Turok (Xbox 360) review
"Dinosaurs don’t need help to be scary. They’re stronger, faster, more resilient, and better hunters than you’ll ever be. That leaves one, powerful weapon that many FPSs frequently ignore – wits."
First off, let’s get one misconception cleared up. This is not a sequel. Turok is a FPS, but it has about as much in common with its ancestors as an Uwe Boll movie has with its source material (bet you can’t wait for Postal next week). Perhaps that’s taking things too far. For one, Turok is actually a good game. Secondly, Turok does have at least one thing in common with its forbearers – dinosaurs.
That’s probably what you want to hear about, so let’s cut right to the chase. You can forget about cybernetic reptiles with juiced up gray matter. Dinosaurs don’t need help to be scary. They’re stronger, faster, more resilient, and better hunters than you’ll ever be. That leaves one, powerful weapon that many FPSs frequently ignore – wits. Every dinosaur, including raptors, dilophosauruses, and even t-rexes, have been intricately programmed with behaviors and tactics mimicking modern theories of how they acted in real life. Knowing the enemy will be far more important than firepower in this game of cat and mouse.
The complexity of the A.I. hit home about two hours in, after spotting a man-sized, salamander-like creature in a tree. I shot it with an arrow, watched it fall, and went about my business. Ten minutes later, one sprang from the bushes at my side, with an arrow sticking out of its shoulder. The creature had been stalking me the entire time. Dinosaurs creep, lure, flank, and left me feeling hunted 100 percent of the time. Propaganda even went so far as to include herbivores that largely ignore you, unless you get too close to their young, or stupidly attack them.
Most of the fighting is up close and personal. Melee weapons are usually the last resort of FPSs, but not in Turok. With the dinosaurs’ thick hides, a heavy blade-strike to the brain or a slit throat is far more damaging than buckshot pellets. You can haphazardly lash out, or, match onscreen cues at the precise moment for an instant kill, complete with a variety of viciously brutal cutaways. If a dinosaur gets the jump on you, mashing the indicated button for some gruesome stabbing (eww… right in the eye) is the only way to get loose. Others enemies continue attacking during these scenes, but Propaganda found a way around cheap deaths by replenishing your health after every success.
Unfortunately, the instant kills can quickly suck the fun out of multiplayer. It’s the one time when bringing a knife to a gunfight is actually a good idea. Bullets feel vastly underpowered compared to sharp steel, so it’s not uncommon to see players ditching their sidearms and circling around for the kill. Some might enjoy it, but I prefer deathmatches that rely on strategy and careful skill.
The overemphasis on instant kills infects the campaign mode as well. The only way I managed to escape a particular raptor den was by chaining 20 or so instant kills from beginning to end. A lot of them could have been avoided with a little refining of Turok’s movement. He can sidestep lunging dinosaurs, but it’s more like a 3m dive. That split-second of extra movement is all a raptor needs for another strike. Then there is the issue of speed. If a t-rex bore down on me, you might mistake me for an Olympic sprinter, and not a mall-walking granny.
Dinosaurs are not the only opponents though. Turok is a futuristic, sci-fi tale set on a distant planet. As part of an elite military unit, Turok is supposed to help capture the renegade leader, and Turok’s former commander, Roland Kane. The mission falls apart when the military’s ship is blasted from the atmosphere to the surface below. Separated from most of his squad, under-equipped, and lost in the jungle, Turok’s new mission is to survive.
Kane’s soldiers have their own agenda on the planet and they definitely noticed the intrusion, so fending off massive patrols is a frequent occurrence. Try as you might to be stealthy, the occasional, surviving teammate at your side will make sure that a firefight gets started. Turok’s selection of shotguns, machineguns, and explosives is standard FPS fare, but touches like secondary functions and dual-wielding manage to keep things feeling adequately fresh. With a little patience, the roaming dinosaurs may do your dirty work for you. That’ll leave you to fight off the pack, but it’s better than getting clawed and shot at the same time.
When you don’t have to deal with brawny man-children blowing your cover, you will have the chance to play the hunter. Sneaking through waist-high grass, quiet knifings, and silent marksmanship with the bow are all skills that have to be mastered. Stealth is a major factor in Turok, but also a major failing. There are no Splinter Cell-esque indicators and the hands before you don’t change with the lighting, so there is no way to tell if you are sufficiently hidden. It’s mainly a problem when you happen across the manmade, enemy outposts, but most of Turok takes place in the wild.
Turok has some very confusing, outdoor level-designs made more disorienting by the lush foliage penetrating every crevice. It wasn’t uncommon for me to finish a battle, turn around, and start running back the way I came. The levels are fairly straightforward, but buildings make much better landmarks than trees and bushes. If you ever walked through a natural forest without a path, you know how easy it is to get lost. Given the setting and premise of Turok, it absolutely works.
In many ways, Turok feels like the new kid on the block who’s still getting the hang of things. Even with some of the glaring problems, the dinosaur A.I., creative level-design, and unique combat shows true potential. Turok doesn’t have a chance of unseating the likes of Call of Duty 4 or Orange Box, but it has quite a few worthwhile strengths that have me hoping for a sequel.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (March 13, 2008)
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