In case you didn't notice, 2007 was the year of the first-person shooter. Halo 3, Call of Duty 4, BioShock and loads of other titles popped up at our local retailers and mercilessly beat our back accounts into comas. Sure, it was a good time, but it has left us a market flooded with shotguns, grenades and gamers hesitant to jump into another roaming battle. In short, a FPS in this first part of 2008 is going to have to have a hook to get some playtime.
Turok -- the latest project from Touchstone and Propaganda Games -- has two: dinosaurs and cool kills.
A re-imagining of the Nintendo 64 classic, Turok places you behind the bow and arrow of Joseph Turok and teams you with the ragtag members of Whiskey Company. Seems Turok used to be a member of a ruthless group of mercenaries known as Wolfpack but bailed when the whole baby-killing thing didn't mesh with his conscience. Now an adopted member of Whiskey Co., Turok and the boys are on the trail of his old mentor -- Roland Kane. The leader of Wolfpack has holed himself up on a remote planet, and as our boys approach, they're shot down. Whiskey Company begins to explore the planet, and the mission quickly switches from capturing Kane to making it past the dinosaurs, armed guards as well as mutated scorpions and getting home.
For the most part, Turok plays like every other first-person shooter out there. You switch weapons with the d-pad, jump, crouch and blast your way through jungle environments, Wolfpack outposts and more. But what makes Turok stand out from the pack of games 2007 saw is how you can kill -- such as sneaking up behind a guard, dropping him with a kick to the knee and burying your knife in the top of his head.
Now, don't get me wrong; COD4 and BioShock were great times, but as a gamer I always found myself trying to balance my ballistics with reality. In COD, I was trying to save my grenades for those seemingly impossible hallways filled with terrorists, and in BioShock, I was hesitant to waste my Adam in fear that I'd need a powered-up plasmid for a Big Daddy or boss. For most of those games, I felt like I needed to play defensively.
That doesn't happen here. Turok takes your reins off.
No, the ammo isn't unlimited, but you are fully encouraged to use whatever weapon you want however you want. There'd be times when I'd enter a new section of jungle and find a makeshift guard base with stacks of weapons all over the place. I'd arm the chaingun, run out and blast some dinosaurs, get tired of the gun and backtrack to find something more to my liking. Once I settled on an instrument of destruction -- such as my favorite, the sticky bomb gun -- I could truck back out confident that there was more ammo behind me and plenty of spots to switch to something different ahead.
Secondary fire is a big part of gunplay in Turok. The sticky bomb gun is my favorite because of its standard fire mode -- pull the trigger to launch a bomb that sticks to whatever it touches and pull the trigger again to detonate the device -- but the secondary option of a mini minefield is a brilliant touch -- the same can be said for the shotgun's flare launcher and the SMG's silencer.
Towards the end of the game, I was making a solo attack on one of Kane's bases, and the weapon gods were good to me once again. Able to infiltrate the front door undetected, I drew back on my bow and iced two guards before they knew Turok was on the scene. If you haven't caught our videos of this game, the bow is a sick silent killer. You draw back the arrow and then line up your shot with the crosshairs. The longer you hold the trigger down, the harder Turok's pulling on the string. If you let it go with enough force, the arrow will basically staple the bad guy to the nearest wall. Nice.
Anyway, with the two chumps down, I moved deeper into the fortress and came across a staircase to the next level and a soldier staking out the top. I switched to the sticky bomb gun, tagged the bad man's leg and blew him to kingdom come. This tipped off the whole establishment that Whiskey Co. was there, and I began mining the hell out of the staircase and surrounding area. Clueless troops would come down the stairs and go boom. When the sticky bomb gun was on empty, I grabbed a nearby chaingun and -- utilizing its secondary fire -- set it up on the ground as a turret. It obliterated anyone able to come down the stairs.
Adding more options to your four weapons slots -- you'll always have the bow and knife but be able to swap out your other two gun slots -- is the fact that you can dual-wield just about every combination of guns. SMG/shotgun, dual pistols, sticky bomb/shotgun -- the world's your oyster.
Believe me, there's nothing quite like packing two shoguns and working your way through a hoard of enemies. Add in the fact that you have stealth knife attacks -- forget about guards, you can sneak up on dinosaurs with your knife drawn, follow a button prompt and watch as Turok buries his blade into the beast's head or jumps on its back before slitting its throat -- and parts of this game are sure to get your blood pumping.
In a lot of ways, this is first-person Contra -- lots of weapons, jungle, etc. -- but that isn't always a good thing.
Yes, here's the inevitable part of the review where I drop the "But …" and tell you all the reasons that Turok didn't get a 10, but my complaints really aren't all that severe. There isn't a portion of Turok that's horribly broken or annoying -- this isn't a bad game, but in the same respect, it's just not all that impressive.
To begin with, the weapons I've spent so many words lauding are cool on the options side but disappointing on the firepower front. If I didn't get a headshot on an enemy, it took a seemingly endless stream of bullets to bring them down no matter what gun I seemed to be packing. When you're in one-on-one combat, that's not too big of a problem, but when enemies are swarming on you -- one instance where Slade and Turok were trying to make it over a tree bridge springs to mind -- the remedial damage your weapons give off is pretty annoying.
