There are few things in gaming as painful as revisiting a once-beloved game from yesteryear and realizing it’s aged like milk. Such is unfortunately the case with 1997’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. As the first third-party-developed game for the Nintendo 64, Turok was seen as an influential entry in the console first-person shooter genre back in the day. But those with fond memories of the game are best leaving them be. Returning to the game is close to a tragedy, and newcomers will find nothing enticing about it.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was based on the comic book of the same name. It takes place in a world known as the Lost Land, a place lost in time that’s inhabited by everything from dinosaurs to aliens. An evildoer called the Campaigner wishes to find the eight pieces of a broken artifact called the Chronoscepter, with which the Campaigner can break a barrier between the Lost Land and Earth and create chaos. Meanwhile, there is a tribe of Native Americans who protect the Lost Land, with their eldest male taking up the mantle of “Turok.” Players take control of the Turok warrior, who is out to save the Lost Land from the Campaigner.
It’s a very simple plot, but at the very least it provides an interesting setting. Throughout the game’s eight levels, Turok fights dinosaurs, hunters, cyborgs, aliens, giant insects and demons. You have to appreciate the variety, if anything.
The game is a first-person shooter that combined the run-and-gun action Doom with more exploratory elements. But before you think this was the Metroid Prime of its day you should know that those exploration elements feel incredibly limited, and are mainly reduced to climbing small cliffs or walking down tiny corridors that aren’t on the main path, and usually result in finding ammo or health. Nothing more.
What really makes Turok: Dinosaur Hunter feel like a relic are the controls. It was an early console FPS, and boy does it feel like one. The control stick is used to look around, while the N64’s C buttons move Turok of all things. The R button is used to jump, Z shoots, and A and B switch between weapons, which range from knives and hunting bows to shotguns and pistols to alien nuclear guns. The control scheme is simply a mess, to the point that I’d have to congratulate my younger self for his patience for being able to put up with it at all.
The jumping is the absolute worst. It’s stiff, clunky, and Turok seems unable to leap the distances that the game often demands. I am not exaggerating when I say I got stuck for almost an hour in the first level simply because I couldn’t make the jumps between a set of platforms about midway through. It turns out to make any of these jumps at all, you have to look down at Turok’s shadow with the control stick, run and then jump just as you step off a ledge, and even then it only seems to work a fragment of the time. Can you imagine if you had to go through so many hoops just to jump in Mario 64? Turok turns the most simple of mechanics into a chore.
The graphics have aged poorly, which is forgivable given how rapidly gaming technology advances. Less forgivable are the slow-ups that occur when more than a couple of enemies appear on-screen. The music is at least somewhat atmospheric, but it gets repetitious very quickly.
On the bright side of things, I like the level setup of the game, which is reminiscent of Mario 64. The first level works as a hub world, and within it Turok can find magic relics that are needed to open portals to the other seven levels. The weapons also have an unique sense of variety given that they come from various worlds and timeframes. And the game was one of the first to have enemies react in different ways depending on how you kill them (shoot an enemy in the neck and he gives an over-dramatic death sequence to accompany the fountain of blood shooting from the side of his neck). But when the game feels so fundamentally clunky, the things it does right feel microscopic. There’s not even a multiplayer mode to fall back on.
Yes, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was something of a big deal back in the day. But it simply isn’t worthy of a revisit. Though the game is set in a world where time means nothing, time has done the game itself no favors whatsoever.