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Turok Evolution: A Nintendo GameCube Classic Game Review
Dinosaurs and demolitions
The nice thing about developing the first real first-person shooter title for the Nintendo Gamecube is just that -- Acclaim's Turok: Evolution was the first (James Bond 007: Agent Under Fire notwithstanding, too much stealth involved in that one to label it a pure FPS). Usually, the overgrown FPS segment is nearly impossible to break in to, as many small (and large) developers have discovered. In this case, however, Gamecube owners were often beggars when it came to new lunchbox titles. And as the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers.
Acclaim Studios Austin could have brewed up a nasty pot of FPS crap and labeled it "rich, powerful, and mysteriously addictive", while the entire Gamecube population politely thanked them as they choked on its torridness. Perhaps someone out there remembers the game Turok III: Shadow of Oblivion for the Nintendo 64?
As blind fate would have it, however, Turok: Evolution manages to deliver some of the dinosaur-hunting goods that fans of the original Turok adventure so deeply wished for. Coincidence? Not hardly. Remember that Acclaim had quite a bit riding on Turok's success, including feedback from cross-platformed Xbox and Playstation 2 gamers, not to mention the small posse of N64-to-Gamecube fans. I don't know about you, but screwing over the entire horde of trigger-happy, trash-talkin' FPS gamers seems much like suicide to me. Suicide without a motive.
Turok's transparent plot line involves the sort of suicide mission typical (no, EXPECTED!) of FPS games. Now, I practically guarantee that few (if any) people will crack the game manual open to discover why you should care about the hero Tal'Set's inconvenient pit stop in Jurassic Park. I just popped the mini-disc in and mentally prepared myself for brutal dino massacres and satisfyingly tasty head shots. Truly, who can blame me?
Perhaps realizing that nobody would give a damn otherwise, Acclaim Studios Austin quickly (and rather sloppily, I might add) construed a full-motion video "movie" to justify why you're strolling through the prehistoric jungles in a loincloth. If Playstation-era chunky polygons, Resident Evil caliber voice "acting", and second grade level fiction impresses you, perhaps you will thoroughly enjoy the shallow introductory sequence. Everyone else will be checking to make sure they can still return Turok (preferably in a body bag).
Stalwart gamers who are capable of stomaching the vomit-worthy intro will still be fidgeting once they sit through a lengthy loading sequence that almost achieves the negative effect of sucking the initial excitement out of them. While thirty seconds of load time per level may not seem much to those weaned on Commodore 64 diskettes (where load times sometimes peaked around ten minutes!), the rest of the world isn't so lenient. Those thirty seconds are twenty-nine seconds too many, especially when compared to the nigh-invisible stage transitions in Super Mario Sunshine.
Assuming that Acclaim must have whipped up some mighty impressive levels in exchange for the dreaded down time, I wiped the sweat from my hands (generated from my fear that I wouldn't be able to get my money back) and grasped my Gamecube controller in eager anticipation. Several hours later, I collapsed in agony from too much "sameness".
Pass the word down to the Wise Elder -- Turok blows
A game of Turok: Evolution generally consists of vast spans of disappointment followed by the occasional "yee-haw!" moment of Sleg-whuppin'. A perfect example of this cycle can be found in the very first level. While I didn't really know what to expect from Turok, I figured it wouldn't hurt to include a Half-Life or Unreal inspired opening level, where suspense is quickly built by turning a seemingly docile environment into one of the outer rings of Hell. You know, you're strolling through a quaint little prehistoric village, chatting away with complete strangers just like game characters always do, when suddenly a gaggle of gumbo-seeking raptors descend from the trees above and rip the sorry little buggers to pieces. Stuff like that always wins points with me.
