d. olsen

Review – Turok

The first Turok: Dinosaur Hunter came out eleven years ago and grew into a franchise of four games. While the original was well received the sequels received increasingly more critical reviews and the series eventually died. Disney bought the rights, created Vancouver-based Propaganda Games to develop a new title, and basically wound up repeating the lackluster performance of the last go around.

Overall Turok is mired in sub-par design in almost every aspect of the game. It uses the ubiquitous Unreal Technology to run the game and the developers weren’t able to make it shine as nicely as other third party developers. The environments are dull, rather fake looking, and use a slim palette of colours. The character models and dinosaurs look pretty good but they are nothing new and therefore fail to impress.

They also didn’t get the shooting entirely right and in my bible this is the one sin thou shalt not do. A most excellent standard that good shooters adhere to is the ‘aim down the sites’ style of play. Press and hold a button and your weapon is brought close to the eye which in turn magnifies the center of your screen. It approximates taking aim with a real rifle held up to the cheek. It’s very effective and there is no need to change it unless you manage to come up with something equally revolutionary.

Turok opted for none of this and the aiming is nothing but a slight magnification of the screen. It’s as if they had trouble rendering the draw distances. In the end you almost never use the aim feature and the limp mechanic in place is thus wasted. As a result the shooting ends up being imprecise and mushy feeling.

The game was marketed as a world of complex A.I. There are enemy soldiers in the game and neutral but easily angered dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were to be a random factor that you could use to take out the soldiers, to lure them into traps and the like. If you messed up they would attack you instead.

The end result is far less interesting than the marketing promised. While there are a few seemingly scripted occurrences of pitting dino versus man you mostly go through the game dispatching a bunch of reptiles, then men, then lizards again, then men. In total there are four different types of carnivorous dinosaurs and some of them get different skins in order to fake variety but it doesn’t work. More is needed.

Turok is also guilty of abusing Quick Time Events (QTE) like no other game in memory. Rather than pump round after round of ammunition into the smaller, quick moving dinos it is much easier to approach them with a knife until you get a button prompt. Hit the button and you are treated to a gory cut-scene of Turok stabbing a lizard to death.

I thought this was quite cool at first; it broke up the shooting a bit. After doing it around twenty times it became really old and, even worse, it began to feel like a loophole to exploit. When the game starts to throw six or seven velociraptors at you one merely has to pull out the knife and bounce from one to the next, killing each creature with the push of a single button. It is way too easy and there isn’t nearly enough variety.

With all this criticism laid out I will admit that Turok has a few decent moments. In the first half of the game the stealth aspect kept me playing. Turok can sneak around quite a bit and kill silently with either the knife or a bow that’s powerful enough to pin people to walls. I haven’t played a stealthy game in a while so it was fun to switch from the run and gun mindset.

The game gives you your pick of many heavy duty weapons. Each weapon had an alternate firing mode, (such as an assault rifle with a grenade launcher mounted beneath). At one point I realised that my guy was carrying a pulse rifle with twelve concussion grenades, a flame thrower with five napalm grenades, a bow with ten exploding arrows, and of course a trio of good old fashion fragmentation grenades for throwing. That is a lot of boom-boom – even by video game standards – and so I spent the next hour exploding my way through several rooms of enemies. Since the physics are decent it actually stepped up the fun in a way the game didn’t advertise.

Toward the end there are a few big fights in some interesting areas that were good enough to carry me to the game’s conclusion, which was a predictable letdown. After completing the single player story I tried the multiplayer which is absolute lag-ridden garbage.

I don’t understand why companies that can barely make a passable single player experience try to jam the much more demanding to develop multiplayer component into the game. They must work for years under some delusion, and that saddens me. What’s worse is that they have tied a great deal of X-Box Achievements with the multiplayer so I’m pretty sure this is a game that will remain half completed in that regard.

So in the end Turok is exactly what you would expect from a first time company that has Disney signing their cheques. This game is really only for head-cases like me; people who treat the shooter genre as some kind of university thesis and needs to play all of the games in a vain hope of further informing their overblown opinion.

At the very least I hope development was a positive learning experience for Propaganda Games. I’m eager to support Canadian game developers with my time and money, even when they’re off to a so-so start.

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15 years ago

Too bad. I’d hoped this was a misunderstood gem when I read reviews blowing it off at the time of it’s release. I guess the license can’t escape mideocrity, regardless of who’s at the helm. That or dinosaurs just don’t cut it by themselves anymore. Maybe, for the next game, they could put the dinos in space, in the future, and you’d have a jetpack and lasers and… oh. Right.