” AI, where enemies will “take cover” and “flank”. Sounds great on paper, but for much of the game this superior AI plays out as simply having every enemy blindly yelling “take cover” and “flank ‘em” rather than actually doing so. Even in cases where there was only a single enemy to be dealt with, he would still yell on his deathbed the same two commands “take cover” and “flank ‘em” – many times starting a wild goose chase looking for the phantom backup enemy that was never there.
Granted, with corridor-style environments there is not always an open pathway for an enemy to flank you – but corridor-style environments have nothing to do with causing enemies to take cover on the wrong side of barriers. I don’t know how many times I had enemies go to take cover and line up on my side of a crate or wall. While this makes tagging them quite easy, it definitely detracts from the overall experience.
On the other hand, while the enemies might be as dumb as a box of rocks, they do have the upper hand in terms of some incredibly accurate and powerful weaponry. In fact, their accuracy and destructive power are a constant source of irritation, as being tagged with an enemy bullet will more often than not result in Turok being thrown off position and completely disoriented. While this is probably more realistic than most FPS’s, it is quite irritating to be lining up a long distance shot through a zoom view, and suddenly see a blurry wave of red and find that you are now pointed 20 degrees off from your initial target – which becomes especially aggravating when you simply cannot line up a shot because someone somewhere is constantly blasting you from great distances.
And it is not just the human enemies that have super attack abilities – the charging dinosaurs are a constant cause of frustration, as they often seem to be able to absorb an inordinate amount of lead without effect, and then ram Turok (once again confused and disoriented) and make things miserable as you try to find exactly where they are hiding.
OK, OK…I know what you are saying – I must sound like I cannot deal with a little challenge, eh? Well, it is not entirely like that – I don’t mind a challenge as long as it is fair. None of the aforementioned complaints would have made the list if it were not for the poor analog stick control coded into Turok.
Believe me, I play a lot of FPS’s and I have tried nearly all analog settings in Turok and it is neigh impossible to find a good balance between speed and sensitivity. Either the stick moves fast enough but is too sensitive for aiming, or the aiming is perfect but you cannot swing around to find the hidden dinos. And I know it can be done – Resistance did it on the PS3, and games like Halo, Prey and Quake 4 have been doing it for years on the Xbox 360.
But I do have to give it to Turok’s developers – they did make the canned stealth knife kills look really, cool, albeit probably a bit overly affective. Turok definitely tries to add a stealth aspect to the proceedings, and encourages gamers to sneak up on enemies and dinos and when once the context-sensitive button flashes on screen – wallah!, an extended stealth kill cinematic straight out of the Manhunt series. It is a bit weird that it takes a dozen or more SMG shots to down a raptor, yet a single swipe of a hunting knife will drop him in his tracks – but our man Turok is a Native American so badass killing is in his blood.
Turok’s Native American blood also makes him a crack shot with the bow – a weapon he picks up early on in the opening level. The bow mechanic is right out of Turok Evolution – with the shot strength being controlled by how far the trigger is depressed and the accuracy controlled by the length of time the trigger is depressed. There is a trigger sweet spot and time duration, beyond which the bow becomes inaccurate and squirrelly. If timed correctly, the bow is an extremely effective weapon – the key words being “timed correctly” because if the aiming sweet spot isn’t met, or heaven forbid an enemy plug Turok during aiming, and a valuable arrow is lost. Still, the bow is a great weapon, and a definite must-have in a Turok game.
Turok is not all that impressive on the visual front – looking more like a late-generation Xbox game than a current-gen PS3 offering.
By design, Turok sports a darker grittier atmosphere than Evolution’s sunny outdoorsy appearance – but it does more harm than good, as the textures and colors are muddy and flat, the backgrounds are unrefined and cluttered, and the character faces look like they were formed out of dirty modeling clay. To make matters worse, Turok suffers from some serious jaggies, and the framerate jumps around significantly, proportionate to the amount of action onscreen.
The high point is the menu screen presentation, which borrows heavily from the Far Cry series – and looks absolutely fabulous on 720p widescreen (the max resolution on the PS3 version). All in all, we’ve seen this darker, grittier look done much better (cough…Resistance…cough…) on the PS3 before.
The sounds and music are better than ever and presented in a powerful 5.1 surround mix for those with the home theater to enjoy it. I was amazed that the audio engineers could go back to the original sound masters and separate all the effects and truly immerse you in this game. The booming voice of the narrator gets you pumped up during the opening movie. Dirk doesn't say much other than a few girlish shrieks during some encounters, and the shrill seductive voice of the princess is one you won't soon forget.
Regarding the audio package – Turok definitely gets the job done, albeit without much flair.
First, with the bad – the cutscene voice acting is overly dramatic and clichéd, and given the fact that the enemies simply yell the same two or three lines over and over, it is a pretty good indication that voice acting was not a big concern with the developers.
As for the good, the sound effects might be heavily recycles, but are well done nonetheless. Often, these sound effects can be used to help pre-locate enemies – both the warm and cold blooded varieties – so you will want to listen carefully and it is helpful to run a 5.1 system.
The orchestral score swells and fades in line with the onscreen action, adding a nice sense of ambiance and cinematic flair to the proceedings – however it does tend to overshadow some of the necessary audio clues mentioned in the previous paragraph. Still, I always give bonus points for interactive organic music, and Turok definitely makes the grade.
Turok has a lot to offer in terms of value. Not only is there a full single-player storyline, but also fairly involved online multiplayer modes, featuring the team-based variants of capture the flag, assault, and a special objective-based mode called Wargames. And always a favorite of GCM, Turok features an online Co-Op mode for a few special Co-Op levels.
The most difficult issue really will be finding an online partner, since there just doesn’t seem to be that many people playing Turok online right now. There are a number of online forum threads popping up featuring people fishing for Co-Op partners or party mates, so gamers might want to check out the forums if things are still stale in a few weeks.
Turok might not be the best FPS on the market, but it is definitely playable and enjoyable as long as you are willing to put up with some wonky controls and often-unfair enemy AI. Still, Turok is a nice debut from Touchstone Studios and Propaganda Games, and a good title to tide you over until the next Resistance and Killzone titles hit the shelves.