Here’s a thing – I’ve never played a Turok game before. Despite living in a late 90s university hovel with the requisite N64, for some reason it was a cartridge I never put in. And I haven’t caught up since. So seeing Night Dive’s remastering of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter [official site] was out, it made sense to fill that rather large gap in my knowledge. Gosh, Turok’s rather good, isn’t it?
Going back to old FPSs is completely unpredictable. Games I am sure will stand the tests of time will feel clumsy and frustrating, while others I imagine will have dated beyond repair still feel fresh and punchy. Turok, with some significant help from Night Dive, is definitely in the latter category. Despite looking an awful lot like the original, it plays absolutely beautifully on a modern PC, with abundant modern settings to tweak the classic look, widescreen support, and perhaps most importantly, a clean, super-slick delivery of the game without any needless bells and whistles.
So, I genuinely didn’t know anything about Turok, beyond that you shot at dinosaurs and had a cool bow. This wasn’t inaccurate information. What I wasn’t aware of was the quite brilliant way in which the game is laid out.
You start in a sprawling level, being attacked by angry mans and even angrier dinos for absolutely no given reason, trying to find keys for later levels scattered about in its many stretches. What it immediately achieves, that FPS gaming so dreadfully struggles to do in our modern era, is present the sense of huge choice about where to go while rather cunningly funnelling you the right way. It feels almost overwhelmingly free, while really being cunningly constricted – the ideal way to present a linear FPS without ever resorting to, “YOU ARE LEAVING THE MISSION AREA” or requiring you follow the bottoms of other mans.
Soon you reach the main hub of the game, where gateways teleport you to later levels, each unlocked when you’ve found all three keys for that level. But rather splendidly, all three keys aren’t necessarily on the previous level. They’re scattered betwixt, meaning you need to scour and scavenge, back and forth around where you’ve currently unlocked. And that’s possible in a large part due to one of my most missed aspects of the FPS: the map overlay. Gosh, I love those line drawings, neon scratchy outlines with a crude arrow to show you where you are. It is so damning of the non-open-world genre that they’re completely unnecessary now, since even someone with as poor a sense of direction as me doesn’t need a map to walk forward in a straight line.
I love that I’m writing about an eighteen year old game as if it just came out. I think it demonstrates just how much a game as loose and undirected as Turok could succeed today, without needing to be an open world extravaganza. And how nice it would be if there could be more games where you move ridiculously fast, all the time. Serious Sam intermittently keeps that flag flying, but it’s pretty much alone. It feels madly unrealistic, and as a result, gloriously fun to control. I’ve nothing to compare it to, of course, but I’m going to credit System Shock rescuers Night Dive with a lot for having it feel so fluid on a modern machine, never staggering or stumbling over itself. There are even FOV options. Goodness me.
What I really wasn’t expecting were the teleporting enemies, let alone the teleporting dinosaurs, nor weird portals, future-o-guns, and by the time you unlock level 5, Quake 3-like levels on multiple floors. I think I thought it was just dinosaurs and shit, in the jungle. It’s, in fact, utterly bonkers. And there are in those five levels, remarkably few dinosaurs. I think it should more properly be called Turok: Man Hunter But Also Some Dinosaurs Sometimes. Let’s see if Night Dive can fix that, too. I was expecting at least more than one dinosaur type, and no, I don’t count those ridiculous green fireball lobbing weirdos, nor the scampering yellow and red frog-monsters to be dinosaurs. Nor was I expecting for the first boss fight to be, er, some cars.
It’s an extremely odd game. I cannot imagine the minds of the developers as they plotted it out, and everyone was all, “Yeah, sure, let’s go with that!” rather than, “Help, help, I’m working with the crazies.” But I really have enjoyed darting about and shooting in such a primitive way. This isn’t the future of gaming we need to rescue from the past, but there’s so much of those 90s shooters that we really ought to remember and include once again.
I’ve never played Trespasser either.
Turok is out on Steam now for a really very over-priced £12, and that’s discounted from an idiotic £15. For a two-decade old game, no matter how updated, Night Dive are being idiots.