Turok (PC) review
"In many ways, this 2008 incarnation of the classic franchise does a decent job of recreating those Turok memories. The dinosaurs are out in full force once again, the staple crossbow is back, and there are plenty of opportunities to combine these two features in a gloriously bloody way. Unfortunately, for the most part, Turok serves only as something of a wake-up call as to how much gaming has moved on since then, and how much this title is stuck in the past."
Turok is a disappointing game.
It's a disappointing game for a number of reasons, not least because the original N64 Turok and its sequel evoke some brilliant gaming memories from my younger days, fighting my way through hoards of fabulously rendered dinosaur foes in a delicious post-Quake world of inventive level design and scrumptious visual finesse. In many ways, this 2008 incarnation of the classic franchise does a decent job of recreating these memories. The dinosaurs are out in full force once again, the staple crossbow is back, and there are plenty of opportunities to combine these two features in a gloriously bloody way. Unfortunately, for the most part, Turok serves only as something of a wake-up call as to how much gaming has moved on since then, and how much this title is stuck in the past.
There's so little context to the whole thing, for starters, that it's questionable whether many newcomers to the franchise will find any reason to play past the opening half-hour or so. An early cut-scene features a fierce looking army type briefing his squad on the rouge force residing on a planet inhabited by dinosaurs (these poor critters are the real victims here), and how it's imperative that its leader is brought back to Earth as soon as possible. As far as I can tell, we're not supposed to question this, nor are we supposed to question why our buddies are so incredibly fired up for the mission. Teaming Joseph Turok up early on with such a despicable sidekick is a particularly terrible idea. It's as if Propaganda Games are trying to showcase all the worst bits of their game right from the start. Slater (nice action hero name) is painfully one-dimensional, reeling off action-clichť abuse as if he were meant to be the enemy. Apparently he blames you for the death of his brother some years ago, but this isn't really explained that well either, and the result is that you simply don't care. Odd-couple pairings only work with fabulous writing. This just makes you want to shoot your companion in the head, but you can't, because he's plot-essential. It's tiresome within minutes.
The AI's worth a mention, for its horribleness. Slater insists you hang back and follow his lead, then won't budge a muscle until you've cleared out an entire area in front of him or, on a few criminal occasions, until you've stood in one particular spot that triggers him to continue. He runs into you, blocks your path, and just occasionally hovers in mid-air. Enemy AI is a little better, with soldiers taking cover and working in teams, but there's still the odd moment where they stand in the middle of the jungle saying "Where did he go?" while you hover three metres away screaming "Just turn your bloody head!"
Level design may be reminiscent of that in the original game, but a decade later that's not a particularly good thing. The majority of the game could be completed by simultaneously holding the 'forward' and 'fire' buttons, such is the linear nature of the whole experience. A vast, jungle-covered planet should have presented a wealth of opportunity for open plan gameplay. Instead, Propaganda have created a corridor shooter, then replaced the walls with rocks and the ceiling with a skybox.
It doesn't even look nice, and I completely fail to understand how Turok can demand such a high-end machine and a 19 gigabyte installation to run it. The engine renders some things startlingly well, like the glimmer of the sun's rays on metallic surfaces, or the character animations in cut-scenes, but in most other areas it falls staggeringly short. Reflection effects are applied to pretty much everything other than grass, meaning the otherwise pretty dinosaurs often resemble cellophane-wrapped children's toys. Environments are choppy and angular, as if we've gone back to the days when we couldn't render curves properly. The foliage, littered over the majority of the game's world, looks like someone's stuck it over the top of everything else with Pritt-Stick. This is the same engine that portrayed the stunning world of BioShock so beautifully twelve months ago. What's happened since then to create this mess?
More unforgivable gripes abound. Turok has an infuriating tendency to grab your head and force you to look at things. It doesn't do subtlety at all well, and often seems like it would prefer to be an action movie rather than a computer game. The control system is clearly optimised for a console D-pad, meaning scrolling through weapons in the PC version involves a nasty button-mashing routine with your directional arrows. Checkpoints are illogically placed, with auto-saves abundant in easier sections and painfully lacking in the more challenging areas. There are far too many cut-scenes, which would be bad enough anyway, but Turok decides that it's somehow acceptable to repeatedly force the player to take damage during them in order to throw in some cinematics involving jumpy dinosaur attacks. That there's no indication whatsoever of your current health level only adds confusion to this already absurd idea.
Turok is disappointing for all the reasons above, but perhaps even more so because parts of it really aren't that bad. There are occasions when the game opens up a little, offering up large outdoor arenas to do battle in, with sneaky vantage points scattered about the maps. The Half-Life-style 'us versus them versus them' enemy interactions are a joy to behold here, and it's brilliantly satisfying to sit back with the (admittedly weedy) bow and arrow, picking off the occasional soldier while watching a raptor wreak havoc with the rest of the group. In fact, taken as a pure shooter, it can be quite entertaining. The guns are satisfyingly meaty, the action often pacey and intense. Stealth sections are mundane, but the Manhunt-esque brutality to the sneaky-stabbing scenes is fun to watch. Despite the fundamental awfulness to most of the game mechanics, there were occasions while playing Turok that I realised I was - dare I say it? - having fun.
These moments are few and far between, and as such don't save Turok from its inevitable fate. There have been far better shooters around for quite some time, meaning there's very little reason to spend money on this one. I'll still look at the Turok franchise with fond memories - but if this represents the future of the series, perhaps our memories are the best place for it.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (August 21, 2008)
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