The playable demo of Turok is now available on both the PlayStation Store and Xbox Live Marketplace, and we strongly suggest you check it out if you haven't already. As one of the most anticipated titles so far in 2008, we dive in and go hands-on a few weeks before the full game is scheduled to arrive in retail stores.
You start off in some deep, dank caves, where you and Slade (who sounds like he's voiced by Ron Pearlman) must find a way out. You're immediately given a knife, your trusty bow, a SMG and some grenades, and you quickly learn the basics of movement. Triangle crouches, X jumps, Square reloads, L1 throws a grenade - provided you're not dual-wielding - and R2 and L2 fire the weapon in your right and left hand respectively. That's pretty standard, but we immediately noticed that the control mechanic wasn't your run-of-the-mill FPS fare. Right off the bat, you'll notice that physical momentum plays a role in the gameplay; in other words, you're not at a full jogging pace when you start to move. This makes sense, correct? You need a second or two to get your body moving, and that reality is exhibited plainly in Turok. At first, because we're so used to the "sliding on glass" FPS movement style, it annoyed us. But we quickly came around...it works great.
Within only a minute or two, you will spot your first enemy: a Velociraptor. Well, Slade says it's a "Raptor," so we'll just assume that's what it is. Here is where you're treated to the all-out aggressive nature of the beasts combined with more realistic physics. If a dinosaur rushes and attacks you, you will likely get knocked onto your back, or at least pushed around, thereby causing you to lose your bearings momentarily. This is an excellent feature, and coincides beautifully with the use of body momentum when moving. You can even press the X button at just the right time to dive-roll away from a charging dinosaur, although we had difficulty pulling it off. If one of those giant reptiles gets a hold of you, you will be prompted to rapidly press either the R2 or L2 button, and Turok will stab the dinosaur repeatedly. It's a bloody little cut-scene, but you have to work fast because you're taking damage the whole time.
Speaking of the knife, it's often the focus of something you don't normally see in FPS games- stealth. Later in the demo, you will have the chance to take out multiple enemies by sneaking around in the weeds and coming up behind them. A quick press of the R2 button when you're close enough, and Turok rips 'em up. Quick sidebar- we're not sure if blood was turned off for humans in the demo, because Turok's stabs were accentuated by...well, they appeared to be yellow sparks. Not blood, certainly. But there's plenty of blood when stabbing the dinosaurs, so we don't know what that's about. Anyway, the stealth gameplay is surprisingly well implemented; it functions very much the same way it would in a Splinter Cell or Metal Gear Solid, although certainly nowhere near as refined. And remember, you're sneaking up on human enemies, here, so they can easily spot you if you're not careful. If you get spotted, you'll just have to rely on your firepower, which, with the addition of an awesome shotgun, is usually more than enough.
Now, as for an overall evaluation: the game looks very pretty, as emerging into the jungle from those caves reminded us of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The character detail and design isn't quite as good as Insomniac's gorgeous title, but we loved how the tall grass would bend and react to our presence. We also liked how the dinosaurs responded to us; they behaved exactly the way you might expect a dinosaur to behave. If they lose track of you, they'll look around but never stop moving, and taking them down does take some effort. You can also fire a flare to distract them, which allows you get the drop on a particularly nasty set of carnivores. On the other hand, we're not too impressed with the human AI (that counts for both our allies and the enemies), and the density of the forest can sometimes become a crutch. You might find yourself in a position that allows for very little visibility because the background environments are static; they don't bend back like those weeds.
We also couldn't quite figure out the bow, as our arrows only seemed to stick in dinosaurs as they ran around and did whatever they wished. We did, however, adore being able to dual-wield a SMG and shotgun at the same time, which allowed for some serious damage-dealing. There's also plenty of ammo lying around, and you won't have to worry about health packs. Like many other games recently (Uncharted, Call of Duty 4, etc.), there is no health bar/meter; the redder the screen gets, the closer you are to death. If you can find a place to hide for a period of time, you will recover. Everything seems to work very well, although we think the recoil on the firearms is just a bit much; we really had to tone down the aim sensitivity a lot in order to feel comfortable. All in all, this looks to be a game well worth playing, as the highlights revolve around a great atmosphere (the squeal and roar of dinosaurs constantly keeps you wary), realistic movement and reaction, and the blend of action and stealth.
The demo weighs in at a hefty 1133MB, so it will take you at least 45 mins. to download, but here's the good news- depending on how much you want to experiment - and how often you die - you can spend 30 - 45 minutes with this demo, so it's worth your time. This is no 10-minute Heavenly Sword demo, so don't worry about that. You'll definitely want to give Turok a try!
1/18/2008 Ben Dutka