Classic Review – Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

TurokWith the revival of the Turok franchise imminent (the new game is set for 2008) I thought it was about high time I post my review of the original game in the series, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for the Nintendo 64.

As one of the first great first-person shooters for the system, Turok would usher in a new era in console shooters, to be followed by great games such as GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, that would forever change face of the genre and prove to PC players that consoles could in fact handle a FPS (First-Person Shooter). While Turok is not much to look at nowadays, and certainly can’t stand up to the advanced bar that modern shooters have set, it doesn’t make the game any less fun. To find out the rest of my opinion and view some screenshots and video of the game in all it’s low-res glory (though a PC version was also released), then continue reading below. Long live Turok!

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
System: Nintendo 64
Also Available On: PC, Game Boy (in 2D form)
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Released: 1997
Save: Controller Pak – 16 pages needed
Developer: Iguina Studios (Acclaim Studios Austin)
Publisher: Acclaim
Origin: U.S.

If you ever owned a Nintendo 64, chances are you’ve heard the name “Turok” before. Acclaim’s first-person shooter franchise (based on a comic book series) started with 97’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, but would go on to spawn three more games on the N64, two of which were direct sequels (Turok 2: Seeds of Evil and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion) as well as a stand-alone game called Turok: Rage Wars (it came out after two but before three), a game built from the ground-up with four-player multiplayer in mind.

Turok 2 BoxartThe series would eventually be brought to the then-new consoles, PS2, Xbox and GameCube. However, by that fifth game, interest had all but completely dwindled in the franchise. And after the failure and mediocre-reviews of Turok: Evolution, the franchise would be put to rest.

That is, until this year, where the franchise was finally picked up again by Buena Vista Games [aka Disney] who handed over development rights to Propaganda Games. The new game uses Unreal Engine 3 and looks phenomenal. It’s got an all new storyline, new characters but takes place in the same universe but it’s own unique new twist (which will be a lot different than Acclaim’s version). Hopefully it’ll be as great as it looks (no videos yet of the game). I personally still hope Buena Vista brings together all the old Turok games on a compilation disc, or re-releases them on DS/PSP.

Turok Comic BookSo how does this old ’97 shooter stack up in this day an age? Where advanced shooters ranging from Halo to Doom to Battlefield to Gears of War rule? Well, first off, let me state and forewarn you that I am in no way a FPS fan (although I do like fps’ games when I do play them). Back in the Turok days I did consider myself one, where I played GoldenEye 007, Perfect Dark and Turok 1&2 all the time, but since those glorious times I have hardly spent much time at all playing FPS’. Even the mighty Halo didn’t hold my interest for very long. It’s one of a bejillion games I need to get back to playing cause I never finished it. And outside of Halo, I haven’t played virtually any other current-gen shooters, and I don’t game on PC hardly at all. So if you want a “professional” FPS’ viewpoint on Turok, you may wanna read another review.

But here’s what I think.

If you can get past the visuals, Turok is still a very fun game to play and IMHO (in my humble opinion) it more than stacks up if you’re willing to give it a chance. I had a lot of fun playing through it again.

Right when you fire the game up, you’ll notice how dated it is. You should have anticipated this beforehand however, since it was one of the earlier N64 releases. The first thing that will hit you is the visuals. Turok (the character, you’ll see him in the opening before the main menu) is pretty blocky looking, and the graphics are kinda muddy and blurry, but it’s really not that bad, and you’ll get used to it over time.

Once you start playing, you’ll notice another one of Turok’s biggest drawbacks/faults. The draw distance in the game (how far you can see ahead), is pretty pathetic, and the entire game is drenched in fog. This will make the game seem a lot more difficult at first, but after a while you’ll actually get kind of accustomed to it and the foggyness won’t bother you as much as you would think.

Screenshot 1You control Turok using the four C-Buttons to move in the corresponding direction, and the control stick to look around. R jumps, Z shoots, and the A&B buttons cycle through your various weapons, of which you’ll start out with a knife and a bow with regular arrows. The L Button is your map.

