Turok 2: A Moderately Painful Blast From the Past

I have a love/hate relationship with the first two Turok games. On the one hand, they’re terrible from almost every perspective. On the other, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was the first N64 game I owned, and it was my mother who bought it for me. So I can’t truly hate  Dinosaur Hunter… I can’t hate anything that’s attached to my mother. But, holy crap, I do not like it.

The game consisted of only seven or eight levels, only the first of which was I ever able to complete, and they are positively gargantuan. The first two Turok games (I simply don’t know about the third game) might actually contain the longest stages found in any video game, with the possible exception of some of the N64 collectathons. Even a reasonably skilled player is going to spend two or three hours simply traveling from one end of the stage to another.

The biggest problem with Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is that the stages are bland, empty, and uninteresting. Nothing sticks out as interesting or worthy of attention, and the first two stages both take place in a largely nondescript jungle with just a few textures painfully and obviously repeated on everything–not that you can see it through the absurd amount of fog meant to mask the N64’s low draw distance.

The sequel attempted to fix this by adding variety to the stages as well as mission objectives, which were implemented masterfully by Goldeneye. Following Rare’s FPS masterpiece, which held Nintendo Power’s #1 spot for nearly as long as Ocarina of Time (which, incidentally, was the game that finally dethroned 007), the flaws of Dinosaur Hunter were all the more apparent, so Acclaim valiantly attempted to improve the experience. Though I never owned this game, I borrowed it extensively (along with a useless Brady Games strategy guide), but, again, never managed to complete anything but the first level.

Turok 2: Seeds of Evil has now been remastered and released on Steam, so it seemed a perfect time to revisit it.

All of the problems that plagued the first game made their way into the second, as they evidently were the core of what a Turok game is. There is slightly more variety to the textures, and each stage has its own environmental feel, but it’s nowhere near enough to fix what is fundamentally bland design. There are, from what I’ve been able to tell, merely six stages this time around, and they still take a ridiculous amount of time to slog through.

Even knowing what I was doing, completing the first stage still took me more than two hours, made worse because I somehow missed two children. Believe it or not, the in-game map is less useful now than ever, as portals, doors, and the like are no longer clearly differentiated, and that the maps consist of nothing more than lines is an inexcusable remnant of days long passed. Would it have killed them to add a mini-map, and a Zelda-style map that can be opened?

Before I’d completed the first stage, though, a problem bigger than the stages presented itself: performance is abysmal. While I’m in need of a new graphics card (but have so much going wrong these days that a new card isn’t even on my radar), everything else in my system is top notch, and I’m well above the recommended specs anyway. I can play much more recent and graphically demanding games like The Witcher 2 [I didn’t care for it, so haven’t played The Witcher 3] without problem, but Turok 2: Seeds of Evil  regularly stays around 25 frames per second, and gets as low as 1 frame pre second. This game is like fifteen years old! The graphics were not improved nearly enough to tax my hardware.

Common complaints on the forum are from AMD users, of which I am one, and it honestly seems like the game was not tested on AMD hardware. This wouldn’t be the first time; Mass Effect was tested on only one sound card and one video card. I don’t know what else to think when I can open Project64 and emulate the game perfectly at 1920×1080 with all graphical features maxed out, but the PC version hiccups along at 20 frames per second at lower resolutions and with fancy settings disabled. There’s no excuse for this lack of optimization, and it hinges on making the game unplayable at times.

For the most part, however, it is playable, and I’m fairly sure the stages have been redesigned and made more linear, thank the freaking gods. Stage design comes off much more like modern games, like Resident Evil 6, Final Fantasy XIII, and Tomb Raider (2013) in that each stage is basically a gigantic tunnel with occasional and very brief alcoves off the main path that lead to largely inconsequential treasures. Here the treasures are of more use than another Potion or the second of three useless collectibles and the branches are a bit longer (taking 3-5 minutes to explore instead of 20-30 seconds), but it’s fundamentally the same. If the treasure here isn’t a new weapon, then it’s a level key or mission objective. This can actually be more annoying, though, because there’s no way to tell which of two paths proceeds through the level and which leads to a mandatory objective, forcing the player to travel quite a ways down both paths before knowing.

Once more, these levels are fucking massive. This is not a good thing. It’s better now, since one can save anywhere instead of only at designated spots, but it doesn’t help those times when I’d like to play the game but remember before launching it that I’m about halfway through, and just can’t bring myself to laboriously trawl through another seventeen tunnels across five warp portals to reach the next mission objective.

Image from N64 version

Without anything else being close, the marathon stages–which once were Turok 2‘s greatest strength–are its biggest detriment. The only saving grace is the nice collection of weapons, which do at least make it interesting to do nothing but kill one enemy every one hundred feet, but the initial offerings are boring, and the more exciting weapons aren’t found until later stages and then don’t have a great deal of ammo lying around.

The Cerebral Bore is the best example of a fascinating weapon, producing some sort of projectile that burrows into the enemy’s head and causes it to explode. It’s every bit as horrific as one might think, and it’s reasonably jarring to actually sit back and ponder what just happened–did that monster who is really just defending his nest from you really deserve to have its head bored into and exploded from within?

The story of the stages–and, indeed, overall game–don’t really offer up enough justification for Turok’s wanton slaughter through aliens’ homeworlds. And what of the dinosaurs who are just trying to catch a meal? If Turok is supposed to be the good that balances out the darkness–or something to that effect, because it isn’t explained very well–then he probably shouldn’t be pounding velociraptors in the face with rocket launchers. The most egregious case, however, are the levels that require the player to actually destroy embryos and egg nests. That’s called “genocide.”

