Sunday, September 4, 2011

N64 Month: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter
  • Publisher: Acclaim
  • Developer: Iguana
  • Release: Nintendo 64, 1 March 1997
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Players: 1
  • Saving: Controller Pak, 16 Pages
  • Rarity/Cost: Common, US$5-15
Among the things that inexplicably became popular in the 1990s, we have Native Americans and dinosaurs - and wouldn't you know it, someone found a way to bring the two together.  The spawn of this awesome-sounding union is Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, the first true first-person shooter title for the Nintendo 64, beating out a remake of Doom by about a month.  (It even made it for the N64's European launch on 1 March 1997.)

I'd imagine not many people know this, but Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is actually based off a long-running comic book franchise which Acclaim picked up the rights to a few years before releasing this game.  In fact, according to the retcons established by Acclaim Comics, Turok isn't even the player character's name, but rather his title.  Technically, his real name is Tal'set Fireseed, a Native American warrior from the mid-1800s who protects the Lost Land, a parallel world where "time has no meaning".  That means having dinosaurs and aliens in the Lost Land is a natural occurence.  Not so natural is our villain, the Campaigner, who seeks to break the barrier between Earth and the Lost Land and cause all manner of chaos in the interest of ruling both.  A weapon known as the Chronoscepter, which is so powerful it had to be disassembled into eight pieces, will prove crucial to both factions' goals, but we'll discuss that later on.

Compared to the claustrophobic corridors from the more in-vogue FPS series of the time, TDH showcases a varied array of environments, like wide-open jungles, the ruins of an ancient city, and intricate catacombs.  Each of the 8 huge levels in the game is accessed by a hub, and you'll have to travel back and forth as you collect keys to open the next levels, as well as the 8 pieces of the aforementioned Chronoscepter, a beam gun which will give you a major upper hand against the final boss.  Rather famously, all these locales are draped in a curtain of fog or darkness which shortens your range of vision somewhat.  Although intended to ease the load on the N64's graphics processor, this could create tense moments where a raptor or something jumps out at you with no warning.  ...Okay, while that was just a hypothetical (if possible) scenario, I do sometimes get spooked by most enemies' tendencies to continually respawn after death.  Sadly, items do not regenerate if you ever have the need to go back to a level.  For this reason, try to find all the keys on your first run through (and pay attention to the handy checklist from the pause menu).  And in another oddly innovative feature, you can re-color the blood to red or green, or turn it off completely.  Lemme tell ya, more games should do that.

Platforming passages are prevalent.
Before the N64 came along, first-person movement in console games was imprecise (Super NES Doom says hi), but the invention of the Control Stick changed all that.  You move forward, back, and sideways with the C buttons, and look/turn with the Control Stick, and lemme tell ya... that idea is just crazy enough to work.  Being able to aim with the Control Stick instead of buttons gives you the precision you need - so much so that it was included into later shooters like Goldeneye 007 as an alternate control scheme.  Unusually for a first-person shooter, TDH has a jump function (R) and as such, places a heavier emphasis on platforming.  If looking down at your shadow in order to make these jumps proves too disorienting, you can toggle on the map (L), a wireframe which is overlaid on top of the action.  An unorthodox solution, but at least it doesn't take you out of the action, and it's way better than not having a map at all.  Plus, the icon indicating your position is always centered, so it can serve as a makeshift targeting reticule.

As I previously warned, these levels are huge - so big they not only have checkpoints, but save points.  Although this could add tedium in the event you have to backtrack, it's still something to be proud of for such an early game.  Packed in these levels are power-ups like Life Force tokens, which award one extra life for every 100 collected, FPS mainstays such as backpacks to hold extra ammo, Tek Armor to take hits without losing health, and of course, ammo for all manner of weapons.  You start out with a knife and bow, but can collect everything to a basic pistol, shotgun, and assault rifle, to crazier fare such as a pulse rifle, the charge-up Particle Accelerator, and the mini-nuke Fusion Cannon.  The bow and shotgun can also use alternate explosive ammo.  It's another feature that was ahead of its time, but if you have any available, there's no way to switch back to the regular ammo in order to save it for later.  All this will serve you well against the occasional boss, such as a hunter who summons Humvees to a giant bionic Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Have fun.

Some weapons use alternate ammo.
The PC fanboys would be more than happy to point you to Wolfenstein 3D or Doom as the creator of the FPS genre, and technically they are right.  But Turok: Dinosaur Hunter proved, for the first time, that an FPS game was feasible on consoles.  Fortunately, the fact that TDH is perfectly playable and well-designed only helps matters.  So truly, it is a piece of gaming history that deserves more recognition, or at least acknowledgement, than it does these days.

Control: 4 keys out of 5
Design: 4 keys out of 5
Graphics: 4 keys out of 5
Sound: 3 keys out of 5
The Call: 80% (B)

Next Episode:  I review another game from Acclaim - and again, it's actually pretty good.

No comments:

Post a Comment