How strange that the moment I decide to write something about Turok 2, a professional studio suddenly announces that they’re busy remastering the game for an enhanced 2015 release! At least I can say I’m being topical for once…
1997 however was a year that marked a turning point for first-person shooters. Released exclusively for the Nintendo 64 console of that year, both Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and especially Goldeneye 007 received a very warm reception from industry critics and regular gamers alike.
Despite running on a somewhat antiquated cartridge-based machine, both games had an impressive level of realism to them and offered a taste of more deliberate FPS thrills that stood in contrast to the fantastical sped-up antics of popular PC shooters such as DOOM and Quake.
In the late Nineties, Acclaim Entertainment; whose main “acclaim” came from the many awful licensed games they produced during their lifetime, desperately needed a new hit franchise; one that could pull the company out of financial turmoil and generate some sorely-needed revenue.
Developed by Iguana Entertainment (a company that got its start producing Sonic the Hedgehog knockoffs for Sunsoft), Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a big success for its publisher Acclaim; a good thing considering their acquisition of the titular comic book character (included with their purchase of Valiant Comics in 1994) was a costly venture that the company could no longer afford.
Work on a follow-up began immediately and soon gamers everywhere would be anticipating the character’s return in the sequel titled Turok 2: Seeds of Evil.
To their credit, Acclaim did a fantastic job of marketing the game and the hype going into its delayed December 1998 release date was palpable. When it finally did reach retail that Christmas, the response was very positive and the game quickly became a critical and commercial success.
I played Turok 2 a lot during this original release window and in the many years since that time I’ve been at odds with one very simple question concerning it:
Is Turok 2 a good game?
It’s a question that has plagued me for years and it’s also one that I’ve never felt totally comfortable answering. In many ways I recognize Turok 2 as a real technological achievement and yet other times all I can recall are the moments of intense frustration that I felt whilst playing it.
A big part of my ambivalence towards this issue actually stems from a magazine of all things. On Feburary 17 1999, BBC Worldwide launched a short-lived general interest magazine for boys called FBX (For Boys Exclusively).
Yes, the ‘X’ in the initialism makes no sense, but whatever.
The monthly title’s first issue (which only cost 99p by the way), featured a very special 22 character phrase in its video game section towards the back:
This foreboding string of letters represented the long-awaited ‘master cheat‘ for Turok 2: Seeds of Evil – all weapons and levels unlocked, infinite ammo, invincibility and all those stupid modes like ‘big head’ and ‘fruity stripes’ made accessible at last.
This was something that even the Turok 2 “premium” strategy guides from both Prima and Brady Games didn’t include (presumably because it would render the walkthrough itself worthless); and yet here the code was in this young kid’s magazine despite the game in question possessing a 15 BBFC rating!
***Side rant imminent***
Now, for a BBC-owned magazine that in their own words aimed to target “7 to 11-year-old boys” then go on to promote material for a game that they themselves had rated only suitable for 15-year-olds (in the first issue no less) is just crazy in of itself and speaks volumes about the sort of typical media hypocrisy that is well out of the scope of this article.
***Side rant complete***
As initially exciting as this cheat was for me at that time though; the fun with it didn’t last. Without really thinking about the consequences, that the cheat itself almost seems to allude to, I eagerly entered it into the game’s cheat menu and before long I had ruined what was left of my Turok 2 experience by skipping through the rest of the game I had yet to see.
New levels and cutscenes were spoiled, weapons became stagnant because of their now limitless supply of ammunition and the formerly ferocious enemies were rendered a joke by that old FPS favourite: the god mode, which granted total immunity to all damage.
This marked the first time that I actually regretted cheating in a video game and my temptation to do so again would largely die off after this.
But did I really ruin a great game all those years ago? Or was the whole thing already maligned enough that cheating was my only option in salvaging any enjoyment whatsoever?
There are popular opinions on both sides of the divide of course: some people remembering Turok 2 now as a relentlessly hard-edged console shooter and others decrying it as a lousy pretender to Goldeneye’s lofty throne.
I can remember the many video game magazines of the time being extremely hyped about this sequel and it seems that IGN gave it solid marks despite highlighting practically every crippling drawback that the game is well known for.
Eitherway I decided to finally make up my mind on this issue and have since revisited every aspect of the game to finally come up with an answer that I can live with.
We start then with the first thing about Turok 2 that appears to be very standard: the plot.
During an incredibly long and :grits teeth: unskippable cutscene, we learn of the awakening of a dormant alien entity known as the Primagen that threatens all life in the universe. Guided by an interstellar female seer called Adon, players assume the role of young Joshua Fireseed (the current “Turok”) and guide him through six levels of gory hell in an attempt to repel the Primagen’s army of evil dinosaur hybrids and save the galaxy from total destruction.
