Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Developer: Iguana Entertainment
Publisher: Acclaim
Released: February 28 1997
Regions: NA, PAL, JP
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Multiplayer: 1 player
Cart Size: 8MB / 64Mb
Saving: Controller Pak
Rumble Pak?: No
Expansion Pak? No
- Required? No

As many a gamer can attest to, the N64's start at life was a bumpy one. Unlike Nintendo's preceding system, the SNES, the N64 lost quite a bit of third party support to its biggest competitor, the PlayStation. While as a result, there aren't very many games on the N64, that didn't necessarily stop those few third parties that were left from making some truly remarkable titles. One such company, Iguana Entertainment, in partnership with Acclaim, made one of the N64's first resounding hits, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. It was the earliest First Person Shooter released and was very successful, going on to become one of the system's most well known games and even spawned a successful - albeit short lived - series. One of the game's most lauded qualities were the advanced graphics, realistic death animations and gameplay innovations over older FPS titles like Doom.

The story of this game centers on a Native American, time travelling warrior known as Turok. He is one of many in a long bloodline of Turok's entrusted with protecting the barrier between Earth and the Lost Land, a primitive world, where time has no meaning. The central item of the game's plot is the Chronoscepter, an ancient and powerful weapon that was broken into pieces in the hopes of keeping it out of the wrong hands. One day, an evil overlord called the Campaigner began searching for the Chronoscepter. He planned to channel the scepter's power to destroy the barriers that separate the ages of time and rule the universe. It's up to Turok to find the eight pieces of the Chronoscepter and stop the Campaigner. As the series progressed, the story would continuously become more and more convoluted and unnecessary. To most people, Turok was noteworthy because of its impressive graphics, amazing sound and all the dinosaurs to shoot.

As far as early FPS games go, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter definitely had roots in earlier titles like Doom, with its somewhat simplistic objectives like searching for a key to open a pathway. But it also added features that would be implemented by future games in the genre, such as exploration mechanics and a main hub, from which levels could be conveniently accessed. There are many weapons at Turok's disposal, along with lots of enemies to shoot. There's also a jump button and many obstacles to overcome, there's even a training mode to help you become familiarized with such level design. There were probably earlier FPS games with a jump button, but Turok pioneered the trend of adding in obtuse and somewhat difficult jumps.

Controlling Turok, while at first daunting with a controller instead of a keyboard, is not as hard as one might think. There are two control methods offered, called Left Handed Mode and Right Handed Mode. One lets Turok move with the control stick and aim with the C buttons, the other makes the D-Pad move and the control stick aim. The weapon change, jump and fire buttons are usually unchanged between control schemes. While a purely customizable control option would more or less eliminate any issues a player may have, these two control schemes offer enough variety to make the game accessible to most people. Players more familiar with the dual control stick method of modern consoles, will want to go with Left Handed Mode. The Dreamcast FPS fans will have an easier time with Right Handed Mode.

The first thing most people notice, however, is the graphics. For the first FPS on the N64, and being a rather early release (Q1 1997), Turok had very groundbreaking graphics. The textures were good, the dark atmosphere was chilling and the behavior of the enemies was very impressive. The death animations in particular, while pre-coded and "canned", were a sight unseen on such early polygonal games. Such animation techniques paved the way for the ragdoll physics of today. However, while Turok's graphics were impressive, they came at a cost. There is significant fog present in the game, often limiting the player's view to a drastic extent. This was done to keep the game engine running smoothly, even with multiple enemies onscreen. For the time, the fog wasn't complained about too much, but many people today feel it greatly dates the game, making it feel older and archaic than it really is.

The other, lesser appreciated half of Turok's technological amazement, was the sound and music. The soundtrack was dark, foreboding and thrilling, enemies and wild animals could be heard from afar, hidden in the jungle fog and the sound effects were very iconic. It all really added to the atmosphere, which Turok pulled off very well. There's plenty of diversity in the music, as much as there is for graphics. Each level adds a new feel to the game, most of which sound pretty distinct. There are many different sound effects too, even for simple things like collecting power-ups. The enemies all have their own sets of sound effects, almost as many for their death animations too. Overall, there's quite a bit of attention to detail in the sound, which really does add to the overall product, even if most people never quite noticed.

Behind Turok's smoke and mirrors show, unfortunately, lays a very limited and primitive game. In a nutshell, Turok is simply Doom with pretty graphics and better sound design. The level objectives are rarely more complicated than "find key, go to exit". There's sometimes non-linearity in levels, but it all centers around keys and otherwise simplistic objectives. What makes this all even worse is the game's sheer length. Normally, this is a good thing, but most people will become bored as they complete each level. To be fair though, simplicity isn't always a bad thing, but Turok was a brand new FPS game released in the wake of more impressive titles on PC, it wasn't ridiculous to expect a game with better level design than Doom, which was by then, considered an archaic game. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is definitely a fun game, with great graphics and sound for its time, with lots of weapons to shoot lots of enemies with, but its simplistic level design keeps it from being a true classic. Instead, it's more like a curious footnote in the early days of polygonal graphics. Turok is still fun to play, but don't go in expecting GoldenEye.

Presentation: 10
Yes, that number is pretty high, but Turok was one of the N64's first trend setting games of technical excellence. Turok set the magazines on fire and fans proudly paraded Turok as the N64's greatest title at the time. Even today, the atmosphere and overall package is still very, very impressive. For historical significance and commonly agreed fact, a 10 is fitting.

Graphics: 8.5
Lush textures, dark and foreboding fog, rather realistic blood and guts, impressive enemy and character animations... All of these and more add up to a visually visceral game. The fog does end up hindering one's view though.

Sound: 9.0
The sound design here was top notch. There's lots of attention to detail, from the many different sounds for the enemies, to the ambiance in each level, to even the sound effects.

Gameplay: 5.5
This, unfortunately, is where Turok becomes much less impressive. The level design is hardly better than that of Doom, a game released years prior to Turok. Most levels consist of collecting keys and other required items, then finding the goal. Yes, Turok was a very early N64 release, but there was a lot of potential for good level design that never happened.

Lasting Appeal: 4.5
Down here is Turok's other major problem; there is little incentive to replay the game after it's completed. There is no multiplayer mode, or any kind of extras. It's a purely single player affair, which, while satisfying enough on it's simplistic own, doesn't offer much in the way of replay value.

Overall: 7.5

Written by Aaron Wilcott
October 15th 2012