Turok’s map is one of the most useful I’ve seen, so you’ll want to use it often, to help keep you from getting lost. The map “overlays” the screen, and it’ll outline all the different areas and platforms. To scroll ahead from your current point to see more of the map hold the L Button and move the D-pad. Pressing the D-pad (directional pad, that cross symbol on the controller) by itself in any direction will switch Turok from walking to running speed. I almost always play just on running because it’s faster, but walking can be useful if you want to cross a small walkway or something without falling off as easy.

Pressing Start will pause the game and take you to a menu, where you can change options by moving the sliders or hitting the A Button. Options include the screen “opacity” (brightness of on-screen indicators like your health, lives, etc., turn it down to make them translucent), how fast or slow you want Turok to move when using the control stick to look up and down (vertically) or right and left (horizontally), the blood color or whether you want to use Turok’s left or right-hand (funny option . . .).

Screenshot 2You can also use the start menu to check how many keys you have on each level (under the “Keys” category, naturally), and to enter cheats (under “Enter Cheat”). If you have some codes for the game written down or whatnot, then whichever ones you enter will then be listed under the “Cheat Menu” option, where you can activate the cheat by turning it on or off. If you meet certain requirements during the game you can even earn cheats, which will appear in the menu once earned.

Turok has three difficulty settings (easy, normal and hard) that you set before you play the game on the main menu. Set the difficulty, then select New Game to start playing from the beginning with the difficulty you’ve selected. If this is your first time playing, you should probably start out on easy, as Turok is a pretty difficult game.

The basic goal of Turok is to make your way through each level looking for keys, which you will use to enter all the other levels. You’ll notice a key when you find one, they’ll be a shining, spinning “stone” set on a podium. To pick up items, simply walk over or into them. When you kill enemies you’ll see ammo and energy fly out of them. The “+” symbols are energy, and you’ll regain some health for each one you collect. White gives you two health each, and white health is the only type that can get your health meter above the “100” mark, which you’ll want to have as high as possible at all times. Blue gives you 25, orange gives you a full 100, and the rare Ultra Health will give you 100 on top of whatever else you have, so if you collect it at 50 health, it’ll give you 150. Ultra Health is yellow, and they aren’t seen very often, so collect them whenever possible. As you play, you’ll see triangle icons scattered on the ground or seemingly leading you ahead. These are “Lifeforce” items, and collecting 100 will give you an extra life. The purple ones are worth five and yellow is worth one. If you get lost in a level, look for the Lifeforce icons, as they will sort of guide you through to the end.

(note: sound is delayed in movie)

The main menu screen actually has a “tutorial” option, and by selecting that it will take you through an obstacle course where you will have to kill enemies, jump from platform to platform, cross narrow walkways, swim and climb. If you’ve never played before, try taking the tutorial, as it can help you become familiar with the controls and the way Turok plays.

Turok is different from a lot of first-person shooters, especially for it’s time, because the game is packed full of swimming, climbing and jumping sections. As you make your way through the various levels, you’ll encounter these types of harrowing situations and dangerous obstacles (such as swinging spikes) more and more. What starts out as a relatively easy game quickly escalates to an entirely more difficult beast.

AlienIf you jump towards a “rough” looking wall, Turok will automatically climb it, just remember to hold forward (c-up) so he keeps climbing. To swim, just walk into a deep pool of water and Turok will automatically go under, from which you can just press forward to swim and use the stick to look in whatever direction you want to go. Press and hold R to quickly rise to the surface. Turok can hold his breath for a while, but there is a time limit, and if you are under for to long an “air” meter will appear and start draining, once that happens, quickly try to rise to the surface to catch your breath, if the “Air Meter” runs out, Turok will start losing health at a rapid rate until he dies or you get to the surface.

When you die in the game, you will restart at the last “checkpoint” you went through, or the last point you saved at. When you reach a save point, touch it and the menu will pop-up. To save the game, move over to the right and select your game with the A Button, then select save and it’ll ask if you want to save over the current game, select yes to save your game onto the controller pak up to that point.

Ok, now I think I’ve covered all the bits on how to actually play the game (sorry to those who already know, but I think it’s good to cover for those first-time players).

