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just plops you in a map with little to no waypoints or instruction feels right out of the era that these games were originally made in – an era where there weren’t the capabilities to tell a detailed, structured story.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.
Which is another thing that feels a little bit rough in Turok – the platforming. You’ll do a lot of jumping from pillar to pillar, from bridge to ledge; and it’ll take a while to get used to this kind of movement. Games of today have streamlined traversal and platforming effortlessly. Turok is another story – you miss a jump, you’ll instantly die and lose a life. There’s no ledge grabs to save you, no second chances. As such, you’ll find yourself jumping while looking directly at your feet to gauge where you are going to land. I was used to this after the first few levels, but it’ll piss a lot of people off who are used to playing the games of today – and just feels archaic.On the flip side, the on-ground movement in Turok feels as fluid as ever, much better than the clumsy control scheme on the single stick Nintendo 64 controller. Movement speed in general is incredibly fast, playing similarly to fast paced games like Doom and Quake. The sense of momentum just feels perfectly captured. It’s great fun to build a rhythm of sorts as you speed around an arena, lining up perfect headshots and dodging enemy fire with finesse in a violent ballet of bullets.
While only in the early stages at this point, Turok would eventually become known for its wild menagerie of enemies and it’s ridiculously over the top weapons. This first Turok game provides you with a wide range of weapons: standards like the Shotgun and Assault Rifle are juxtaposed with futuristic plasma weapons with nuclear capabilities. Similarly, you’ll fight enemies like dinosaurs and tribesmen all the way through to rocket wielding robots and a cybernetically enhanced T-Rex. There’s some great enemy and weapon variety on show here that keep things interesting, and this is only improved on in later games.From a presentation standpoint, the game obviously has some longstanding issues but performs well. Most of the fog in the original Nintendo 64 version has been removed, giving the levels a much less claustrophobic feel than when they were originally presented twenty years ago. The framerate is also improved, running at very smooth 60 frames per second. Obviously, a game this old isn’t going to look amazing – but every effort has been made here to touch up as much of the presentation as possible. Textures are fine, though some characters do look a little bit blocky and some environments do begin to get a little bit repetitive.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
I can confidently say that Nightdive’s remaster is the best way to play Turok after twenty years. All the issues that most would’ve had with the original version are gone – better draw distance, a smooth framerate and smoother controls all improve a game that was in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. From a design perspective, it still suffers from some ups and downs though, and ultimately will only appeal to those who adored it when it first released in 1997.