So far, so uninspired.
But where the plot fails to really impress, the quality of the cutscenes, in-game graphics and animation more than make up for it and you will be hard-pressed to find a cartridge game from 1998 that pushes boundaries quite like Turok 2 does.
For one, each of the game’s six worlds are huge open areas with many interconnected corridors, structures and secret rooms to explore. This 64-bit game piled on the eye candy with its realtime lighting effects, soft-skinned character models and detailed texture work.
The overall colour palette may be a bit blander in tone compared to the original game in the series, but each level has a very specific look to it regardless and the choking atmosphere of this hauntingly violent world comes through in a big way.
One of the game’s biggest selling points: its graphic violence, is still as impressive and explicit as I remember it too.
Much like Goldeneye 007, every enemy reacts and clutches specific body parts when you shoot them, but Turok 2 also features full decapitations and limbs being blown clean off when struck with enough ballistic force.
Explosives light up their surrounding area (similar to Quake II), enemies chase after you even through deep water and the arrows shot from your hunting bow stick convincingly in both flesh and brick instead of simply disappearing. It’s impressive stuff to be sure.
But without a doubt the most unanimously reviled feature of Turok 2’s graphical presentation is the rather abysmal frame rate encountered throughout.
The in-game action slows down a lot, usually in sections where the hardware is desperately trying to keep up with what’s happening on screen. Iguana pushed the Nintendo 64 console to levels it really wasn’t comfortable with in this outing; something you can instantly see whenever grenades explode, chain guns roar or enemies launch projectiles of their own.
Although not quite as omnipresent as it was in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the in-game fogging still straddles that line between atmospheric and annoying and the overall enemy count (which is usually kept quite low) causes problems in dense areas such as the end-of-level totem battles, the alien hive hatcheries and the (admittedly cool) section where you get to ride a huge weapon-ready Styracosaurus.
The frame rate can get so bad in some of these sections though that it’s almost possible to count the individual frames as they’re being drawn; making the experience feel closer to that of a slideshow presentation than that of a dynamic video game in action.
Part of this problem actually stems from another of the game’s major strengths: its array of deployable weapons.
Whatever else is said about Turok 2: Seeds of Evil from this point on, it needs to be made clear that the weapon selection in this game is nothing short of fantastic. A great deal more satisfying and original than your usual FPS rack of generic sniper rifles, rocket launchers and shotguns; Turok 2 apes its predecessor by offering weapons that have a really unique look and flavour to them.
The basic shotgun upgrades into the Shredder; a pseudo laser cannon that ricochets shots off of walls and ceilings, the explosive potential behind the sniper-focused Tek Bow (which Crysis 3 copied) is always fun as is the Razor Wind; a retrievable saw blade boomerang that scythes through enemy flesh as if it were made of clay.
There’s a ton more, from the Charge Dart paralysis gun, the leg-removing hilarity of the PFM Layer and even the first video game Flamethrower to shoot polygonal flames! And then of course there’s the big one: the Cerebral Bore.
Arguably the most vile weapon in video game history, the Cerebral Bore features a tracking crosshair that constantly shifts about the screen, trying to locate brain waves.
Once locked-in and fired, a spiraling blue orb quickly flies towards the target’s skull, latches on and with a truly horrifying sound it begins drilling; excavating blood and brain tissue in the process. The bore then detonates and takes what’s left of the target’s head along with it in the explosion.
I can’t remember which source first coined this phrase, but as far as I’m concerned it still stands:
“Don’t stop playing Turok 2 until you’ve fired this weapon!”
As I mentioned previously though, a problem arises from this awesome loadout and that’s the additional impact they have on the game’s already choppy frame rate. The Firestorm chain gun is a particular offender as the action slows down immensely whenever its thundering bullets are slicing through the air.
When the frame rate tumbles it becomes really tricky to line up shots and you’ll find yourself relying on the auto aim feature a lot in order to score headshots and accurately tag the smaller enemies. The undead foes in the graveyard level are a nightmare in this regard as their supremely accurate ‘blood spurt’ projectile causes noticeable pauses that really gum up the flow of the game and lead to unnecessary deaths in the process.
Thankfully the base appeal of blasting enemies with this bizarre assortment of weaponry is alive and well, but once you’ve met the wide cast of intimidating enemies and fired each gun, the enjoyment quickly begins to disappear and frustration soon sets in.
