Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Classic Game - Turok : Dinosaur Hunter (Nintendo 64)


Turok Dinosaur Hunter was an early title for Nintendo's new 64-bit console, the imaginatively named Nintendo 64, back in 1997. Based on the comic book series that started life way back in 1954, Turok tells the story of the titular Native American warrior who is trapped in a land filled with dinosaurs. A pretty cool idea, and one that sounds like ideal fodder for a video game. It just so happens that Iguana Entertainment thought the same thing and produced a whole series of games based on the IP. 

Beating Goldeneye to the post by 6 months, Turok : Dinosaur Hunter showed us that, not only could Nintendo provide some blood and guts action on their new machine but also that fully 3d first person shooters were not just restricted to PC owners with fancy graphics card.

I remember being blown away by Turok when I first encountered it 16 years ago. Its graphics were incredibly impressive and it oozed atmosphere and menace. Today, Turok shows its age - the graphics are reasonably blocky, and the over abundance of fog to cover up the draw distance is fairly extreme, but it doesn't matter one bit. The thick fog lends the game an incredible ambiance and creates a real sense of tension as you delve into the misty unknown. Later levels include some impressive thunder and lightning effects, and diving into the underwater sections still feels realistic and strangely soothing. Sound is also put to good use, with tribal tunes accompanying meaty sound effects of guns firing, dinosaurs roaring, and humans screaming as you dispatch them. 

The aim of Turok, aside from slaughtering dinosaurs, monsters and poachers alike, is to locate a set number of keys on each level. These keys open portals to new areas in the hub - located at the end of the first stage. The stages (of which there are 8 in total) comprise of jungles, a treetop village, swamps and ancient ruins and are large, sprawling affairs. Indeed, I would say the levels are Turok's strongest point as they are incredibly satisfying to explore. Sure, they have a set path to the exit, but there is much more ground to cover - underwater passages, secret mountain passes, hidden chambers in ruins, and maze like cave systems - that you will spend a great deal of time searching everywhere for the elusive keys, as well as more powerful weapons. Also hidden on each stage is a piece of a ludicrously powerful weapon called the Chronoscepter - think Doom's BFG and you are on the right track - which gives further incentive to explore as this will help you immensely against the many huge bosses you will have to face along the way.

Speaking of weapons, Turok's arsenal is an impressive one. Starting with just a handy knife and bow and arrow, it isn't long before our hero is blasting away at Jurassic Park rejects with all manner of destructive firepower. From the standard pistol, shotgun and rifle, to the Fusion Cannon, Grenade Launcher, Particle Accelerator, Alien Weapon and cool Tek arrows that explode in a cloud of blue plasma upon impact, each gun is a joy to use and locating new additions to your arsenal feels rewarding. Shooting enemies is very satisfying too. Velociraptors shriek and thrash around as you take them down with well placed buck shot, huge dino-monsters roar in agony as you fire Tek arrows into their bulbous forms, and humans stagger around clutching their necks as crimson sprays from the wound, caused by an arrow or pistol shot.

Turok's controls are perfect and are incredibly intuitive. In fact, Turok is often considered to be the first decent use of gamepad controls in a first person shooter, and it is easy to see why. Gameplay is incredibly engaging and you will soon become completely immersed in the foggy worlds you are tasked with exploring. Finding the keys can be tricky, often you will need to revisit stages (via the hub portals) in order to search every nook and cranny for those you missed. This is never frustrating, though, as it means you can go back and look for new areas you didn't discover first time around. Combat is exciting too, with a real sense of being stalked by Velociraptors and other beasts looming over you as you explore. There are never that many creatures on screen at once, and there is sometimes a little slowdown when the action heats up but, again, this doesn't detract from the experience. Enemies also respawn in a beam of light after a short time, so hanging around in the same spot for too long is never a good idea!

The one problem Turok has is an over-emphasis on platforming. Everyone knows that platforming sections in first person shooters suck ass (remember those ridiculous bouncing platforms in Rise of the Triad?), and it is here where Turok suffers. Hopping from tiny ledge to tiny ledge - with falling resulting in either a lengthy backtrack or even death - is a huge chore. Often the gaps are so small that it requires pixel perfect jumping - resulting in you having to stare at the floor and watching for the very edge of the platform before jumping. It doesn't suit a FPS, and it is the weakest part of the game. The later levels can be especially infuriating due to sparse checkpoints and lots of difficult jumps over bottomless pits. It can become a real chore, and is the reason Turok gets an 8 instead of a 9.

Thankfully, Turok is so damn engaging and fun that even these aggravating sections can't spoil the overall experience. It may look rough around the edges today, but make no mistake. Turok Dinosaur Hunter is a tense, atmospheric slice of shooting action that deserves to be revisited. The massive, well designed worlds, large arsenal of creative weaponry, and tight controls - not to mention the excellent atmosphere - help Turok stand the test of time, and make it an essential game for any N64 (and PC) owner or fan of first person shooters. The sequel is also awesome - arguable even better than this first installment - so be sure to play that too. I will be reviewing it at some point right here on Retro Spirit Games.

Title : Turok : Dinosaur Hunter
Developer : Iguana Entertainment
Year : 1997
System : Nintendo 64
Also on : PC

Also Play (N64 Special):

The Nintendo 64 is actually home to some bloody good old school FPS games. The controller makes playing these games easier than most retro systems, and the soft textures of the console work well with these older titles, giving them a unique atmosphere not found in the PC originals (in the case of the games ported from PC titles, obviously).

I have refrained from giving all these titles scores, as I intend to review some of them on the site in the near future. However, all of the games mentioned below are worth seeking out and playing.

Turok 2 : Seeds of Evil

Quake 64

Quake 2

Doom 64

Hexen 64

Duke Nukem 64