I think I forgot just how much I loved Turok as a kid. From the moment I saw that crinkled, tattered husk of a box sitting at my local Blockbuster, I just knew that I’d love it. It was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for the Nintendo 64. The first third party game for the console, and my first ever first-person shooter (I skipped pretty much anything on a PC). While I enjoyed it at the time, I just knew several years later that it would not have aged well. Now, twenty years later, the games have been remastered by Nightdive Studios, a studio dedicated to bringing games back for a modern audience. It might be a little controversial, but I think they’ve outdone the original here.
The original Turok was light on story elements. You play as Tal’Set, a warrior of Saquin descent who has been given the mantle of Turok, a legendary hunter who is meant to protect the Lost Lands. His mission is a simple one – stop an evil overlord known only as The Campaigner from using an alien weapon to merge the Lost Lands with our own universe. It’s basic stuff, filled to the brim with all kinds of tropes. The simplicity works though, as what follows is a bizarre amalgamation of prehistoric themes with futuristic science fiction derived ones.The game itself is structured in a semi-open fashion. You’ll start off in a hub world that can transport you to one of seven levels. Each level can be unlocked by finding keys in the others – though some of them are hidden well. It’d be misleading to call each level open-world, but the levels are designed openly, as there’s sometimes multiple paths through them. You’ll be able to easily complete a run of a level without finding anything, almost demanding you to explore every nook and cranny.
I was taken aback at how this type of level design simultaneously felt dated but at the same time still stood up today. On one hand, non-linear exploration of levels feels modern as ever. On the other, the fact that the game just plops you in a map with little to no waypoints or instruction feels right out of the era that these games were originally made in – an era where there weren’t the capabilities to tell a detailed, structured story. It’s one of the key design choices that has remained largely the same from the original game and yet still works today.On the other hand, some other aspects are bound to rub players the wrong way. There’s no reliable or constant autosaves in Turok. Rather, you’ll be able to save your game at certain points in each level, and if you die you’ll return to them. Checkpoints are peppered throughout each level too. These are used by walking through them, like a gate, and cannot be reactivated again. Much like a save point, they provide a point to return to if you die. Run out of lives though and you’ll be in trouble, especially if you’re not using the manual save points. It’s been a long time that I’ve had to remember where save points were on a map, so that I could not risk losing progress from a poorly timed jump or an enemy ambush.