In the well-documented story of Acclaim‘s fall and rise, it’s fair to say that one title marked the beginning of a new, more positive chapter. Developed by a dedicated team of visionaries at Acclaim’s Iguana US studio, last year’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter hammered home the message that things really were changing wthin the beleaguered company.
It also proved to the world that Nintendo wasn’t the sole master of its then sparkling-new N64 technology (although all too often it seems otherwise). In addition, Turok underlined the lack of imagination expended in the creation of comtemporary firstperson shoot ‘em ups for the PC. The deserved wave of adulation that surrounded Rare’s GoldenEye almost drowned all of Turok‘s achievements, but in truth the two games had very different agendas. Where Bond brought tight structure to the firstperson genre, Iguana’s title was all about its detailed and atmospheric environments – and its seriously OTT weaponry.
Rather logically setting forth from where Turok: Dinosaur Hunter ended, the sequel’s plot features a new foe, the Primagen, unleashed by the destruction of the Chronosceptre in the original game. Now assisted by new (female) sidekick Adon, the heavily armed hero must battle through six levels, finally confronting the Primagen in its base. Iguana has seemingly jettisoned any desire to recreate the jungle world of the original game, instead creating a series of notably varied locations.
The most striking thing about playing Turok 2 is the vast improvement made to the game’s 3D engine. After wading through the swathes of fog that were wrapped around the original’s scenery (purely to hide the intrusion of pop-up), it’s surprising to be confronted by the open layout of Turok 2‘s first level. Set in a bombarded port, play commences with cannon-fire landing all around and fires still blazing. As before, Turok‘s calling card is its atmosphere and sense of occasion, the feeling that there are unseen events occurring in a greater world. Later levels confirm the suspicion that its six stages contain far more variety of both visual style and enemy type than comparable PC titles of relatively limitless storage facility can match. From sombre swamps and ruined cities to neon-lit bases, Seeds Of Evil‘s artistic range is remarkable. However, the ambitious nature of certain areas leads to inevitable slow-down, particularly when more than one attacker is being drawn.
Aside from the commitment of its team to create a significantly expanded sequel, Iguana has been able to create such a varied set of locales through one key addition: beating Zelda: Ocarina Of Time to the shelves by a narrow margin, Turok 2 has become the first game to utilise a 32Mb cartridge (its forebear occupied only 8Mb), and is also leading the way by running at a crisp 480×360 resolution via the forthcoming N64 RAM pack.
Clearly, Nintendo is keen to raise the profile of its machine among ‘serious’ gamers, and Iguana’s sequel is an ideal vehicle for such incursions. A large amount of the cart has also been given to the spoken narrative that Adon delivers as the game’s plot unfurls. Completing levels now takes longer, sometimes leaving you wondering whether an end will ever be reached. A new emphasis on sub-missions is apparent, with the player having to save various captured humans (including some sickeningly cute children – and no, they can’t be shot). Other tasks include obtaining satchel charges and then using them to detonate well-hidden ammo dumps, while another involves riding a heavily armed dinosaur through a series of obstacles.
As in Quake II and Unreal, a great amount of attention to detail has been paid in laying out Seeds Of Evil’s many stages. With increasing complexity, corridors and chambers are wound around each other, which occasionally proves confusing. Players looking for the tight missions of GoldenEye will be disappointed; Turok 2 is more like Quake II in this respect. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, more a case of different approaches – Rare has its own agenda that is doubtless to reach new heights in Perfect Dark. For the Turok franchise, to chase after the GoldenEye model could easily have lead to a mish-mash of game styles. Additionally, significant advances have been made in enemy AI, a feature that GoldenEye was lauded for, but against Iguana’s reptilian and insectoid foes, now seems simple. While basic enemies will dodge and flee when attacked, others can take refuge behind objects. In one near-comic case, a creature crouches behind a box, only popping up to throw explosives towards the player. But trying to flank around it merely results in it circling around to the other side, leaving no option but to try and pick it off when it breaks cover – much as you might against a human foe. Tied to a detailed set of character animations, the AI creates enemies which put Unreal‘s skittish, poorly realised adversaries to shame.
Inevitably, certain aspects of GoldenEye have been absorbed by Iguana, with Turok’s revamped armoury boasting two sniper weapons. Coupled with the new 3D engine, this brings a new pace to the game, with the player able to pick off distant targets with either the Tek arrows from the original game, or the pulse rifle. However, where Bond became fixed to the spot whenever the sniper mode was enabled, Turok retains total freedom of movement – aside from being temporarily unable to jump. Other weapons retain the cinematic blockbuster ideology that permeated the original game, although more selections can be applied to close combat than before. A new paradigm in questionable violence is set by the cerebral bore which fires a drill-like dart into enemies’ skulls, resulting in showers of red and grey matter pluming from their heads. In addition, it’s now possible to dismember foes, either through judicious aiming of heavier weaponry or by utilising the knife-edged boomerang weapon ‘razor wind’. Also of note is the inspired flamethrower, which has easily the best graphic realisation of such equipment yet seen in a videogame.
Players keen to sample Turok 2‘s multiplayer modes will not be disappointed, with a dozen bespoke levels to choose from and four players supported. Those spurious GoldenEye critics who found that the inability to drop from ledges detracted from the game will be pleased to note that Seeds Of Evil has no such restrictions. It’s also possible for characters to swim, as in the oneplayer mode. Iguana’s level designers have used the powerful dynamic lighting routines at their disposal to help guide participants around the large arenas, through colouring certain sections.
While a significant advance over its predecessor, this sequel isn’t without faults. As with most games in the firstperson genre, extended stints of the oneplayer game can prove strangely numbing due to the repetition of successive exploration and combat. However, the various sub-missions and the variety of environments do much to alleviate this. In addition, the later stages of the game are remarkably hard to complete, a result of the aggressive enemy AI and fiendish level design. The moments of ‘calm before the storm’ which are found in earlier sections of the game are somehow missing from later stages, which reduces the impact of major events. And while Gran Turismo has revealed just how subjective the reaction to music in games can be, Edge would have preferred a more sinister, brooding soundtrack than the fast-paced orchestrals found here.
Overall, Turok 2 is a detailed and well-integrated title – not to mention an extremely enjoyable one. The technical, AI and design advances made since the original game are more than enough to elicit a favourable response. And, as with GoldenEye, there’s a realistic sense of pace that is missing from all too many contemporary, firstperson PC shooters – a factor which players of those games don’t seem to appreciate. Their loss.
This review originally appeared in E63, October 1998.