Multiplayer has been a mainstay in first person shooters since only a few years after the genre's formal debut. Nonetheless, PC gamers had been shooting each other either in LAN setups or online for many years before console FPSes got in on the act. It wasn't until GoldenEye 007 hit the N64 that the idea of getting some friends together to sit around your console and participate in some deathmatch fun started to skyrocket in popularity, thus ensuring that developers and publishers began to take notice. One such publisher was Acclaim, which had garnered a substantial following by the late 90's, something that was in no minor way thanks to the Turok series. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil had dabbled in multiplayer in 1998, however after the grand spectacle of the campaign it felt as if it'd been an afterthought and tacked on at the last minute.
It wasn't until the following year that Acclaim unleashed Turok: Rage Wars and established the series as a major player in the multiplayer FPS scene — on the N64, at least. Acclaim's dedication to delivering a comprehensive, fully-featured multiplayer game was so thorough, in fact, that the game features no traditional single player mode as such. In the same vein as games like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament, everything you do in Rage Wars is centered around multiplayer, whether you're playing solo or have up to three friends in tow.
Should you find yourself playing on your lonesome, Trials mode presents players with a sprawling map of increasingly challenging matches in which to participate and drive the "story" forward. Truth be told, this isn't where Rage Wars shines: AI-controlled combatants put up a good fight depending on how you've tweaked their difficulty, but they're no substitute for actual human opponents. Unfortunately — cheating aside — the only way to unlock every playable character for use in multiplayer is by completing Trials mode, so slogging through is a necessary evil, depending on your scruples.
There's no doubting that the only way to play Rage Wars is with some friends huddled around the TV, all endeavouring to blow each other to bits with some over-the-top weaponry, which Rage Wars delivers in spades. Even without the Rumble Pak inserted, the sensation of pulling the trigger of most weapons — even the Mag 60, the game's pistol — is an exhilarating one. Despite not being quite as bombastic as the collection of village-flattening firearms seen in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Seeds of Evil, the weapons are interesting if nothing else. The more run-of-the-mill shotgun, assault rifle, minigun and grenade launcher are accompanied by such outlandish tools of destruction as a missile launcher, freeze gun, inflator and naplam launcher, among many others.
You can't just run around and pick up whichever weapons you choose, however. Before a match, everyone picks the guns they'll be taking into the game and each arena is littered with three types of ammunition: bullets, energy and explosives. Every weapon falls into one of these three categories, so players are able to customise their loadouts and make strategic choices to suit their tastes while not having to worry about a shortage of ammo. Each weapon also has a secondary firing mode, which adds strategic depth to proceedings. For example, the grenade launcher can fire rounds that either detonate on impact with anything solid or bounce erratically until they make contact with an opponent; the minigun spews a hail of bullets that cut through opponents, but can also provide the player with a personal shield at the expense of their energy ammo supplies.
Besides ammo and health, one-use pick-ups are also available. Items like the iron claw, mines and sentry gun offer up great opportunities for players to lay devious traps, although the ever-popular cerebral bore steals the show. Incidentally, Rage Wars is filled to the brim with opportunities for creatively getting one up on your friends — the hallmark of any good multiplayer game. There are few greater pleasures to be had in a multiplayer FPS than firing off a bore and watching its imminent victim zig-zagging around in a futile attempt to stop his brains from becoming wallpaper paste. Although, perhaps those who favour playing as the Raptor — which is unable to use weapons and must rely on its extreme agility and slashing claws to prevail — might have a different opinion, there.
"Oh snap!" moments and big guns aside, another major aspect of a multiplayer deathmatch game is the arenas on offer. The maps in Rage Wars are for the most part well thought-out — even if they do tend to lean towards relatively simple symmetrical design somewhat — and are all aesthetically distinctive, easy to memorise and balanced for nearly all play styles. Balancing is an area in which Rage Wars seems to have more than ample attention lavished upon it: very few weapons feel useless or underpowered compared to the rest, and a shotgun will have its uses in some areas whereas the scoped plasma rifle will prove more useful in others. Well designed maps, custom weapon loadouts and an assortment of different control schemes catering extensively to both left- and right-handed players all mesh together and ensure that, barring any ham-fistedness, no player is left behind in terms of skill. No one likes playing multiplayer with unevenly matched opponents, after all.
While Rage Wars falters in very few areas, there are some shortcomings to take note of. Longevity for lone players is, as mentioned above, an issue. Likewise, while the areas are laid out skilfully, the game wasn't much of a looker back in 1999 and obviously doesn't fare any better today, while the framerate also takes a hit during heated firefights a little too often.
Most notably, Rage Wars doesn't boast a set of gameplay options nearly as robust as Rare's multiplayer efforts. Modes are limited to deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and frag tag; the latter sees one player transform into a monkey while points are awarded to whoever kills them. This relatively small selection of game types shouldn't result in boredom by any means, but Acclaim had an opportunity to really spice things and explore new areas and sadly didn't capitalise on that. A real shame, considering the imaginative arsenal of guns on show.
While Rage Wars' selection of gameplay modes might seem a little sparse in comparison to the likes of GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, its tight controls, well designed arenas, array of fantastical weaponry and scope for first person mischief all add up to a N64 multiplayer game that can proudly hold its head high alongside those titles. Unlike Rare's titles however, you won't get a lot out of it unless you're able to make playing with friends a regular event. If you have three like-minded, equally matched peers willing to join you, then Turok: Rage Wars is multiplayer heaven and worth digging out or purchasing an N64 for.