I was a big fan of the original Turok games, which graced the Nintendo 64 in the late 1990s. Although I never got the chance to play the third, the first two were among my favorite games at the time. The second, Seeds Of Evil, was one of the first games I played to have deep artificial intelligence and a creative, gory arsenal that put nearly every other shooter on the market to shame. Fans of the originals no doubt remember the jungles, the dinosaurs, and the ruthless, cyber-enhanced bipedal lizards. They most likely also remember erratic framerates, sparse save points, and dense fog that hid the backgrounds from view. Turok: Evolution is Acclaim's effort to revive the series on the next-generation platforms, and the game lives up to its lineage. It is classic Turok gameplay, evolved and refined. While the game adheres to first-person shooter conventions implicitly, its a solid re-visitation of the popular Turok lineage. It's familiar ground, but with a new energy. Much like Extreme G III was a more fully realized version of its predecessors, I have a feeling that this is the kind of game that the developers originally envisioned.
In this prequel to the original games, Turok—an American Indian named TalSet—is fighting to avenge the slaughter of his people at the hands of a ruthless gun-slinging tyrant, Captain Tobias Bruckner. Mysteriously, they are both transported to the Lost Land, an alternate dimension that is plagued by its own brand of tyranny. TalSet slowly learns of his destiny to become Turok and fights to defeat armies that threaten the Lost Land as he seeks revenge against Bruckner.
In the years of Turoks absence, first-person shooters have been doing plenty of evolving. Evolution has some big shoes to fill as it is released in the shadow of genre leaders like Halo, Deus Ex, and Quake III. The developers wanted to create the illusion of a living, breathing world, one that would inspire much the same kind of awe that Steven Spielberg created with the original Jurassic Park. While various plant and animal life populated the original games to some extent, the jungles in Turok: Evolution are much more alive and animated. Various harmless critters populate the landscape, interspersed with a healthy population of lumbering dinosaurs—some of which are aggressive, and others that are very passive and will only attack in defense. Dense, interactive jungles filled with vibrant ambient sounds are far more immersive than those of the old Turok games. While its not exactly Spielberg, its a definite step forward for the series.
Turok has always been famous for his arsenal, and the bevy of gruesome death-dealers in Evolution does not disappoint. You get poison arrows that make your enemies vomit to death, rockets that blow them to pieces, a "gravity disruptor" that splatters them against the walls, and even a "swarm bore"—a take on Turok 2s "cerebral bore"—that slowly dismembers its hapless victims. Sniper scopes, grenades, a minigun, and many others round out an impressive lineup. The only problem is that Acclaim did away with the quick-select system found in Seeds Of Evil. Trying to scroll through such a large assortment of weapons in the heat of the moment can be tedious and frustrating.
Artificial intelligence has seen a major boost in Evolution. It is unfortunately plagued with occasional bugs that suggest the game was rushed to completion—enemies getting stuck on or behind objects, or failing to notice you even if youre standing right in front of them. Although it hardly rivals that of Bungies epic shooter Halo, in its best moments the enemies can be surprisingly cunning. Whether enemies advance cautiously or aggressively depends much on their size. Sometimes they will surrender or run away when threatened, although unfortunately they just disappear rather than regroup for another attack. They will take cover behind objects in the environment, popping out at random intervals and letting off a few shots or lobbing a grenade. When pressured, they will fall back, often tossing grenades in defense. Theyll use group tactics to fish you out of hiding and will not mindlessly pursue you when you have the upper hand. In close range, theyll try to strike you with their weapons. They are also quite alert, and unless youve taken cover in a bush or behind a rock, they will easily spot you. Later in the game, Turok teams up with groups of soldiers that display impressive squad tactics.
The game is a little short on options, particularly with regards to controls, of which there are only two options—"default," which is set up similarly to the default control scheme in most other modern shooters, in which the left analog stick controls movement while the right controls aiming; and "alternate," which is simply the original control scheme from the Nintendo 64 games. This was especially frustrating, because I was somewhat befuddled at the choice to assign jumping to a face button rather than the left trigger, as is more commonly done. This means that jumping during combat is virtually impossible, since it requires you to take your thumb away from the right analog stick.
Is Turok: Evolution the next Halo? Do chickens have teeth? Evolution lacks Halos seamless integration of plot, varied gameplay devices, and aggressive pacing. Friendly squad artificial intelligence, for example, is integrated into the game but it is done in such an arbitrary fashion that, unlike Halo, there is no sense of connection between the player and the friendly soldiers. The lack of mid-level saves hurts the flow of the game, as some of the levels are quite long and challenging, and having to replay large chunks of a level is a real test of patience. Acclaim integrated some flying levels that feature rail-shooting gameplay reminiscent of Rogue Squadron and Panzer Dragoon, which although decently designed are needlessly disjointed from the rest of the game, much like the driving levels in EAs Bond-themed shooter Agent Under Fire. Like the shooting levels, the flying levels suffer from sparse save points and can becoming needlessly frustrating with tough controls and quick deaths. Evolution also adheres to boring genre standbys such as finding a switch or key to pave the way to a new section. Unlike many other new-school shooters, it is impossible to pick weapons up from defeated enemies; instead, just like in the previous Turok games, they are scattered about the levels in a random fashion. But despite its shortcomings, Evolution breathes vigorous new life into an old series. After all, how many first-person shooters pit you against a giant T-rex or packs of Velociraptors? Its unique, comic-book-inspired theme helps it get away with some old conventions, and its brisk gameplay is sophisticated and challenging. Its not going to make other shooters extinct, but it will definitely turn a few heads... not to mention roll some.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.