Turok was the zeitgeist of the nineties. Released during the heyday of the Jurassic Park craze (and just three months prior to the the opening of the second movie, The Lost World), Turok was an appealing fantasy for those who yearned to mow down velociraptors with a machine gun in one hand and a shotgun in the other.
Unsurprisingly, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a staple of any early Nintendo 64 collection. The gameplay was violent, the weapons were rad, and for those of us still too young to take games seriously, the cheat menu guaranteed hours of endless shooting sprees with our friends, consequences be damned.
Then, the series vanished. It’s two sequels on the Nintendo 64, Seeds of Evil and Shadow of Oblivion, attempted to emulate the success of the first, but were passed up by many. By the time Turok: Evolution came out in 2002, it was too little, too late. The series had stagnated, and it died along with Acclaim in 2004. The Turok reboot in 2008 was, to most people, nothing but a proverbial piss in the wind.
With the recent theatrical release of Jurassic World, it seems almost too appropriate to revisit this fossil of the nineties. Turok came at the end of the sprite-shooter era, and so to a modern gamer it feels a lot like Duke Nukem on steroids (just joking… Duke Nukem takes enough steroids as it is). Turok‘s run-n-gun gameplay takes you through eight “Jurassic-punk” themed levels. Each world contains keys to open later levels, which you must retrieve and return to a “hub world”. There’s even a couple of decent bosses thrown in, including a giant mantis, and amusingly, a cyborg T-rex.
Turok, like so many of the retro titles I’ve been forced to play, has a lot of major shortcomings that make it frustrating to replay. Difficult platforming is Turok‘s primary obstacle. I don’t know which FPS to blame for first making jumping puzzles a central mechanic, but Turok: Dinosaur Hunter seems like a good candidate.
Fortunately, a few modern touches make Turok playable once more. For one, I immediately ditched the cartridge for an emulator. This gave me access to save states and a dual-analog controller. The original Turok had no way of changing its control scheme, but this is easily skirted by customizing your controller mapping in Project 64. Turok also requires a memory pack (who remembers those things?), and mine was probably destroyed in the wash a long, long time ago.
An emulator corrects the worst of Turok‘s major shortcomings. What remains is still fairly entertaining, and Turok has a lot to impress modern gamers. Sure, the graphics are undoubtedly dated – the game suffers from the unmistakable “draw distance fog” that’s become its trademark. And the textures are nothing to write home about. But if you enjoyed the hectic run-and-gun action of Doom, Heretic, and Duke Nukem, then Turok will certainly have its charms. The combat feels oddly well-balanced, and there’s a decent level of challenge, especially on the bosses.
Additionally, since Turok clings to a lot of old-school FPS traditions, the ‘rule of cool’ still dominates its weapon selection. There’s a standard arsenal of pistols, shotguns, and AK’s, plus a bow and arrow long before everyone else thought it was cool. Then there’s the awesome weapons – a pulse rifle, a mini-gun, a particle accelerator, a fusion cannon… you get the idea. Creative tactics will make all of your weapons advantageous against certain enemies, though unfortunately you will run out of ammo for them quite often.
Something also worth noting is that the levels are absolutely huge. Exploration is a must in Turok. A gifted speed runner could probably blow through most of them in minutes, but since each level is packed with goodies hidden in its nooks and crannies, I found myself thoroughly scouring each one for at least an hour or more.
However, the level keys are also insidiously well-hidden. A few of them seemed impossible to find without a guide. I recall one of the keys being hidden in an alcove, underneath a pool of water disguised as lava on the surface. Y’know, because a kid’s first reaction to seeing a pool of lava is to dive in head first and see if there’s something hidden beneath it. As such, I kept a walkthrough open on my phone, and its guidance was sorely appreciated.
Overall, Turok does strike me as a game that would benefit from some HD treatment, which is a funny coincidence, because rumors have recently been stirring of an HD remake already in the works. It would not be surprising to see a market of grown gamers returning to Turok with a modern makeover, if only to revisit the magic of their childhood.
Final Verdict: Turok – Dinosaur Hunter suffers the expected problems of a dated game, especially in terms of difficulty and graphics, but still manages to carry some playful appeal.