Funny thing is, Turok's opening level is the FPS equivalent of running through your fenced backyard with a shovel and a powerful dislike for iguanas and life in general. Graphically, the enormous ferns and prehistoric trees seem fairly realistic, but the invisible "fence" of shrubs and mountainous terrain serve as a constant reminder that you are in fact NOT Tal'Set, you AIN'T holding that ferocious war club, and you certainly AREN'T given the freedom to go where you wish to go. Likewise, your small roster of Sleg-killing tools is limited to a freaking hatchet and a rudimentary bow-and-arrow. While conventional wisdom would dictate that "duh, you're supposed to start out with crappy weapons", a bow just can't replace a loaded pistol when it comes to starting an FPS adventure out with a bang.
As I said before, disappointment abounds in Turok, especially since gamers at the time were being spoiled by the likes of Halo. Adding to the oft-delayed satisfaction is the fact that most of the levels (or killing fields) are ridiculously long. So long, in fact, that your mind may start taunting you with glimpses of better GC games to play, like Resident Evil or Eternal Darkness. Strangely enough, the lengthy chapters (which contain batches of individual levels) don't try that hard to justify the excess playing time. Sure, longer levels means more Sleg warriors and dino behemoths to annihilate, but very few twists exist to break up the endless combat. Push a button here, deliver a key there, strain to keep yourself from turning off your Gamecube ... we've all seen this sort of "interaction" before (and executed with far more finesse).
Before things get better, they have to get worse
Acclaim Studios Austin didn't just want to weld together a few ho-hum FPS elements and ship it out as Turok: Evolution -- they wanted to slap on yet another barely adequate gameplay gimmick in the form of the Quetzalcoatlus "Rogue Squadron" segments. Once in an extremely rare while, developers manage to create secondary modes of gameplay that don't suck. Of course, this means that Acclaim's idea of breaking up the arduous first-person slaughter-fests with brief flying episodes does manage to suck. Don't listen to the hype floating around the 'net exaggerating about how great these Quetzalcoatlus missions are -- they apparently didn't have to pay a dime for Turok.
But no matter how hard I've slammed Turok: Evolution so far, I just can't leave out this one final sledgehammer overhead swing: This game could've been awesome. Yeah, I know -- shocking. So far, I've painted a fairly accurate picture of camel spit. But the worst strike against Turok is that all of the poorly executed elements completely mask a decent premise along with some decent artificial intelligence and tasty weaponry. Sure, most bad games could make such a plea for mercy, but my intuition assures me that Turok: Evolution didn't set out to disappoint Gamecube owners.
Why you should consider Turok even though I've practically labeled it as a disaster
If you've ever played a Turok game before, you already know that poorly concocted weapons have never marred this series. Evolution delivers one of the best arsenals ever. Seriously, mowing down a humanoid dinosaur has never been more enjoyable. Snipers-in-training couldn't be happier with a scoped pistol or bow in their possessions. And those looking for more ... unique methods for eliminating scaly skin will absolutely love the Spider Mine and Gravity Disruptor. Best of all, just about every weapon has a secondary (and even tertiary!) function for even more combat solutions.
Since Tal'Set is the Terminator of the creatively named Lost Land, Acclaim's efforts to bring his Sleg opposition to a higher level of enlightenment haven't been in vain. While artificial intelligence is one of those touchy aspects of gaming that is purely subjective, my opinion is that the enemies in Turok: Evolution really do want to devour our Native American buddy. Many FPS games try to feign AI by allowing the bad dudes to strafe while shooting. The Slegs in Turok, however, are a bit more like those Special Ops guys from Half-Life that are damn near impossible to hit. In addition to running circles around you while blasting holes into your epidermis, the Slegs will duck behind boxes, cover their allies with crossfire, and run for the hills when nearly drained of life. Not bad for a game that seemed doomed for failure just a minute ago.
The rest of Turok: Evolution's package is filled with nice touches as well. While not outstanding by any means, the sharply rendered environments and smooth frame rate don't hurt. Blood and gore freaks won't be disappointed, either. Multiplayer fans (that happen to have "physical" friends) will find hours of enjoyment in the large selection of split screen modes available right out of the box (so to speak). And the game is long, for those of you able to endure through the numerous chapters and wishing to get the most out of your purchase.