Turok ReviewJason Venter
Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to be Joseph Turok. Once a criminal, he was eventually fashioned into a member of the military organization termed 'Wolf Pack.' Under the leadership of a talented soldier named Roland Kane, Turok went from a tough-as-nails goon... to something more. Then everything went wrong. Kane betrayed the group he'd mentored and fled to a planet on the galaxy's fringe.
That sort of behavior just can't be tolerated. Whiskey Company, a new organization not so terribly unlike the one Roland Kane once formed, is determined to find that famous criminal and make him account for his actions. Along for the ride is Turok. He has the inside knowledge and the muscle to be a valuable member of an already skilled team. As the game opens, he's aboard a frigate gliding its way toward the surface of the planet where they expect to apprehend Kane. It's not the sort of squad you'd want pursuing you.
Then things go wrong again. The vessel is unceremoniously blasted from the sky. Its crew members lie dead in and around the wreckage, or scattered across the face of a hostile planet. Mostly, it's the latter.
Turok has survived the crash and soon pairs up with a soldier named Slade. Together, they push into the lush foliage. It isn't long before they stumble across the first dinosaurs. Leathery hides materialize from tall grass and swaying palm fronds. Sharp teeth strike. Turok and his not-quite-a-friend manage to push back the assault with gunfire and knife slashes, but their troubles have only begun. Roland Kane is out there somewhere and he wants them dead.
When you first begin playing Turok, you'll probably be pleased to find that the story outlined above unfolds interactively. There are camera perspectives that let you see Turok scowl menacingly and let you wonder over his mohawk (which is explained by him being of Native American heritage), but mostly the events are seen through your eyes. Right away, you'll be given assignments such as following people around the ship, then dashing through its corridors when the explosion comes and everything is falling apart. It's a lot like how everything transpired in the opening moments of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, only this time you're adrift at the edge of a galaxy instead of in an arctic sea.
Once the action begins properly, plot flows naturally as an extension of the gameplay. Scripted moments are brief (and skippable). Often the narrative doesn't call for anything more than a few quick comments from the other people around you... not that there are many of those. Most of the focus isn't on who, what, when, where or why. It's all about the 'how.' Specifically, how in the world are you going to survive this “Jurassic Park” on crack?
The answer to that is a hearty “with judicious use of weaponry.” Turok stays true to its first-person roots and produces a pleasing supply of nasties just begging for a bullet buffet. There's a healthy mix of foot soldiers and beasties, which in turn translates to plenty of corpses you can raid for weaponry. Along the way, you'll also find plenty of opportunities to stealthily shank someone from behind with a particularly nasty looking knife, or to pepper them with arrows from your ever so manly bow. It's even possible to grab two guns and manage some dual wielding, a strategy that's sometimes necessary if you want to survive. Raptors gobble down your firepower like it's popcorn, so you have to keep it coming and you have to aim carefully.
You also have to watch your back, even when your computer-controlled fellow soldiers are around to lend a hand. That's because the creatures roaming the island won't hesitate to hunt with efficiency. If you're on the high ground—say, a rocky precipice overlooking a lush field of grass—it can be fun just to watch the monsters move. They circle cunningly, scatter behind shelter and even interact with one another when the situation is right. There's nothing quite like watching your enemies tearing into one another. Definitely, there are some moments where you're the least of a razor-toothed creature's concerns.
That's one of the chief things Turok has going for it: the sense that you're an extremely unwelcome tourist in a prehistoric hell. The artists succeeded spectacularly in their efforts to produce a credible atmosphere. The first time you shuffle out over the face of a cliff and look down to see a brachiosaurus lumbering across the plain while pteradactyls soar overhead, it feels magical in much the same way it did when you first watched “Jurassic Park.” This is the sort of experience that hardware simply hasn't been able to render appropriately in the past, and it's long overdue. Now we know why Unreal Technology was created.
Not everything is perfect, though. Moments where you're shuffling through the foliage while ambient groans, screams and rustling noises wreak havoc with your nerves are canceled out by more generic zones where you're simply wandering through a gauntlet of standard soldiers (with some such events transpiring in military compounds). For every moment where a powerfully-built dinosaur breaks out of the jungle and nearly makes you crap your pants, there are stretches of time where there's barely a monster in sight. It's never such a problem that the sense of a relentless environment is lost, but it is a disappointment just the same.
Another concern is that it can sometimes be easy to get lost. Though progression through the game is linear, it's not so to a point where you're basically just moving in a straight line. There can be multiple paths through a given area, places that twist back upon themselves until suddenly it's difficult to even tell which way is up. Pressing the 'L3' button will provide your next objective and sometimes an arrow pointing you toward your next goal, but you're often left to figure things out on your own. For example, you might be tasked with clearing out a winding trail of any resistance, then find yourself wandering in circles because the thick vegetation obscures everything. Still, such concerns are the symptoms of a world that often feels surprisingly vivid. It's hard to knock the game too much on account of the occasional snag.
Speaking of hard, Turok can be a bit on the challenging side. There are three difficulty levels, starting with 'Normal' and working up from there. Considering the fact that sometimes you can fall into an abyss you didn't know existed, things can start to feel a little unfair. Fortunately, there are numerous checkpoints and an auto-save function to go with them. As a result, there aren't too many moments where a sudden death forces you to repeatedly revisit large areas you've already cleared. That's a nice thing to be able to say, given how many other games frequently get things wrong.
Turok is above the simple mistakes, though, even if it's not “Game of the Year” material. Propoganda Games is a competent developer with a flair for the cinematic and an obvious appreciation for an exceptional license that languished too long under Acclaim's increasingly inept hands. There may be unpleasant patches throughout, but overall this is a polished product that calls for your attention whether you're a closet Turok fan, a dinosaur lover, just someone who likes good sci-fi shooters or perhaps a mixture of all three. There were a few attempts in the past to revive the once-proud franchise, but the difference this time is that someone actually bothered to get it right. Finally, it pays to be Joseph Turok.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.