The Turok franchise has a storied history. Long before Halo, it was one of the first console-centric FPS games to really make a name for itself. Its core conceit of hunting down dinosaurs is novel even today, and it was right there alongside Goldeneye making the case for FPS with a gamepad. Given all that, it is somewhat poetic that the Turok remake from 2008 owes so much to that Xbox launch title of note. In the past, Turok games were aping Quake with high speed hijinks, multiplayer-only expansions and the ridiculous Cerebral Bore super-weapon. In this new incarnation, you instead have a deliberate pacing, a two weapon limit, and even a level reminiscent of the infamous Library. Turok isn’t a bad game, but it lacks both the identity of its forebears and the innovation of true standouts in this genre.
In this reimagining of the original N64 shooter, you play as Joe Turok (not kidding), a military man who was formally a member of the black ops Wolf Pack contingent. Your former boss and his seemingly endless supply of faceless soldiers have taken refuge on a planet filled with dinosaurs, and you and your new brigade are sent in to stop him. Your company crash lands on the planet and must do everything in their power to survive while finding supplies to escape alive. This is all preamble, what little story there is to tell during the main game is basically “fetch this ship part”, “escape this cave” and “shoot these bad guys.” Not necessarily a bad thing, but you can sometimes forget your end goal during the longer levels, which makes them stretch past the breaking point.
The level design doesn’t help in this regard, as Turok has no idea what to do if you give it an open environment to work with. Everything in the jungle is green, which is realistic, but leads to players getting turned around and backtracking needlessly. This is compounded by the dinosaur enemies, which speedily surround you and knock you down with pounces. It’s a neat idea, but it shifts your vision whenever it happens and disorients you. The game does better during corridor sections, up until it asks the player to preform minor jumping challenges that lead to swift deaths and repeated dialogue. Shooters made in 2008 should know better than to include any hint of first person platforming.
The shooting that you’ll be doing while wandering around the vast expanses of jungle is at least competent. The game is very stringent with weapon distribution early on, with each level focusing on a new gun until you build up your arsenal. Once you get into the groove, the combat is good with plenty of enemy variety to keep things interesting. Guns all have a secondary feature, like the shotgun’s dinosaur attracting flare launcher or the pulse rifle’s grenade launcher. The dinosaurs are fun to fight when they’re not disorienting you, although you get far less of them than you’d like when compared to the human foes.
No matter who you’re fighting, Turok does give you options, which is one of the best things about the gameplay. There are multiple paths around arenas, upper and lower levels to jump between, and you can always attempt to get the dinosaurs and human opponents to fight each other instead of focusing on you. In another holdover from Halo, you can only hold two weapons, but you also get a bow and a knife to use at all times. This is the game’s attempt to add in stealth, and it’s not completely successful, but both weapons are fun to use regardless.
The bow is useful for rooms that are overpopulated, allowing you to stick a few enemies to the wall before your foes inevitably notice you and target you with their laser-like aiming. The knife is great for quick kills, as it allows you to perform a gruesome takedown as long as the enemy isn’t looking. There were times when I pulled out a knife after a tense gun battle, shimmied over to a foe’s side, and then performed the throat slitting animation as if I had gotten the jump on him. That’s probably not combat as intended, but it is satisfying.
So the combat does make up for the lackluster story and the glacial pacing once you get past the first few hours. However, the game grinds to a halt again whenever it decides to throw a boss fight at you. At best, you get an encounter with a tyrannosaurus who functions basically as a bullet sponge without posing much of a threat. At worst, you fight a giant sea monster with flailing tentacles you have to dodge while in first person and aiming at specific pools of lava to deal damage. It’s a complicated process that the game throws the player into with no warning, so expect to die several cheap deaths while in the monster’s cave.
Of course, players who reach the sea monster boss will be used to cheap deaths, as the cave level of Turok is basically an homage to Halo‘s Library level. After discovering a science lab that was growing genetically altered scorpions, because of course they were, you are dropped underground and expected to fend off a parade of the creatures. You also have to navigate the dark tunnels and jump over easy to miss bottomless pits. When you finally get past the innumerable scorpions, a brigade of soldiers appear and summon more scorpions, as if the fight wasn’t overwhelming enough. The scorpions aren’t particularly interesting to fight, but they will knock you down and keep you pinned while their friends stab you over and over. It’s a grueling stage that tests the player’s patience, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many players in 2008 threw in the towel right then and there.
It is worth mentioning briefly that the console version of the game is most likely the one you want to seek out if you’re interested in giving Turok a shot. I played the PC version of the game, and the port is a mess, which is sadly typical of games from 2008. The right stick with a controller is locked into a very low sensitivity that makes the game virtually unplayable. The keyboard and mouse controls are fine, but the game was obviously designed with a gamepad in mind. There was also a weird issue where minimizing the game wouldn’t disable it, causing you to be able to invisibly navigate the menus and hear the background music blaring. There might be good reason why Disney didn’t bother putting this one up on Steam.
Turok is a frustrating game at times. There are hints of greatness with the various weapons, and fighting raptors and other giant lizards is fun and novel. However, the game is too dreary and takes itself far too seriously considering its premise. The boss fights take you straight out of the action, and the knockback mechanics are realistic but unwieldy. If played in 2008, the game would be technically impressive, but stripped of that in 2015 you just have a disappointingly generic shooter that happens to feature dinosaurs. It’s a shame that Propoganda Games never got to make Turok 2, as there was a ton of potential here that will go unrealized.
Turok was played on PC with a retail disc.
TechRaptor.net does not condone the shooting of raptors or other dinosaurs in any situation. They are friendly and intelligent creatures who just want to be your friend.