Back in late 2014 and for two thirds of 2015, I ran a weekly column here at TechRaptor called First Person Saturday, where I'd give some old or overlooked FPS games a look. One of the games I always wanted to check out was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, a 1997 FPS developed for both the Nintendo 64 and PC. However, there was one major problem, which was that each version had its ups and downs. Sure, the Nintendo 64 version had superior sound, but in return you had to deal with the terror of trying to play a shooter with the three pronged monstrosity that is the N64 controller. Really, I could never decide on which one to take a look at, and so the Turok article never came to be. That turned out to be a good thing, as the recent re-release of the dino-slaying classic is everything you could want out of the title and more.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is the story of the hunter Tal'Set and his struggle against the evil forces of the Campaigner, some cyborg who managed to amass an army of modern soldiers, shamans, dinosaurs, and robots. Honestly, there really isn't a story to speak of, and that's just fine. I don't think cutscenes explaining how this magic half-robot warrior got his power would be particularly interesting, nor would any more backstory to Tal'Set besides "he wants to kill these bad guys". Like most shooters of the era, it's a perfectly simple story that opens up all sorts of potential for fun encounters.
Turok is set across eight levels, one of which being the hub area. Now, I know that sounds like it's a bit underwhelming, but levels aren't short affairs. The average level took me around forty minutes to complete without knowing what I was getting into, especially considering the labyrinthine designs of the game's levels. See, not only do you have to make it to the end of the level, but there are keys scattered everywhere. Keys don't unlock any doors in the level, but they instead serve the same purpose as Super Mario 64's Power Stars. With all of a level's keys collected, you can open that specific level. For example, if you've found two of the three level four keys on level two and the third in level three, then you can enter the level without any resistance. This is a neat idea, as it encourages exploring the game's genuinely well designed levels, but there's nothing worse than finishing a level and then having to sweep it again for that last key.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is strong enough to not demoralize me completely. There are fourteen weapons in the game, one of which is only usable on the final boss, but they're all complete blasts to use. I felt like only the shotgun and the pistol ever really lacked a use, and that was after I acquired the superior auto shotgun and assault rifle. So in normal play, there will be eleven unique and useful weapons to use when taking down the game's enemies. On top of that, the shotguns and the starting bow can pick up explosive alternatives to the normal shots, giving them an extra punch.
That punch will be needed, because there are quite a few enemies, and none of them are too keen on going down without a fight. You start off fighting just poachers and raptors, but by the end of the game you will be taking on the likes of sludge-dwelling crabs, aliens wielding plasma weapons, and my personal favorite, a literal TechRaptor.
The shooting itself is nice and simple, just boiling down to pointing at an enemy and clicking. Of course, this being a heavily projectile-based shooter, it doesn't hurt to stay mobile either, especially with the looming threat of death. In a lot of these old shooters, dying really didn't matter much. You'd just restart the level, or if you're particularly smart, at your last quicksave. In Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, you won't see either of these things happening. Upon death, you lose a life. When you lose a life, you respawn at one of the level's liberally placed checkpoint gates. When you lose all your lives, you restart from your last save. Sadly, you can only save at specially marked save stations, which may only show up two or three times in each of the titanic levels.
While I am usually opposed to the idea of a lives system in an FPS of all things, it does have its upsides in Turok. The levels are scattered with little triangles that basically serve as coins in a Mario game. Collect all of them, and you are rewarded with an extra life. The need to constantly collect as many of these little chips as possible helps encourage the exploration, which more often than not will lead you on the right path to one of the level's keys.
Of course, we're not just dealing with a game that's nearly two decades old. The version of Turok being reviewed today is its updated Steam re-release, and while the game hasn't received a completely new coat of paint, there are plenty of details that improve the experience. You now have AA and bloom options, as well as the fantastic addition of a way to toggle your FOV. On top of this, everything just looks crisper overall, as these two imgur galleries of the same areas clearly display. (credit to beta tester DarkShadowRage for the comparisons) In fact, the only really noticeable issue the port has is the frame rate. While usually running incredibly smooth, it seemed to take sharp plummets every now and then near the last half or so of the game.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a fantastic shooter back in 1997, but this rerelease takes it to a whole new level. It has everything great about both versions, all of which are enhanced by the extra polish this release brings to the table. Really, the biggest downside for me is the fact that now I have to wait for Turok 2 to get the same treatment.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was reviewed on Steam with a key provided by the developer.