What’s a Turok? | A brief history of Acclaim’s classic dinosaur franchise

After a lengthy holiday, Turok is back. Well, kind of. Releasing on Steam, Turok: Escape from Lost Valley is a decidedly different vision of the famous dinosaur hunter. Taking inspiration from the cute and cuddly cartoons of today is probably appropriate for a franchise that seemed to roll with the trends more than most. From innovating console FPS on the Nintendo 64 to stagnating in the Halo era, Acclaim’s premiere shooter franchise has been through a lot. Let’s wade through the mists of time and look back at the history of the series before exploring the Lost Valley.

Before Video Games | Turok‘s hidden comic origins

Before diving into the game series proper, it is worth mentioning that Turok was not originally a video game. Originating in the mid-1950s, early Turok tales depicted the character as a young Native American trapped in a valley filled with dinosaurs. The young adventurer was more curious than violent, calling the prehistoric creatures he met “honkers.” Along with several other characters owned by Gold Key Comics, the character would have various adventures throughout the decades.

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A more familiar version of Turok would emerge in the early ’90s in Valiant Comics. As was typical of characters at the time, Turok was a musclebound warrior. He hunted not just dinosaurs but demons, beasts, and Lovecraftian nightmares. The dinosaurs were upgraded as well, sporting bionic enhancements and other frankly ridiculous accouterments. This serious take would bring the character and the company to new heights of popularity. In turn, this attracted Acclaim, which purchased the company in 1994.

Turok launches the Nintendo 64’s shooter craze

Turok Dinosaur Hunter

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter released in 1997 for Nintendo 64, just a few short months into the console’s life. While several first-person shooters had made their way to console before this, Turok was one of the first designed with a joystick in mind. That, combined with the notable amount of violence on display on a Nintendo console, gave the game legs beyond all expectations. Those without massive PCs were seeing the potential of 3D shooters for the first time, and the Turok name began to take on a whole new meaning.

Acclaim would follow up the massive success with Turok 2: Seeds of Evil in 1998 and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion in 2000. There were also Game Boy releases for each mainline game in the series, trading out explosive gunplay for side-scrolling platforming. While the second N64 sequel makes some strides technologically, both games were considered iterative at best. The release of Goldeneye 007 months after Turok‘s initial gaming debut had stolen a lot of the dinosaur hunter’s thunder. By the time more Turok hit, most players were ready to move on. No matter how hard Acclaim tried, not many of them ever came back.

The meteor strikes | Turok‘s last days at Acclaim

Turok Evolution Gameplay

It’s not to say that Acclaim didn’t go down swinging. Between Seeds of Evil and Shadow of Oblivion, it released Turok: Rage Wars. This was a pure deathmatch game hoping to ride the coattails of Rare’s shooters and the growing reputation of the N64 as a multiplayer beast. It had unique exclusive weapons, such as a freeze ray, sticky grenades, large needle that injected opponents with chest-bursting aliens. All that and a Cerebral Bore will lead to a good time, but Rage Wars never really achieved the fame of its multiplayer rivals.

Once the N64 was old news, Acclaim felt the need to bring Turok to the masses. Its next game, a prequel titled Turok Evolution, released in 2002 on all three major consoles of the PlayStation 2 era. It also came out on PC, although only in Europe. Critical reception was fairly tepid, as reviews stated that it had unimpressive AI compared to other first-person shooters of the time. It was now the age of Halo, and this old franchise was put out to pasture. Acclaim canceled Evolution‘s sequel, and the series lay dormant in the gaming world for the rest of the generation.

Turok fails to capture that Disney magic

Turok 2008 Artwork

The year is 2008. Acclaim has been reborn as a free to play publisher utterly divorced from its former deeds. Propaganda Games has ended up with the Turok license and a publishing deal with Disney. Their final result is a reboot of the franchise that did a lot to bring it into the Call of Duty era. These same refreshes come off as a bit generic looking back, but the game had some good ideas just under the surface. Despite mixed critical reception, there was enough excitement to start work on a sequel. That game was mostly through the concept stage when mass layoffs shuttered Propaganda Games. A release full of potential led to nothing a false start for this new take on Turok.

Now, more than a decade later, Turok exists mostly as a fond memory for N64 kids. Retro gamers are able to return to the first two games in the series on modern consoles and PC thanks to Night Dive Entertainment. Their great work created the ideal Turok, divorced from awkward controls and some of the problems with fog. Now, there is a new Turok, a decidedly indie endeavor that takes the series in a whole new direction. Instead of drawing from the ’90s era violence, Escape From Lost Valley takes concepts from the original comics series and brings them to video games. In a world filled with endless nostalgic rehashes, that sounds like a fine idea indeed.