You know, we have to say- we're big fans of games that use a stellar atmosphere to deliver a captivating interactive experience. We've read some of the earlier reviews of Turok, and we believe this is something that most critics are missing. It's the sound, the impact of seeing a massively exciting visual for the first time, and the one idea that sits in the back of your mind, eating away at you... It's the thought that...yes, you are being hunted. But you don't know what's hunting you, and you're not sure where it is. This is what makes a game like Turok entertaining, even though it's ultimately bogged down by several significant drawbacks that stop this particular title from being a "must-own." However, fans of the series will definitely want to consider a purchase, and we still believe it's worth playing, even if you don't finish the entire adventure. Oh, and on one final note before we get started, we'd also like to add that those fierce dinosaurs, while irritating at times, are by far the best part of Turok.
That being said, the graphics are easily the worst part of this production. The Xbox 360 version doesn't look fantastic to begin with, but sadly for PS3 owners, this version is only slightly better than average. You will have to suffer through some horrendous textures, framerate drops and a bit of screen-tearing here and there, all of which are worse in the PS3 version. There's a goodly amount of detail in the environment, characters and especially the dinosaurs, but the technical shortcomings tend to override the positives in this category. At first, we wanted to expect something like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune when we first saw an aerial view of the jungle, but Turok really doesn't come close to that level of graphical expertise. Without any doubt, these issues put a crimp in the experience, but thankfully, they aren't damaging enough to make the visuals a constant annoyance. Some parts of the gameplay are consistently annoying, but the erratic graphical palette features both highlights and low points; if you're a "glass half-full" kinda dude, maybe you'll just focus on the highlights.
The sound is markedly better, thanks to a fitting score and a lot of excellent combat effects. Tearing into a dangerous lizard with your knife is appropriately gut-wrenching, the weapon retorts are accurate and not overpowering and the creepy growls and grunts in the underbrush are awesome. Like we said at the start, the latter is what helps make this game so appealing. The voice acting is fine, but nowhere near as impressive, especially because we lose track of the story very quickly. Large, sweeping orchestral pieces accentuate the soundtrack, which really fits the on-screen action exceedingly well (despite a few questionable music selections later on). The only significant complaint we had centered on how sound travels in Turok; it was sort of hit or miss throughout, as we always expected more effects to reach us over certain distances. It makes sense we'd hear less when far away, of course, but at no point should that battle over the ridge sound muted. But the effects while exploring the jungle are outstanding and represent the game's bread and butter. Remember, atmosphere plays a very large role all the time, but it's even more pronounced here.
The gameplay consists of an interesting blend of run Ďn gun action and stealth, punctuated by ferocious beasts that act more realistically than any of the humans. The player is given the freedom to choose how he approaches any given battle, and although the adventure itself is very linear (a strange contrast, actually), the flow of the action never falters. And as we noted in playing the demo, Propaganda Games has decided to take an accurate approach to the physics; it takes a second or two to reach full jogging speed and we'll even get knocked onto our backs by those aggressive dinosaurs. There's realistic recoil on most of the weapons, the enemy AI will notice you quickly if you're not careful, and when getting hit, it's very difficult to aim accurately. All of this comes together in a surprisingly effective FPS mechanic, even though the player may get frustrated several times throughout the adventure. Getting knocked down again and again by rampaging dinosaurs and not knowing where you'll be facing when regaining your footing can get tiresome, for instance.
Turok is a member of Whiskey Company, and after a missile rocks their spaceship at the start, he finds himself stranded on a strange planet loaded with never-ending hazards. Your goal is to find and eliminate a guy named Kane, but while we're introduced to the man, we really don't learn much about him during the course of the storyline. You're immediately forced into a struggle for survival, so we understand getting away from the original mission, but the promising story never comes to fruition. You face Kane in the final battle but by that time, it's almost like fighting a faceless villain. "Eh, I'd just rather battle the T-Rex again," you'll say. There is a fair amount of diversity in the gameplay, though, as there are plenty of cool weapons to find, an almost constant shifting between animal and human enemies, and that aforementioned freedom. If you'd rather sneak around in the weeds with a knife and your trusty bow, go for it. If you're more comfortable equipping a SMG in one hand and a Shotgun in the other, more power to you. Of course, your decision will depend a great deal on your ability to stay hidden and silent, because if you're spotted, the bow and knife suddenly become mostly useless.