What makes the annoyance worse is the fact that getting killed by these soldiers is pretty embarrassing seeing as how they're idiots. If we ever know the IGN offices have an intruder in them and I come across Game Scoop's Daemon Hatfield pinned to the wall by an arrow, I'm not going to stand in the exact same spot he was two seconds ago and scan the area -- nor if I see a guy with a machine gun am I going to organize the team to run in a straight line at him.
Kane's men don't share this common sense.
Next up in my drawbacks section is the fact that Turok starts off like it's going to have a strong story -- there are flashbacks to Turok's induction into Wolfpack and the mission that made him drop out as well as a building, present-day tension between him and Whiskey Company -- but it eventually falls by the wayside. Once the group realizes they're in over their heads, the mission for Kane is abandoned and they focus on getting home. That's fine, but Kane and his bald-headed crony pop up a few times to say hi to Turok but never to advance the story. This all leads to a boss fight at the end that has no emotional impact because I don't care about catching Kane or even know who he is -- why's he on this planet, why's he so wanted, and why's he screwing with this planet's ecosystem in a way that creates dinosaurs?
Turok isn't exempt from my wrath either. I know I talked about the weapon options being cool, but the lack of a run button (à la Call of Duty 4) is pretty upsetting. Our main character is trained to survive in the jungle, kill people with his bare hands and leap from sniper towers, but he can't hoof-it from enemies? There are plenty of times when the dinos swarm, your screen begins to turn red and escaping to take a breath is your only option.
There's nothing more frustrating than only being able to speed walk away from certain death.
Sadly, Turok is yet another game that stumbles making the leap from the 360 to the PS3. Although the game plays identically, the visuals -- which were alright-but-not-good on the Xbox -- are worse on the PS3. As in the 360 edition, you'll walk up to ledges and trees that have really sharp edges, characters in cutscenes occasionally have an aura of shine around them -- they all look like the light of the Lord is being emitted from their bodies -- and textures pop in all the time. PS3-centric problems include more screen tearing, framerate drops, and textures that look even more fugly. This isn't the worst looking game of all time, of course. There are plenty of times you'll blow a dinosaur into tiny bits or take out a few guards with the bow and think the game looks fine, but then there are those times when it'll look like the jungle floor is painted or an attacking dino is a robot.
For the most part, Turok will be a walk in the park for anyone who enlisted in the '07 crop of first-person shooters. You'll head out from a given point, click your left stick to get an arrow that points at your objective, battle the beasts that appear on the horizon and then accomplish the object to enact the cut scene. However, there are points in Turok that are so frustrating that I found myself cursing the TV screen and prepared to hurl my precious controller. At one point I was pinned down by a dude rocking an RPG that seemed to have a constant read on me, another stall had me trying to figure out a way past a ginourmous spider tank that didn't end with me going boom, and another time I spent the ten or so continues trying to bring down a pissed off T-Rex.
Now, I don't raise these as complaints because I hate being challenged -- I raise these issues because I like being challenged intelligently. Let me ruin the spider tank part for you. This huge tank with arachnid-like limbs lumbers onto the scene, and I stopped moving to see where it would go. Eventually the thing perches itself on a mountain and begins scanning the area. There are a few hollowed out logs and half-walls separating me from RPG ammo, and I figure I need to keep to the shadows. I no sooner step out, this thing's got a read on me, and I'm dead. The game loads, I let it sit, I jump in the log and it starts firing. I wait for a reloading pause or some kind of break, but it never comes. Finally, I make a break for it and end up getting blown up.
This trial and error stuff went on for awhile before I figured out that if I just booked as soon as the tank showed up, I could make it to the ammo, slide back and forth from behind cover, and bring the cool tank down in the most anticlimactic way.
Here's my problem with this battle -- it's the definition of linear. Turok's given me all this freedom as to what I can do with my weapons, but in this one instance, I have to run at a specific time and shoot with a specific gun. In real life, my first reaction to seeing this beast wouldn't be to run out and let it see me, but thinking logically derails the experience and left me stalled.
Speaking of linear, remember that Contra comparison I made a second ago? Sure, that applies to the fun of blasting the bad guys but it also references how straightforward Turok's levels are. As you cross the plains, you'll find plenty of opposition but not one environment that interacts with you. You're just running across set pieces.
Turok does feature a robust multiplayer mode, but -- like the game itself -- it falls short of greatness. There are seven maps and a slew of different weapon sets tossed in with multiplayer staples such as deathmatch and capture the flag, but the coolest thing the online mode offers is co-op. Rather than go through the single-player campaign again, co-op offers you and three of your friends new missions that backtrack through some of the areas Turok's already torn apart. However, this co-op excitement is quickly snuffed when you find out there are only three missions to go out on.
Oh, and on a love it or hate it note, when you get attacked by a dino or knocked down by a grenade, you'll see your feet get knocked up in the air. When you climb back to your feet, you'll find yourself facing a different direction than before. On one hand, it's a neat drawback to getting hurt, but on the other, it sucks if you're on your last legs and it's suddenly that much harder to speed walk to safety.
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