Turok is back... and so are his weapons. Take for example the Swarm Bore, which uses a special drilling mechanism to saw through various body parts - including the brain. Yay!
I think the Turok games have gradually shifted focus. In the first one, Turok spent most of his time running around in jungles and swamps while gunning down actual dinosaurs. He definitely deserved the title Dinosaur Hunter then. While he does get a chance to kill a couple of raptors in Turok: Evolution (TE), he is mostly indoors now, shooting monsters that resemble the Imps in Doom much more than real pre-historic animals. As a result, the series has lost some of its charm, I think. It is not that this one is less enjoyable to play, it is just not as special as the original. Acclaim have clearly tried to make it special, though, with the inclusion of flying levels, interactive scenery and the so-called Squad Dynamics AI. These things sound great on paper but are not executed well enough to make this installment a true top-notch title. This seems to be a general problem – the game does not feel finished.
What TE does have in common with its predecessors, though, is the gigantic size of the game. 15 chapters with about 5 or 6 levels each make for an incredibly challenging and long-lasting experience. I reckon it took me well over 20 hours to complete it. That is impressive for a video game nowadays.
The levels can be divided into four categories. Indoor, outdoor, stealth and flying levels. What applies for all of them is a linear level design, some very basic puzzle elements and horrible loading times. Every single level takes at least 20 seconds to load – something I have never seen in a GC game before.
Anyway, in most of the indoor levels you must typically reach a specific rendezvous point, find a couple of keys or destroy half a dozen mainframe consoles to progress. Obviously, your brain gets very little, if any, workout from this, and you rarely get stuck. Normally, I would object to such a simple structure, but with TE it works rather well, actually. It keeps up the pace of the game, because you constantly get to explore new areas. It is so action-packed that you rarely get a chance to actually breathe, which is exactly what a Turok game is supposed to be like.
That is why the levels in which stealth plays a key role do not work very well. One of them involves investigating an enemy base without being noticed. If the enemies do spot you, an alarm will go off, but, then, all you have to do is wait for the alarm to stop, in which case everything will return to normal. It feels rather unrealistic and awkward. Besides, you want to go berserk with your crazy minigun – not sneak around with a silenced weapon and take out snipers on roof tops. That job belongs to Solid Snake and Joanna Dark – not Turok!
The outdoor environments are far more accomplished both when it comes to gameplay and graphics. They are vast, lush and brimming with life. Bushes sway in the wind, birds roam the skies, and monkeys climb trees. And everything is done in a convincing manner. By paying attention to the foliage, which reacts realistically to character movement, you can often identify where an enemy is. In particular, this comes in handy when you are up against raptors, because they are so fast and agile. It is deliciously unsettling and highly exhilerating when you just know that two raptors are coming right at you, even though you have not actually seen them. And that's not all. There are many other ways to take advantage of the interactive environments. At one time I saw two enemies standing behind a tree unaware of my presence, so I pulled out my pistol and shot the tree, after which it came tumbling down, squashing them completely. Suffice it to say, the surroundings were covered in red goo. It is small touches like these that really make TE worthwhile, because they provide a real sense of satisfaction.
The last category of levels is the flying sections. These have been bravely included in order to provide a break from all the FPS action. While they manage to do this, they are not nearly polished enough. First of all, these levels require quick reactions, which is great if the controls were more responsive when it comes to changing direction. I have died numerous times, simply because my Pterosaur did not react instantly when the control stick was tilted. Frustrating as hell considering that you have to wait for the whole level to reload. Now don’t get me wrong: I do find these levels fun, but maybe Acclaim should have focused more on perfecting the FPS sections before plunging into such an ambitious project.
One of the things Turok games have always paid little attention to is the plot – and TE is no exception. The idea of having to save the world by killing an evil man (this time called Bruckner) and his countless minions (called the Slegs) is not only superficial, it has also been seen thousands of times before. Is it really that difficult to come up with something a little more fresh and innovative? Also, there are very few cut-scenes to elaborate on the story, which means that on more than one occasion you start a level with absolutely no idea where you are in relation to the plot.
