Posted on March 12, 2008,

Gaming Today Impressions of Turok

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Turok
Developer: Propaganda Games
Publisher: Touchstone
Price: $59.99
Platform: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Category: FPS
ESRB Rating: M for Mature (Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language)
Release Date: February 5

Fighting dinosaurs might not be the most original concept anymore – it’s been a long time since the first Turok game saw the light of day. So it seems only fair to expect the surrounding game elements in Turok to compensate for that and help differentiate the game from the extremely bloated FPS market. And yet everything about the game screams, “Generic!” and manages to only surprise you with how it manages to be derivative in every fashion imaginable.

Perhaps its unoriginality could be forgiven if technical flaws didn’t further hinder the game, but the combination really manages to ruin any fun that might be had. And it’s really a shame, because there’s definitely a fun game under Turok’s skin.

The setup, while clichéd (like virtually everything in the story), works well enough: you’re being sent with a team of space marines to capture the former mentor of the game’s protagonist (whose name is, naturally, Turok). Things go wrong right away as your ship is shot down entering orbit, leaving you to put the pieces together and get off a planet teeming with dinosaurs and other monstrous creatures.

Almost immediately you can tell that the game is trying to force the story on you rather than letting you explore the story as you play. At times you’ll be slowed to a crawl to listen to radio communications and you’ll find yourself watching some of the game’s coolest moments rather than actually participating in them. None of the narrative comes through gameplay, and as this point in time that’s just unacceptable.

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Maybe it’s for the best, though, as the time you spend playing the game feels nothing but ordinary. The weapons are ripped straight out of FPS 101 – an SMG, a shotgun, a rocket launcher, a sniper rifle – it’s all so unsurprising that you’ll never discover a new weapon and think to yourself, “I can’t wait to try this out,” because you already know what to expect.

Using your bow can be a more interesting way of silently eliminating targets from a distance, but it’s essentially worthless if any bullets are hitting you. And no matter how hard you try, bullets WILL hit you. Even if you put a significant amount of distance between yourself and an enemy (assuming he’s carrying any weapon with more range than a shotgun), he’ll still hit you with alarmingly high percentage of bullets. More annoying than that is when you find yourself facing off against a group of dinosaurs and enemy marines at the same time, only to have the two enemies attack one another and then miraculously lock back onto you the second you pop out of cover. Every time I’d see a turret facing one way, I’d be filled with lead before I could fully expose my body.

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The knife, likewise, is fun to use but impractical unless you can get directly next to your enemy so that you can pull off an automated one-hit kill attack. These attacks are particularly gruesome and are very rewarding to use on the dinos – but they take no skill to actually pull off. Simply get next to an enemy, push a button and you’re pulled into a third person view of Turok stabbing/slicing/dicing away. There’s not much variety in terms of the animation, and when fighting a group of dinos, using the knife will net you with the same animation again and again. You’ll want to avoid using these when anyone with a gun is around, though, as you’re locked into the animation and can be killed with no way to prevent it. It’s a frustrating way to die, especially when you think you’re alone with a single dinosaur.

The gunplay itself is equally as boring as the weaponry. Enemy human AI is some of the dumbest I’ve ever seen in a game, as they’ll frequently walk by you without noticing you, take cover in a position that completely exposes their entire body to you, and call out, “We’ve got a body!” in the middle of a firefight. Brilliant. When they aren’t busy with that, they’re inexorably running at you with no cares in the world regarding the bullets you’re firing at them.

Your squadmates don’t exhibit the most tactical of methods, either. Almost every time I was paired up with another person, they were shot and “downed,” Gears of War style. The only way to get them back on their feet is to eliminate the imminent threat – which leads to really boneheaded situations as they spew their inflammatory dialogue once the fight is over after doing nothing to help you.

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Multiplayer has some interesting ideas, but when the core mechanic of shooting in a shooting game isn’t well done, it doesn’t really matter what you do right. Being able to play co-op missions and all is cool, but the whole online interface stinks and is incredibly counterintuitive. It doesn’t help that there isn’t much in the way of documentation to explain what you’re doing, either. Why am I shutting down power to the base in a CTF match? What’s that do?

I really feel like Turok could have been a great game. Yes, the story is awful and clichéd, the level design makes me picture a fountain of cut-and-paste commands, the characters have the emotional range of a pickle (try staring at one for around 20 minutes, and you’ll see the sort of progression they make throughout the game), and Turok himself has the worst hairstyle of any videogame lead in recent memory. But the graphics are definitely pretty, the soundtrack gets the job done and getting to fight dinosaurs is still fun – on paper, Turok definitely would seem great. But the execution simply isn’t there. The dialogue feeling like it was written by a programmer on lunch break is indicative of what to expect across the board. When you pile all of the negatives together, there’s just not enough here to justify playing Turok over Call of Duty 4, The Orange Box, or any number of other shooters released recently.

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