So now to the gameplay. Turok is pretty fast-paced (although not as fast as something like Unreal Tournament, but faster than say, GoldenEye 007) and the levels are pretty packed with enemies. There will be spots where enemies respawn, and places where they are set. It you wipe out the set enemies, they won’t ever come back, but that will hardly leave the level completely empty once you finish as there will be places where enemies continuously respawn. In these spots, it might be better to run than to keep on fighting or you’ll quickly find yourself running out of ammo (Edit: I’ve been informed that you can in fact kill every enemy at these respawn points if you are persistent enough. Doing this you can in fact, according to the person submitting this info, kill every enemy in the levels and have them completely bare. Generally though I doubt any person who’s just playing through the game for fun would go to these lengths)

MetallicOne aspect the Turok franchises is well-known for are it’s creative weapons, and the original is the one that started it all (obviously). [weapon spoilers ahead. If you wish to discover the weapons on your own, skip this section] The weapons start out standard, with your Knife, Bow & Arrow, Pistol and Shotgun. But eventually you’ll obtain: Tek Arrows, an Automatic Shotgun, Assault Rifle, Pulse Rifle, Mini-Gun, an Alien Weapon, Freeze Gun, Grenade Launcher, Quad Rocket Launcher (shoots four rockets at once) and more. The weapons are pretty cool looking and fun to use, however Turok has a pretty bad balance problem.

You’ll find yourself with a lot of so-called “powerful” (at least they look or seem like they’d be powerful) weapons, but most of the time you’re still better off using your regular weapons, like your good ol’ automatic shotgun or assault rifle, which can never fail (you don’t have to worry about missing like with the other weapons), and especially when using explosive rounds for your shotgun, they are extremely effective against just about every enemy in the game, including bosses. What this means, is you will pretty much go throughout the entire game using only a couple weapons (My favs are the Pulse Rifle, Auto Shotgun and Assault Rifle), unless you are out of ammo or something, but ammo is pretty plentiful in Turok, although this doesn’t mean you can mindlessly shoot everything in your path. You will run low and out of ammo, but more is always not too far ahead if you do run out.

Despite that, Turok still remains a really fun and challenging game. It is simply packed full of secrets and hidden areas. From hidden rooms where you go through a fake wall, to areas located directly off of cliff edges, Turok is a game where you’ll want to literally search every nook and cranny. And even still, you’ll be hard-pressed to find EVERYTHING in the game.

All the keys are required, and at least one key kept me searching and searching through the level for a long time before I finally figured out how to get to it. Took me forever though (And I’ll be willing to bet that once you reach the Tree Top Forest you’ll be stuck there too). Each level also contains a hidden “Chronosceptor Piece”. This is the icon you see on the far left under the keys menu.

ArmoredIf you can manage to collect all of these before going to the eighth level (Once you beat the first level, the rest of the levels in Turok are accessed through a hub area, where you use the keys you’ve collected to open portals to the various levels) you will complete a new super weapon, called the Chronosceptor. This isn’t required however, and I beat the game easily enough without getting it (couldn’t find two pieces . . .). It’s a real challenge though, and I commend anyone who can actually finish the game 100% on hard with all the Chronoceptor pieces, as that is no easy feat.

This challenge keeps Turok pretty fun and fresh throughout, as you’ll constantly be finding hidden areas if you are willing to look for them. It does get really frustrating near the end though, when you’ll find hidden areas that are populated with tough enemies to the point where sometimes it’s not worth losing all that health.

Turok has a pretty cool atmosphere as well. The music is good and fits really well with the levels. The music and ambient noises help set the mood as well. The music in some levels is pretty haunting, complete with the screams of people in the background, animal noises and other noises that make the game feel more realistic.

You will also find blue portals that will appear from time to time and if you can jump into these they’ll take you to a bonus area usually full of health and ammo. These areas further augment this surreal atmosphere though. It’s really cool and makes Turok unique, playing to the strengths of the N64 and the desolate feeling of being a Hunter alone in a vast and complex world.

GuyThe enemies in the game are also fun to fight (and their death animations are pretty cool as well), especially some of later dinosaur enemies. And Turok has some really awesome and creative boss fights as well. The bosses are one of the more memorial aspects of the game.

At this point, it’s pretty useless to talk about the visuals, as they are simply too outdated. Blurry, blocky, fog-filled, but they still work somehow . . . one of the most annoying things is the fog, and it can be pretty bothersome in certain closed in levels where it literally feels like you can’t see ten feet in front of you. Many sections of levels also look the same, making you have to rely on your map for many sections. The underwater parts are also really blurry, and that can make the game more frustrating.