These may seem silly complaints about an old game made as a justification to give players lots of weapons to blow things up, but there’s not much else to do while trekking through the hours-long stages except ponder the implications of mass murder and gross violations of the Geneva Convention. At least the bad guys only imprisoned children. Turok murders their children. Is the Primagen really the bad guy, if he’s trying to stay the hand of a mass murdering psychopath who shoots baby aliens in the throat with nuclear guns?

Also known as: “The best weapon you’re going to have for a very, very long time”

As players wander from one end of a thousand mile journey to the other, they will have to complete a handful of objectives for each stage; counted individually, one stage has seven whole objectives, but most end up with only three or four. These objectives, of course, are scattered almost randomly across the levels, which often results in thirty minute traversals across empty terrain sparsely populated by enemies with absolutely nothing being accomplished. It would be like if the opening level of Goldeneye scattered its four alarms sporadically across a stage that takes two hours to finish.

Good luck finding that one alarm that you missed somewhere along the way, especially with no useful in-game map and virtually no logical placement of the objectives. Why in the name of sanity would they place an Ammo Depot at the top of a gigantic pillar in The Death Marshes?

A few of the stages require an hour of play before even the first objective is reached; that’s not an exaggeration. By the time I’d killed my first Sister of Despair, I was certain that the entire level would have to be played again, because I’d accomplished none of the objectives but knew intuitively I’d gone through about 65% or more of the stage. The three beacons in the Port of Adia are within ten or fifteen minutes of each other, so the bulk of the stage is simply an attempt to find two more children who are located somewhere along the remaining 85% of the stage.

This might have been fun to some people during the N64 era, but it wasn’t particularly fun for me, nor is it exciting now. The only reason that I’m continuing to play Turok 2: Seeds of Evil is that I refuse to accept that I can’t beat it, which is what I believed to be the case until the remaster. I didn’t think it was possible to complete the game on N64, even with a helpful guide, at least not without extraordinary amounts of not fun backtracking and aimless wandering through levels that are ten times larger than they need to be.

There is enjoyment to be had here, but it’s going to be limited to people who enjoyed Turok 2 already. A gamer who grew up with more modern shooters will likely find it utterly unplayable, and an older gamer will likely find it playable but tedious.

What were they thinking with the Lair of the Blind Ones?!

The music is actually better than I remember, or perhaps just better than I noticed when I was a stupid kid, but the same can’t be said of the sound effects. The weapon sound effects are appropriate, but environmental sounds are atrocious. Through most of Hive of the Mantid, there is a horrible whirring sound that relentlessly emanates from places on the map, which means the terrible sound constantly gets louder and quieter, but it’s almost omnipresent. I had to delete almost all of the gameplay footage from Hive of the Mantid because I screamed about that noise through nearly the entire stage, which was almost as annoying as the sound itself.

Almost.

It was always apparent to me that “NTHGTHDGDCRTDRTK” spelled something, but I was never able to figure out what. I thought “NTHG” meant “NoTHiG,” though “TRK” was obviously “Turok,” and so wasn’t able to deduce it. As it happens, it’s “oN THe eiGTH Day, GoD CReaTeD TuRoK. Seeds of Evil sees the simpler “BewareOblivionIsAtHand” as its code, and activating “The Big Cheat” makes the game moderately more entertaining once players get sick of crawling through the boring stages. Achievements can’t be earned while cheats are active, but the achievements themselves also show off the weird mindset that goes into making a Turok game.

For example, there’s simply one achievement for finding secret areas: finding all thirty of them. That’s the big issue with Turok, alright: nothing is optional. In order to even beat the game, a player must find all five feathers, all six pieces of the Primagen Ship Key, must get all Talismans, must complete every objective, and must find all the level keys. This means anyone who has beaten Turok 2 at all has effectively 100%’d the game. As someone who enjoys 100%ing games, I’m actually put off when it’s mandatory. Being able to swim through lava isn’t a reward for carefully searching the land; it’s a requirement for even reaching the final boss.

That’s bad game design, and it should have been fixed.

Something else that should have been fixed is the notable lack of permanent upgrades. Shortly after entering the Death Marshes, I found myself thinking of none other than Diakatana, and how I should have gained some kind of permanent power-up to my Health, Armor, ammo capacity, or weapon damage. Enemies get stronger, but Turok doesn’t really become stronger, and even the more powerful weapons are so crippled on ammo that they don’t make up for the enemies that take six blasts of the Plasma Cannon to kill. The pistol and bows become useless; even a way to choose the loadout when I enter a stage would be great, since I could leave the pistol, shotgun, PFM Layer, Tranquilizer, and ordinary Bow behind instead of having to tediously cycle through them to get to a weapon that will actually be useful against the enemy shooting rockets at me. It really wouldn’t have been difficult to implement something like this, and anyone who wants a “pure Turok 2” experience is going to emulate the N64 version we grew up with anyway.

If an enemy in stage 5 is going to take 45 bullets fired from the Mag 60 before it dies, then I should have gained the ability to carry more than 50 bullets somewhere on my journey to level 5.

A remaster should serve as more than just a graphical update. The gameplay itself should be modernized, at least within reason. Adding the ability to save anywhere–that’s an example of modernization (which might also have been present in the original PC version, I’m not sure). Adding mission objectives to the UI–which aren’t as useful as one might think, since the radius of their appearance is very low–is yet another example of modernization. I am also pretty sure the stage layouts were altered and made more linear; I wasn’t that dumb and impatient as a kid.

Turok 2 desperately needed a bit more modernization, though, especially at a $20 price point.

1.5 / 5 stars

 

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One thought on “Turok 2: A Moderately Painful Blast From the Past

  1. Oh man, I remember loving this game back in the N64 days. It definitely hasn’t stood the test of time, but I’d love to see a proper developer reboot the Turok series with love and affection for what made the games great in the first place: shooting dinosaurs in the face.

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