Review: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (N64)

A game worthy of acclaim?

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a wise and lucky move for publisher Acclaim Entertainment. In the late '90s, the company was struggling financially and drastically needed to change its fortunes. Making good on its purchases of Valiant Comics in 1994 and development studio Iguana Entertainment in 1995, Acclaim used the rights it acquired to the Turok franchise and adopted a strategy where it would develop games based on the IP and then license additional merchandise from it. To say it paid off would be something of an understatement: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter went on to sell 1.5 million copies (which was a lot for the time) and became a fully fledged series that saw another three games on the N64.

Looking back in hindsight, it's easy to see why Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a sure-fire hit on the Nintendo 64. Released during a time when the software line-up was still incredibly light and the hardware hadn't yet been used to its full potential, the game was a breath of fresh air in comparison to other titles available on the market. It was also extremely violent; something which most Nintendo gamers weren't used to receiving back then. On home consoles, the first-person shooter genre had not yet blossomed into the money-making behemoth that it is today, and the thought of controlling such a type of game – which up until this point had typically been reserved for PC gamers – with a just mere controller perplexed many.

Therefore when Turok: Dinosaur Hunter made its debut in 1997 it seemed almost revolutionary; its lofty status undoubtedly exaggerated by the fact that there was still very little else to buy for the N64 at the time. That's not to say that this was or is a bad game; it's an entertaining, gore-filled romp that feels eerily similar to earlier first-person shooter classics such as DOOM and Quake. However, the game does suffer from a distinct lack of polish, made all the more evident by Rare's later masterpiece, GoldenEye 007 (which also released in 1997). Playing it now really requires you to put on your best retro hat if you want to get the same enjoyment you would have got from it back in 1997.

Nevertheless, one of the most impressive things about the game is the incredibly original and varied universe in which it's set. Turok is a Native American warrior who is tasked with defending the barrier between the Lost Land and Earth. This other realm is home to everything from dinosaurs and aliens to hunters and tribal warriors. It's a bizarre mash-up of cool, yet unrelated ideas that surprisingly work very well together. Turok must stop the Campaigner, an evil overlord whose armies have invaded the Lost Land in a bid to get their hands on the Chronoscepter, a devastating weapon that grants considerable power to whoever wields it. Thankfully, the Chronoscepter is broken up into individual pieces which are spread across each of the game's eight levels, and one of Turok's optional objectives is to acquire this for himself.

This wouldn't be too much of a problem if it weren't for the fact that this game is incredibly hard. Even on the easiest difficulty setting, getting to the end of the first level in a half-dead state is a considerable achievement. This comes down to a number of things such as having to explore every nook and cranny of each level to find keys which you need in order to progress, as well as the fact that enemies respawn all too frequently.

To further add to this frustration, it incorporates quite a few platforming segments. While this provides a nice change of pace at times, trying to land an accurate jump in some parts is extremely difficult — there's a reason why Super Mario has never been a first-person experience. With the game's incredibly unforgiving lives and checkpoint system, this can sometimes have a negative impact on your overall enjoyment.

The control system is another area of consternation. You move Turok with the C-buttons, while using the analogue stick to aim. This does provide greater accuracy than the more mainstream setup that was used in GoldenEye 007 and Perfect Dark, but getting used to it is tricky. It seems a tad too clumsy, regardless of which sensitivity setting you have it on, and makes combat against enemies on uneven terrain unnecessarily awkward.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter has to be commended for its expansive game environments, which even by today's standards are pretty huge. They're so big in fact, that it's easy to get lost at times, as it isn't always clear where you have to go next. To make matters worse, it suffers from extreme fogging as a result of the Nintendo 64's hardware limitations. Due to this you're given an extremely limited field of view in-game, making it difficult to memorise the map layout. Thankfully, a pop-up map is conveniently available at the press of the L button.

The dreaded fog also excels at concealing enemies until they are right up in your face. However, this actually enhances the overall experience in a way; seeing a club-wielding silhouette suddenly emerge strikes fear into you, and it also means that these enemies actually have a chance of catching you off-guard.

Still, it's a shame that only small amounts of the scenery can be enjoyed at any one time. Although the game lacks the vibrant colour palette of most N64 titles, the environments are very interesting in parts, featuring ancient temples, grand cliffs and even wildlife. Not only that, but the various enemies you encounter will interact with each other. There's nothing more sadistically satisfying than seeing a Velociraptor charge one of the Campaigner's soldiers and turn him into dinner. It's just a shame that the frame rate starts to suffer the moment three or more enemies appear on-screen at the same time.

As a purely single-player experience, and one which wouldn't be particularly long were it not for its incredible difficulty, there's very little replay value to be found in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Moreover, the archaic save system, in which you must reach an in-game checkpoint, means that this is a game that can only be truly enjoyed when you have a good amount of free time to play it.

Conclusion

When it was released, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a seminal title that was deserving of the praise that it got. And while it's now horribly outdated as a result of the genre innovations that followed, there was very little else like it on home consoles at the time. It isn't the prettiest or most playable title on the N64, but that doesn't mean that you can't marvel at everything it managed to achieve. The game world is large and full of life, both the weapons and enemies are vicious, and while it may not be to everyone's liking, it offers an insanely tough challenge for you to try to conquer. Despite this, it really hasn't aged well, meaning that unless you hold a firm appreciation for retro titles, there's a good chance you'll struggle to find a great deal of enjoyment in the experience.

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