You'll probably want to tone down the aiming sensitivity right off the bat, and even then, the combination of the weapon recoil and damage impact can make it somewhat challenging to accurately target an enemy. And unfortunately, while the game isn't overly difficult, there are a few sections that will just drive you nuts. The lack of a map means it can be a needlessly frustrating task to follow the objective arrow on your screen, and a few times, you'll be loading and continuing like there's no tomorrow. These portions of the gameplay seem more cheap than challenging, too, which really hurt our enjoyment as time wore on. The stealth mechanic works nicely, but the AI doesn't complement this style like it would in a stealth-oriented title like Splinter Cell. Enemies will certainly strafe and run for cover, but they'll also stand over a dead body, looking around for the culprit...usually long enough for you to put an arrow into his neck from a hundred yards out. We also fail to understand why blood flies from a dinosaur's body but we still only see yellow sparks when slashing on a human foe...seriously, what's the deal with that?
The control is straightforward, provided you assimilate to the mostly realistic momentum physics. We would've preferred the default setup to let us fire with the R1 and L1 buttons rather than the R2 and L2 buttons, though, just because the Sixaxis controller has those less-than-accessible half-triggers. We also weren't big fans of the weapon selection screen, which seemed cumbersome and even confusing at times. But other than that, FPS aficionados will take to Turok like a fish to water, and may only be turned off by the lack of exploration. The landscape would've been perfect for something a lot less linear, and we also thought there should've been a lot more in the way of wide open areas. The jungle is appropriately intimidating, but getting up close and personal with Raptors is never advisable. Speaking of which, if one of those nasty things leaps on top of you, you will be given a button command that can be your savior. You will be asked to mash on the L2 or R2 button, or maybe jiggle the left analog back and forth; if you do it fast enough, Turok will jab away with his knife until the offending creature is dead meat. This works okay, but we wonder why the prompt doesn't pop up for a few seconds after getting attacked. The delay is unsettling.
There's a lot of repetition to the battles, too, and the umpteenth time you get knocked over by a rampaging Raptor, you'll probably start to get bored. However, we must reiterate- the dinosaurs are a big plus. They look great, they respond and react exactly the way you'd expect a carnivorous prowler to, and best of all, they're appropriately frightening. The first time you see that giant Tyrannosaurus step over a ridge of trees and start feeding on helpless humans (who just so happen to be your enemies at the time), it's an invigorating experience. Propaganda also does a great job of instituting a variety of different dinosaurs, the existence of non-threatening lizards adds a lot to the engaging environment. The Pterosaur will wing gracefully above your head, the little Compsognathus will flit along through the underbrush, and the Parasaurolophus, while larger than a Raptor, is only interested in veggies. The meat-eaters will chase flares from your Shotgun and better yet, simply head to the nearest food source. That may be you or an enemy, depending on the situation. Hey, food is food, right? And that's exactly the way these dinosaurs should act.
Honestly, if it weren't for these nicely depicted archaic beasts, Turok really wouldn't be worth playing. That may be silly to say, however, considering dinosaurs have always been staple of this franchise. It's too bad that the PS3 version has to look so unpolished, as the small framerate drops and bad textures tend to get more painful as times goes on. The enemy AI is okay - again, dinosaur behavior vastly outstrips the human reactions - but we often don't care who or what we're battling, mostly because the story fails to deliver the goods. Lastly, those sections of the quest that will undoubtedly annoy the crap out of you can be a major drawback, causing you to toss the controller away in disgust. But despite it all, Turok remains fun and engaging, and that's what really counts. It's not the fantastic production it could've been, but it's definitely worth a look. The atmosphere pulls you into the experience thanks to fantastic dinosaurs and great sound, being given the choice between straight-up gunning and stealth is most appreciated (the bow rules!), and the efforts made for accurate momentum physics don't go unnoticed. All of this means the positives outweigh the negatives by a large amount, and the single-player campaign is worthy of your attention.
The multiplayer is an attraction as well, primarily because of the co-op gameplay. The rest is fun but not amazing, and probably won't be your #1 choice for online play in 2008. It is well done, though, as the diversity of the weapons and ability to once again choose between stealth and all-out firefights makes the multiplayer somewhat unique. All in all, Turok is an enjoyable game that suffers from several significant problems, but none of them stopped us from having our fun (for the most part). We say, give it a try, especially if you're an avid follower of the franchise. Also, if you're interested in the game, make sure to check out our exclusive Q&A with Propaganda Games!
2/5/2008 Ben Dutka