If the early 90s is best remembered for pioneering the first-person shooter genre, then the late 90s is remembered for its evolution. It was a wonderful time to be a gamer. On one side, you had full 3D shooters that shook up the formula introduced in Doom, such as Quake, Unreal, Half-Life, NOLF, Goldeneye and on the other hand, you had games that revelled in 2.5D build engine goodness like Blood, Shadow Warrior and Redneck Rampage. Nah, I’m joking. Fuck Redneck Rampage.
There were also a few gems that, while popular at the time of release for pushing the genre forward in its own right, aren’t really the talk of the town these days. Iguana Entertainment’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is one such fine fps. Originally released for the N64 back in 1997, Turok soon found its place to where it always belonged- on the PC. The PC port was kind of shit when it originally released but thanks to Nightdive studios and their obsession for restoring the classics, Turok: The Dinosaur Hunter and its sequel was brought back to life in 2015 and 2017 respectively.
So what is Turok and why does it deserve a spot on The Noob Recommend? Is it because Turok is the best fps of all time? It’s not. Not even close. In fact, I wouldn’t put the first Turok anywhere near the classics mentioned above. The hardware limitations of the original platform do prevent it from truly being a classic FPS for some, but Turok sure is a joy to play, even today.
Before Half Life, story and gameplay in first-person shooters didn’t go hand in hand. The same can be said for Turok. Based on a comic series from the 50s (specifically its 90s reimagining), Turok: Dinosaur Hunter follows the escapades of Tal’Set, the current holder of the mantle of Turok, who are time-travelling Native American warriors tasked with protecting the earth from an evil dimension called the Lost Lands. The big baddy Campaigner is on a campaign to find the broken pieces of Chronoscepter which is like the BFG in this game. Your task is to not let Chronoscepter fall into the baddy’s hands and save the world. Typical 90s stuff.
If you played at least one ‘retro’ shooter in your life, then you’ll feel right at home in Turok. The general gameplay follows the conventions of established shooters at the time. You navigate through large, often open levels shooting enemies in the face and finding a number of keys to unlock the next area (and pieces of Chronoscepter if you choose to do so). Taking a bit of inspiration from Hexen and Strife, Turok can visit and revisit all the unlocked levels anytime from the game’s hub. Thus it’s not required to collect all keys in a level at one go. You also get to fight some bosses along the way before you face the big bad and obliterate him with the Chronoscepter (if you manage to find all pieces that is) or fill him with millions of bullets.
The shooting in Turok is pretty satisfying thanks to your awesome arsenal which includes a standard knife, an-ever useful Tek Bow, a pistol, a shotgun, an assault rifle, a plasma rifle, a weird alien gun, auto shotgun, machine gun, a badass fusion cannon, a chargeable shockwave weapon, quad rocket launcher and finally, the 3-shot BFG aka Chronoscepter. There’s also a fairly varied array of baddies you can try the sweet arsenal on. Pretty impressive for an N64 title. Sadly, due to the console’s limitations, there isn’t much variety in their behaviour or attack patterns. But we can surely forgive this 23-year-old boy for such things.
But the one thing that keeps Turok fresh throughout the decades is the level design. Designed with fast-paced movement and circle-strafing in mind, Turok features some of the biggest and open 3D levels rendered in any fps at the time. Not only are they big, but there’s also a strong focus on vertical level design as well. This goes hand in hand with the amount of platforming present in the game. I know what you’re thinking, “urgh..early 3D platforming”. But once you get a hang of Turok’s dated attachment with the physics of the game world, platforming isn’t going to cause you many problems. There are numerous obstacles to overcome such as lava pools, portals, endless depths, fake doors, secret passages and on and on. Even though the levels are not that well detailed and assets are repeated a lot, there are different types of areas to explore such as jungles, ruins, caverns, underwater areas, ancient cities, treetop villages etc.
There are certain design choices that haven’t aged well in Turok. For example, there is no quicksaving. To save the game, you have to visit certain checkpoints in the game and manually save your progress. These checkpoints are few and far between, leading to a loss of progress over simple mistakes. Because you need to find a specific number of keys to progress the game, you will find yourself thoroughly searching for them in every corner of the game. Since you can finish a level without finding all keys in it, going back and wandering aimlessly, shooting respawning enemies can be frustrating, especially to newcomers who are used to modern shooters with waypoints and minimaps.
It’s quite evident that Turok isn’t a half-assed console product. It’s the real deal that pushed the said console to its limits at the time. Thus resulting in the game running terribly on the N64 with muddy textures, blocky models and a limited draw distance. Everything you expect from a 90s shooter can be found here. But finding and playing the og PC port is a headache. Thanks to Nightdive, you can appreciate this forgotten gem in full HD and with all sorts of quality of life improvements. Extended draw distance, anti-aliasing, gamepad support, customizable options such as head bobbing, FOV and everything in between. Not all heroes have $3 billion in revenue.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a nostalgic trip for many and a legit good FPS for others. Do yourself a favour and pick up Turok and its sequel, Seeds of Evil in the next STEAM sale. FPS lovers won’t regret this purchase.