baÂ·trachÂ·oÂ·phoÂ·biÂ·a — n.
Believe it or not, Native Americans have a long history in comics. Even a brief
investigation will turn up dozens of characters and titles. From humble beginnings
as enemies and sidekicks in cowboy stories, the “noble savage” emerged as a hero
in his own right once Tonto got his own comic. White Eagle Indian Chief, Tomahawk,
Son of Tomahawk and Red Wolf, Masked Avenger of the Western Plains brought justice
to the prairie. Want more? How about Black Condor, Night Eagle, Thunderbird, Victor
Ten-Eagles, Little Raven, Little Beaver, Little Sureshot, Arrowhead, Black Crow,
Red Warrior, Warpath, Moonstar, Psi-Hawk, Tomorrow Hawk, Werehawk, Hawk, and Hawkman
who could forget the broken English and awkward growth spurts of ethnic Superfriend,
But it was Turok who threw Native Americans, guns, alien lizards, time travel,
body-swapping, dinosaurs and lasers into a meat grinder and came up with a video
game. Or six. Counting all systems, Turok: Evolution is indeed the sixth
Turok game, but the first one for the current next-gen consoles. How
far has it evolved?
This time Turok (or rather ‘Tal’Set’, one of the incarnations of Turok) falls
into another time hole while fighting some bad guy. He is saved by some sort
of ancient seer, who he now must rescue. This is everything I was able to glean
from the disjointed bits of “plot” that Turok offers. The actual plot
of the game is “shoot everything that moves,” which rolls off the tongue nicely,
but isn’t very deep.
Fortunately for the manufacturers of ammo, lots of things move, and they’re nearly all lizards. Turok, it seems, has a deep and abiding hatred of all things scaly. From the smallest little lizard to the mighty Tyrannosaurus, Turok has it in for any reptile he can find. Even Turok’s main enemies are lizard men, which makes you wonder if he might have started the whole fight and the lizard men are just acting in self-defense. Only time travel will tell. (Note: I realize that dinosaurs are not lizards. It’s called “poetic license.”)
On the other hand, the lizards all look good when they die, and in everything
else they do. The graphics are quite good, with lots of nice environmental effects.
Throw a grenade and you might knock down a tree with the explosion, which can
fall down on your enemies (or yourself) and crush them. Bushes rustle, leaves
fall and lots of random critters run or fly by, trying to get out of the way.
Turok might not have the level of graphic detail found in Halo,
but it’s got a lot more things moving around, which gives it a nice, organic
Of course, how good Turok looks also depends on which system you use.
The Xbox version is the
strongest and sharpest, but the Gamecube runs a fairly close second, looking
nearly identical to the Xbox, minus some lighting effects.
Sound, on the other hand is good on all the systems, with satisfying bangs,
booms, roars, and shouts. The Xbox version gives you full 5.1 surround sound
to help you pinpoint your enemies, but only audiophiles will be able to tell
the difference between the 5.1 sound and the excellent Dolby Digital of the
GC and PS2 versions. Music fits the mood perfectly, and tends to be of the “jungle
will be pleased that Turok‘s big guns are back. You might only start
with a primitive axe and wooden bow, but that won’t last long. Just when you
think the guns can’t get any bigger or more destructive, you’ll be proven wrong.
This leads to plenty of interesting enemy deaths, like the Swarm Bore, which
eats those filthy lizards from the inside-out. My favorite is probably the simple
poison arrow, which causes your reptilian foes to fall down on all fours puking
for a while before they die. Don’t show your mom.
Like the guns, Turok‘s levels are also huge, with 15 different chapters
divided up into several long missions each. There are simply tons and tons of
single-player game here.
Which is good, because the multiplayer is pretty weak. The Gamecube supports
up to 4 player, which is a step up from the PS2’s offering of only 2. There
are plenty of multiplayer options and games, with classics like Capture The
Flag and Deathmatch and some newer ones, like Hunter. There are also custom
levels and new weapons exclusive to the multiplayer. But there are a lot of
things missing, too. There are no bots, so you can only play against the people
and controllers you have on hand. There is no cooperative play, so you cannot
tackle the game together; and there’s no online play at all.
But where Turok really falls apart is in the positively prehistoric
gameplay. We’re talking Doom, here. Ammo, weapons, and health packs float
mysteriously above the jungle floor for you to collect. Level design is mixed,
but solving them is always the same: shoot some enemies, find the switch, open
the door, shoot some more enemies, look for the next switch, etc. The only breaks
from this repetition are a few levels where you fly a Pterodactyl through the
sky firing guns and missiles. It’s a nice interlude, but you fly strictly on
a rail, so it’s just more arcade shooting.
And amazingly, there’s no save game feature. You have to beat an entire mission before your progress is saved. Long missions would usually be a great plus, except when you have to keep replaying the same area over and over because after 20 minutes of progress you miss a jump and fall. There are no checkpoints, so it’s always back to the very beginning. And even at the end of levels, it won’t save your control options, so you have to redo them every time you start the game unless you enjoy the default inverted stick setup where pressing up makes you look down.
The total lack of plot and incongruous arcade elements were fine when I played
Doom all those years ago, but it has become disappointing since games
like Half-Life and Halo have proved that even shooters can have
engrossing stories and realistic worlds. The lead designer of Turok,
on the other hand, still seems to think that video game machines have slots
for quarters on the front.
It’s a shame that some poor game design choices mar an otherwise pretty game,
one with potential and one that they clearly spent a lot of time on. Turok:
Evolution is possibly the most misleading title of all time, since this
game hasn’t evolved at all.