Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Turok Review

Turok, developed by Propaganda Games and Aspyr Studios and published by Touchstone.
The Good: Action-packed, interesting two-weapon system, strategic deathmatch rules, cooperative multiplayer, decent production values, dinosaurs
The Not So Good: Impossibly difficult bosses, repetitive objectives, linear level design, dumb AI, no multiplayer server browser makes finding games difficult, long load times, can’t load previous checkpoints and saved games, technical issues
What say you? The series returns with some innovative elements and shows that killing dinosaurs can still be fun…some of the time: 5/8

Even though they went extinct 65 million years ago, dinosaurs are still very popular. They have been depicted in movies like Jurassic Park and TV shows like Larry King Live. What’s even better than simply watching dinosaurs roam the Earth is shooting them in the face, and that’s the premise of Turok, a remake of a classic first person shooter. Although the game is obviously not completely original, the addition of big, scary dinosaurs to the enemies list is intriguing, and we haven’t seen a Turok game in six years. Will the gameplay prove to be compelling after all these years?

The graphics of Turok is a mixed bag. The characters (both human and animal) have good textures and detailed models, though there are some animation problems and models tend to “float” over the terrain. The environments have a jungle feel, which tends to get repetitive after a while and becomes obstructive (probably on purpose) on occasion, preventing a clear view of your enemies. The environments are not quite as detailed as you would like, especially the outdoor areas, with very blocky terrain and clearly linear paths. It’s a bit odd to see detailed characters walking through blocky and rather bland terrain. The environments are also very static, with hardly any movement that isn’t directly tied to character interaction; I guess it’s not so windy in dinosaur world. The blur effect that occurs when you are stunned gets annoying, but disposing of dinosaurs using melee combat techniques is pleasingly violent. Performance is not what I would like to see: stuttering at seemingly random intervals is common. The sound fares much better: decent voice acting (and every line of dialogue is voiced) and appropriate weapon effects accompany the generic background music. It should also be noted that Turok takes up a whopping 15 GB of hard drive space, and load times are especially long. While there are a couple of highlights in the presentation, overall the graphics and sound of Turok come up a bit short.

You can play Turok in two modes: the single player story campaign and online. The campaign is fairly lengthy and, while it starts out pretty good, the story tends to get forgettable near the end. But I don’t really pay much attention to the story: I just want to shoot stuff. The console roots of the game crop up in that you can only have one saved game and the game can automatically do it for you. Unfortunately, if you are badly injured and the game saves your progress, then you are screwed and caught in an infinite loop of death. I think that if a game takes of 15 GB of hard drive space, we can have an unlimited number of saved games. Over time, the objectives of Turok become quite repetitive: the game lacks many alternative missions other than shooting things. While having almost constant action may be a good thing on occasion, it does get monotonous after a while as you’ll be constantly swarmed with various enemies. I should also mention a bug I have experienced: having my analogue gamepad plugged in makes my view constantly rotate, even though the gamepad is calibrated and works fine with all my other games. I e-mailed tech support and they said there is no way of disabling it from within the game, so I have to unplug my gamepad every time I want to play Turok. Annoying.

The multiplayer of Turok can be interesting, but it’s too bad it’s so difficult to find a game. In a disturbing trend of recently released console ports, Turok does not list every available game on one screen. Instead, you have to pick a game type (small free-for-all, large free-for-all, small team-based, large team-based, co-op) and then search. The quick join option will just place you in a random game type that you might not have wanted to join. The Club also suffered from this problem. Listen up, developers: just put every game on one page and let me pick. Is that too much to ask? I don’t want to spend minutes searching through every category looking for others to play against. Once you actually join a game, you’ll find the deathmatch games come with a kill limit (usually 15) but also a death limit (usually 10). This makes deathmatch more interesting, as you can’t simply run around, guns blazing and still win as you’ll rack up too many deaths. I thought this was a pretty cool standard option. The team-based games consist of capture the flag, assault capture the flag, and war games, although I have no idea how these play because I never found anyone playing the team-based game modes. I did have a chance to check out cooperative multiplayer, and it was pretty fun. There are only three specially designed levels for co-op (there are seven for the other modes), but they are fun and require some teamwork (there might be two consoles that must be hacked simultaneously). Your team is limited in the number of respawns you can have, so a well-coordinated team will be successful. I do like some of the aspects of Turok’s multiplayer, but it’s not reason enough to get the game.

Another thing I enjoy about Turok is the weapons. Turok is equipped is fairly standard weapons: a knife, bow, handgun, sub-machine gun, shotgun, mini-gun, rocket propelled grenade, pulse rifle, sniper rifle, grenade launcher, and flame thrower. But you can wield small two weapons at one time, which is very satisfying. Firing a sub-machine gun and a shotgun simultaneously is a joy not found in many other first person shooters. You can only carry two weapons at a time (other than the knife and bow), so making appropriate choices is important. This goes for multiplayer as well, so Turok rewards players with better weapon strategy more than players who have stuck around more and collected all of the weapons. The heads-up display is also minimal: the ammunition counter is located on the gun as a blinking light when you need to reload. That’s a nice touch. The bow is also extremely deadly at far distances and getting headshots is good fun. You can also use stealth attacks with the knife: sneak up behind any enemy (human or dinosaur) and the game will indicate you can use your knife. Then, a pre-canned violent animation will play and Turok can move on to his next victim. While this is a nice change of pace, it does get dull after a while.

Alas, the core gameplay of Turok falls short of being completely entertaining. The game comes with rag-doll physics, which results in some unintended comedic effects like kicking around deceased dinosaurs when you walk near them. Speaking of the dinosaurs, the AI is not very good. I realize that dinosaurs are (supposedly) dumb animals, but the creatures are heavily scripted and will attack you or your partner first if the game was programmed that way. The humans are not much better: they will stop and shoot without seeking cover (unless the developers put them there) and seem a bit too accurate for the weapons they are carrying, hitting Turok more often than not. This is partially due to the fact that everyone in the game can take an extremely large amount of damage before dying, for better or for worse, so they better hit you every time. The potentially interesting dynamic of turning the dinosaurs on your enemies is only used in very specific (and very obvious) circumstances, which is too bad. A lot of the multiplayer maps are completely devoid of dinosaurs (or place them in obscure locations), which makes Turok play more like a conventional first person shooter rather than taking advantage of its unique setting. Turok as a whole is very linear and the developers want you to play the game their way. Defeating bosses can be very frustrating as you try to figure out the arbitrarily specific method of taking them down. The game drops very subtle hints (or sometimes no hints at all) along the way; it’s a good thing they sent me a walkthrough with the game or else I’d be stuck several times over. You will also need to use archaic button-mashing counters when dinosaurs attack you; I though this gameplay mechanic was extinct but it, like the dinosaurs, has returned. Turok takes what could have been a compelling theme and doesn’t take full advantage of it, resulting in a run-of-the-mill first person shooter.

Shooting dinosaurs: what could go wrong? Well, the PC version of Turok is a couple of key points short of being a notable title. There are definitely some things to like: the dual-wielding weapons, using dinosaurs against your enemy, tweaked deathmatch rules, and some of the visuals and sound effects. Sadly, Turok is also accompanied by extremely linear level design, very difficult bosses, controller issues, one saved game per user, generally stupid AI, and long load times. Turok also lacks a multiplayer browser, which makes experiencing the decent cooperative and deathmatch online modes more difficult than it should be. It’s a bit disappointing that Turok isn’t more polished because the premise is very intriguing. Unless you really want to kill some dinosaurs, Turok doesn’t offer enough of a complete experience to warrant its purchase.