Another big negative concerns the levels themselves which are far too long and convoluted than they need to be. During the first level alone, you’re given a number of mandatory mission objectives that involve rescuing trapped children, activating portals, activating distress beacons, finding energy packs for said distress beacons and then finally defending a giant energy totem at the end.
Many of these objectives (like the trapped children) are exceptionally well hidden too, but you’re still required to complete each one otherwise you’ll be right back to the beginning to do it all over again. Vigilante 8: 2nd Offense is another sequel that made the exact same mistake: burying the player underneath senseless objectives that only get in the way of your enjoyment.
The in-game save points make this bad situation even worse because of how few they are in number. For a regular player it can be close to an hour’s worth of gameplay between each save point and that just makes each level feel like an ordeal when so much of it has to be replayed after making a fatal mistake.
There’s more of an emphasis on exploration and collecting than there is relentless fighting and the complex nature of these levels really doesn’t do that design any favours at all.
At times it can feel like the game is just too big for its own good. Admittedly, the fact that you can tackle each chapter out of order is an interesting feature for a game of this style, but each one is locked before the appropriate set of keys can be found in another level; a daunting task in an already labyrinthine adventure where your viewing distance is constantly being limited by fog.
It’s a shame because some of the set pieces are pretty impressive and the journey as a whole does feel very perilous and sometimes epic in its own right.
There are a lot of nice little gameplay touches that support this with enemy behaviour in particular being better than one might first think. For example, the big green hybrid baddies love to throw grenades at you and then take cover behind nearby debris, only to sneakily dart around the other side when you approach them. It’s fairly clever for a game released in 1998.
Turok 2 is one of those older FPS games that features computer infighting too and sometimes it can be fun to just lure rival species (such as raptors and hybrids) together and then watch them tear each other apart!
The Nintendo 64 control pad is another obstacle that new players will need to conquer though as the C-button movement combined with look spring functionality (that centralizes your crosshair whenever you move) takes a lot of getting used to. The sheer speed behind enemy projectiles makes them very difficult to avoid too and it’s quite easy to accidentally fall to your death when making those dreaded precision jumps that the series is so fond of.
Away from the gameplay side of things though, the ominous orchestral score by Darren Mitchell does a fantastic job of helping imagine this bleak and hostile world.
Certain pieces are repetitive, but the unsettling ambient strings do wonders for enhancing the atmosphere overall and when combined with such quality sound effects (such as the shrill cry of an charging raptor), the game does manage to set up moments of legitimate terror.
The voice actress of the NPC narrator Adon is another unsung hero in this sense as her delicate and somber tones do a great job of illustrating the devastation wrought by the Primagen’s army. You can almost feel the sadness in her voice as she describes a once prosperous kingdom and how it was destroyed by its now poisoned waters and subsequent invasion.
Not content with offering just the bare minimum, Iguana followed Goldeneye‘s lead and added a four player multiplayer mode into the mix too, which is nice.
Sadly, it kind of sucks.
The lack of music here is very disappointing for one (likely cut to improve frame frequency), as is the selection of weapons which have also been visually scaled back to improve game balance.
The levels in this mode look rather poor and repetitive too and the overall design of each one feel overly angular and dull to run around in. A nice effort was made to include more setup options and character-specific powers, but overall this mode is just nowhere near as robust or enjoyable as the one from Goldeneye and I for one could never get into it.
All of this leaves me with one final thought- that of my original question: is Turok 2 a good game?
Looking at the evidence as it stands today I can say that Turok 2: Seeds of Evil was, and maybe in some respects still is, a game with a lot of appeal. The powerful visuals and quality audio work really shine at various points, but it’s the fun-factor that just isn’t there on a consistent basis like it really needs to be.
It’s clear that Acclaim, for once, ensured that some real effort was put in here, but the frame rate makes Turok 2 stiflingly unplayable at times. The save system is also far too harsh with campaign progress taking up an entire N64 memory card by the way (as if those things weren’t horrible enough already), the levels go on for way too long and the multiplayer mode is just too bland to be worth bothering with.
It’s clear to me now that this is a game where ambition far exceeded what was realistically achievable with the hardware at hand. Ultimately, Turok 2 is just too big, too confusing and too unstable to provide the sort of immediate thrills that FPS games ought to provide without technical problems and over-design getting in the way.
Is Turok 2 a good game?
No. And I feel like a heel for saying that when it’s so evident the developers really busted their collective ass trying to realize this humongous game, but unfortunately its negative aspects are just too severe for me personally to ignore.
Then again, who knows? Perhaps these 2015 remasters will do right by Iguana’s original vision and finally present the game in the way that they always intended?
Even if all it amounts to though is a HD rendition of the Cerebral Bore in action, well… I’ll be cool with that too.