Turok is one of the few first-person shooters that is FULL (And I MEAN FULL!) of platform jumping. Maybe because of the example Turok set, developers have pretty much steered clear of platform jumping from a first-person perspective. And Turok explains fully why. When you do your first bit of platform jumping, you’ll likely be very frustrated. The reason is, unlike in the recent Metroid Prime, where Samus (the main character in the Metroid series) will kind of follow the trajectory of the jump, easily landing where you think she would land without having to do much calculating, Turok is the exact opposite.

(note: sound is delayed in movie)

As soon as you jump, Turok will stop and fall exactly where you left him, making it hard to gauge jumps and land where you think you would. So one tip is to not let go of the forward button until you think you’ve reached the platform. One of the most frustrating parts of the game is the fact that many platforms lead to automatic death if you fail to make them. This is just plain bad design in my opinion, as there are many sections where you will continuously die because you keep missing a jump. Even worse, it will start you at the nearest checkpoint each time you die . . . and that checkpoint can be very far from where you died. So you better get used to this ahead of time, because it will happen a lot during the game, especially in the last couple levels.

Up-ClosePlatform jumping though is crucial to the Turok experience. It is simply something you MUST master to get good at the game and find all the hidden secrets (one of the keys even requires it, the aforementioned one I got stuck on, so might as well master it as early as possible). As frustrating as many of the jumps are, it is actually cool in a way and you’ll get pretty used to jumping, to the point where it’s a lot easier to gauge your jumps and get them right.

It’s still something you want to take slowly though, if you rush it you’ll simply find yourself having to restart minus one life. But the platform jumping gives Turok a unique feel from other first-person shooters. And some of the levels are really creatively designed around the platform jumping aspect. There’s actually a technique you’ll want to master to jump further too, which you can do by jumping diagonally. Simply hold forward + an angle (like forward > right) and jump while continuously moving in that direction (don’t let go), and you’ll jump a lot further than normal. It’s trickier to get used to, but it’s another technique you’ll need to master to get through the game and find secrets.

Turok Fights T-Rex Art
So what is my final verdict? Turok is a fun game, and I think as long as you are simply out for a fun first-person shooter, and you want to try something a bit unique (what with all the jumping and dinosaur hunting and whatnot) and don’t mind something that’s outdated visual-wise, you’ll have a fun experience with it.

It has a lot of shortcomings, and it definitely won’t blow you away, but it’s got a unique feel to it. Turok however is still an old-school style shooter, so don’t look for cut-scenes or really any sense of a storyline (outside of the instruction booklet there is no story at all) as you won’t find any, and the ending is probably one of the worst and most unsatisfying in gaming history (get prepared for a lots of slowly scrolling credits . . . at least they give you some codes though). But even with all it’s faults, Turok is still fun and cool enough to be worth playing. It is still, after all, one of my favorite N64 games. And if you do like the first one, at least you have two more games in the series to look forward to, all of which improved dramatically on the first game.

Fun Factor: 8.5 – Turok is a fun game. It’s difficult but not super hard. And although there are frustrating aspects, it’s satisfying when you beat them and find cool new weapons.

Graphics: 6.5 – Early N64 game = eye-bleeding blurriness. The game is hard to look at it. Blocky, grainy and full of fog, it’s most definitely an ugly duckling.

Music & Sound: 8.0 – The tunes are great and there is lots of ambient noise, both human and animal, to add to the atmosphere.

Ingenuity: 8.0 – While the game may seem like a standard first-person shooter, it’s the atmosphere and jumping aspects that give the game a unique feel all it’s own. It doesn’t play like a standard shooter and it’s all the better for it.

Replay Value: 8.0 – There is lots to find in Turok, three difficulty settings, lots of codes and some keys that you most likely won’t find your fast way through the game. Although it doesn’t beg to be played again, there is more there if you are willing to make another trip

Reviewer’s Tilt: 9.5 – I have a soft-spot for Turok. I’ve always loved the game and even though graphics and play mechanics in games, especially first-person shooters, have continued to increase and improve, I can STILL go back half-a-decade and more later and find the game fun. It’s stood the test of time IMO despite the low quality of the graphics.