Turok (PC) Review

A game from the stone age that should have stayed there

I remember Turok: Dinosaur Hunter very fondly. As such, it might come as a bit of a shock to you, as it did to me, that I would now say it’s actually not a good game. I suspect that’s a bit of an unpopular opinion, but someone had to say it.

Look, back when it was just a game on the N64, it was a bit of a different story. I mean, it still wasn’t a good game, but compared to the quality of shooters we were used to getting on anything but the PC at the time, it was certainly noteworthy. The problem is that in coming to the PC for the first time, Turok has left the relative comfort of competing against GoldenEye and Perfect Dark, and stepped into the firing line of the truly great shooters from ’96 and ’97—most notably Duke Nukem 3D, Quake, Quake 2, Shadow Warrior, and Hexen II.

“But Jake,” you cry, “why not review Turok on its own merits?” Oh, I do, dear reader. I do. But videogames don’t exist in a vacuum, and as such, it’s not fair to ignore something like the awkward jump physics and stumble-on landing in Turok when Quake from the year previous has fluid and seamless jumping. It’s not fair to ignore the fact that Turok doesn’t allow ammo switching (super irritating when you don’t want to waste those precious few explosive shells or tek arrows) when Doom II from three years prior allowed the player to switch between multiple weapons of the same type in the same slot. One can’t ignore Turok’s repetitive (and highly compressed), albeit fitting, soundtrack when Quake’s soundtrack by Trent Reznor and Quake 2’s soundtrack by Sonic Mayhem are two of the best in videogame history. And while no shooter from the 90s was particularly good at explaining their story (apart from Duke Nukem 3D, of course), that’s no excuse for never explaining why my culturally insensitive protagonist is running around fighting dinosaurs and dudes with guns while picking up chunks of rocks and constantly grinning like an idiot.

I will concede that there have been almost no modifications to the game in bringing it to PC, and I do admire that. Apart from an optional crosshair and faster enemies on higher difficulties, nothing has been changed, save for adding modern video options and big-kid input. Unfortunately, this sort of reverential treatment would have been much better saved for a 90s shooter that deserved a re-release after a couple decades—which this is not. Don’t get me wrong, if you’ve never played Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, you really should—and this is certainly the least painful way to do it. Unfortunately, it’s also the least rewarding. Which leads me to realize that if what made your game great was challenge imparted by crap controls, it actually wasn’t great to begin with. The one standout feature of the game is that it still feels like it’s from an era when developers didn’t spoon-feed players—there are mission-critical rocks that are genuinely difficult to find, and I do quite like that.

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The truth is, though, that Turok just hasn’t aged well. Enemies are few and far between, movement is cumbersome, combat and “puzzles” are unrewarding, the AI is terrible (even for the time), and it just doesn’t feel like a game that belongs on PC. And without the ridiculousness of the laser-shotgun and Cerebral Bore of the second game to distract from the underwhelming gameplay, this re-release only serves to emphasize its shortcomings

I like Turok; but I like it as an N64 game where I can make excuses for its shortcomings based on its platform—in a vacuum where I can’t compare it to other, truly great shooters. It worked on the 64 because it was challenging; challenging because the controller was built for someone with three arms and the thumbstick allowed for no finesse. On a PC, with a keyboard and mouse and even a modicum of dexterity, all the difficulty imparted by the poor aim mechanics and jump puzzles is ripped from the game like a band-aid from a horrible, gaping wound that I’d really rather not touch now that I’ve seen what’s in there. For those who disagree (and I suspect there may be many), I don’t blame you. Nostalgia is a cruel mistress. But whether you disagree with vitriol or agree wholeheartedly, I highly recommend revisiting any of the dozen or so native PC shooters from the year before and after Turok; you’ll understand what I’m on about.