What represents the quality of this game very well is the enemy AI. Occasionally, you are genuinely impressed. Some Sleg troops duck for cover, call for assistance, perform evasive rolls or run away, depending on who has the upper hand. Additionally, if one Sleg accidentally hits another one, he might return the fire, and if there are many enemies on screen this can quickly develop into a full-blown battle. It is extremely amusing – not to mention ammo-conserving – to just stand in the background, watching them go at each other with their shotguns and miniguns and flamethrowers. Whether this is an example of good or poor AI is arguable - but one thing is for certain: at times the Slegs are mind-bogglingly stupid. Running into their own grenades, walking around in circles or standing completely still even though they can easily see you, are just some of the things that make you shake your head in disbelief. Although it would have been nice, had the quality of the AI been somewhat more consistent, I personally do not consider it to be a huge problem. The important thing is that the enemies’ reactions are varied and unpredictable. Sure, it is more rewarding to shoot down intelligent enemies, but killing brain-less ones execution-style is not so bad either. TE’s AI make both things possible.
The visuals are a mixed bag too. As mentioned earlier, the outdoor environments look fantastic, not least due to the impressive draw distance. Remember the terrible fogging issues that characterized the previous Turok games? Well, that problem is now completely gone, and fogging effects are only used to create an atmosphere. The indoor scenery is not so stunning, though. Poor lightning and shadowing effects combined with a boring color scheme and some severe clipping issues make it look boring and dull – almost like a N64 game at times. As expected, the animation on the Slegs and dinosaurs look great, though.
The controls are respectable. The main control stick is used for walking forwards, backwards and sidestepping, while the C-stick takes care of aiming. The R button lets you fire, Z activates the zoom function and X changes weapon mode. Sadly, Acclaim have left out the ”weapon wheel” found in the previous games. Instead you have to scroll through weapons using the Y and B buttons, and this takes time, which, obviously, is something you do not have when confronted with 5 or 6 enemies in a small room. This will certainly result in a few deaths that could have been avoided with a less clumsy system. An alternate control function does exist, but it only switches the function of the control stick with that of the C-stick. If only the game allowed you to make up your own control scheme…
Perhaps the only thing that works truly flawlessly is the sound. An intense score sets the mood beautifully and adds a lot of suspense and atmosphere to the levels. Sometimes it even sounds like the music is taken directly out of a Star Wars movie. Likewise, the sound effects are deliciously disgusting, especially when shooting off an enemy’s leg or arm.
And then there are the weapons. There are not particularly many of them, but they are sufficiently brutal and come equipped with more than one function. In this way the bow can shoot normal, explosive or even vomit-inducing poison arrows, while the dart gun can transform into a hefty mini-gun. Apart from the macabre Swarm Bore, the most insane weapon is the Antigrav Beam, allowing you to imprison an enemy in a force field, and then control the force field to knock him into a wall, a ceiling or even other enemies. Imagine the carnage!
I am disappointed with the lack of real bosses, though. Sure you do get to meet a T-rex, now and then. but it is not the same. One of greatest things about the previous Turok titles were the absolutely huge boss battles that were difficult as hell but also very rewarding. That is sorely missing now.
The multiplayer part is quite substantial but not anything extraordinary. It offers a bunch of different characters, including the vicious raptor that is absolutely lethal in close-combat. Some of the game modes include Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Monkey Tag, which is exactly like Hold the Briefcase in Perfect Dark. However, there are also a couple of refreshing ones like Warrior Rage, where the idea is to increase your character’s strength by making multiple kills without dying. As long as the players are equally good, this is a lot of fun. The levels, while generally well-designed, are too big, I think. As a result, you almost never meet each other, particularly when playing a two-player game. And, sadly, Acclaim chose not to include computer-controlled bots to fill in the void.
So now you might ask: How can something so laden with programming errors, long loading times, control issues and graphical glitches get a 7.0? Well, the answer is simple, really, because underneath all this lies a big and challenging game that is enjoyable even when its short-comings are extremely pronounced. Also, when looking back there are countless of little memorable situations that stick to my mind. These things alone make this a solid game that deserves a good score.
Still, you cannot help but wonder how great this could game been, had Acclaim spent a little more time sorting things out.