I’ve got a complicated relationship with Turok. I completed Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion and that title alone. Actually, I may have completed Turok: Rage Wars. In any case, I was obsessed with the original in the lead-up to the N64’s release, but I only ever completed it with cheats. It’s weird, I was, like, a fan of the series, but I never put any effort into it.
I don’t remember much about Turok 2 other than it introduced the cerebral bore and was otherwise boring. I played Turok Evolution enough to be disappointed.
In any case, I have returned to the original Turok on a few occasions and penetrated it to variable depths. Sometimes I feel like I enjoy it, and other times I don’t. I can’t really say why this was the right time to return to the game, but I picked up Nightdive Studios’ remaster of the game on PC and finally approached it in earnest. Now I’ve toppled it, so take that, 10-year-old me, you scrub!
I! AM TUROK!
The story of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is I-don’t-fucking-know. It’s based on the comic book Turok: Son of Stone, because one of the few good things Acclaim did was buy Valiant Comics to use its characters in video games. It has something to do with Turok protecting the Lost Land from some dude named the Campaigner and his army of dudes and dinosaurs.
Really, all you needed to sell the concept to 10-year-old Adzuken was to put a guy fighting a velociraptor on the cover. Done.
It was actually a pretty forward-thinking FPS. This was 1997, between Quake and Quake II. Console FPS games were just sort of there, typically ports of PC games. Turok helped put the shooter on equal footing with its PC counterpart a few months before Goldeneye came along and took all the glory. It used the C-Buttons to run, and the analogue stick to aim, mimicking mouselook. It was also fast, had a tonne of weapons, and a great variety of enemies. It’s historically impressive if nothing else.
THERE ARE DEFINITELY DINOSAURS
Unraveling Turok takes some concentration. Where do I begin? The levels?
The idea is that you start in a hub and have to get a number of keys in each level to unlock further levels. That sounds non-linear, but it really isn’t. The levels are pretty much straight shots, which is a good thing because they’d be really confusing otherwise.
Actually, they’re still pretty confusing. On pretty much every level I’d feel like I was lost or missed something, and it proved to be untrue. It’s the strangest level design I’ve ever witnessed. It seems terrible because everything looks and feels similar and there are tonnes of branches that don’t go anywhere, but somehow — somehow — I always made it to the end with all the keys and the Chronosceptor piece in hand. So, it’s confusing because it somehow works against all logic.
AGAINST ALL LOGIC
It helps that the gameplay is blazingly fast. Not fast in a Doom Eternal kind of way where you’re swapping weapons in the heat of battle and employing different strategies for different enemies, no. You circle strafe here. But you circle strafe at the speed of light and there’s always dudes running at you.
A lot of them respawn, which is kind of annoying, but considering you’re mainly in a mad rush to the keys, you can ignore and engage as you see fit. Run past the turrets, but lob grenades at the aliens with ray guns. That big guy is obviously holding the door shut, and those dudes make it hard to platform, take them out, but maybe just run past the triceratops because killing them is sad.
It’s a fun pace, honestly. If there’s one thing that kept me playing, it was that pace. It became hard to put down because it was always just a quick sprint to the next interesting thing. Yeah, the levels are samey, but new enemies and weapons keep being added in good measure straight through to the end. Velociraptors are replaced with velociraptors with guns, and the dudes go from military guys to indigenous magic flingers. It works, it’s fun.
VELOCIRAPTORS WITH GUNS
It’s stupid, though, don’t get me wrong, but as I said, Goldeneye was a few months away and Half-Life would be another year and some. It’s a product of its time and it plays like a sugar-charged version of it.
If there’s going to be one sticking point for most people (other than the samey environments) it’s going to be the platforming. There’s a lot of it here and some of the jumps require perfect timing to actually land. It’s kind of weird to be on a killing sprint and then suddenly be interrupted by jumping, but here we are. Worse yet, there are instant kill areas and you’re given a limited number of lives. The lives were never an issue but being insta-killed and sent back to a checkpoint was.
The bosses are pretty cool, though, but again they boil down to a lot of circle-strafing. I actually fully assembled the Chronosceptor — a weapon you assemble with a piece hidden in each level — and I didn’t end up using it on the final boss. I just circle-strafed him until he died. Piece of cake.
Still, you fight a Humvee and a t-rex. What is there to complain about?
WHAT IS THERE TO COMPLAIN ABOUT?
For me, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter kept staggering back and forth across this line. On one side, I felt it kind of sucked. On the other side, I couldn’t stop enjoying myself. It has a good pace, a good flow, and it challenged my sense of direction.
It’s also technically impressive. The Nightdive Studios remaster helps lift the pervasive fog that hampered the game on the N64, but even there it was pretty impressive for a 1997 release. It was something you’d never see on PlayStation at the time, and that was important. It also let Acclaim limp along for another few years, if you count that as a good thing.
In any case, I’m happier that I get to put a pin in this than I am that I got to play it. It’s a relic at this point. It’s reasonable fun, but more fun can be had elsewhere these days. I also don’t love it. Enjoyed it; yes, but I don’t think I’ll be boasting about it or pushing it on other people. If anything, it made me want to see more N64 games get remastered. Body Harvest, maybe?
This review was conducted on a PC with a digital version of the game. It was paid for by the author.