Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion Preview

Now that you've cooled off from the four-player action found in Rage Wars, Acclaim has decided it's time to let the world take a peek at what promises to be the most dynamic Turok game yet, Turok 3: The Shadow of Oblivion.

First there was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, then there was Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, which was followed thereafter by the multiplayer deathmatch-specific Turok: Rage Wars, all developed and published for the Nintendo 64. Now that you've cooled off from the four-player action found in Rage Wars, Acclaim has decided it's time to let the world take a peek at what promises to be the most dynamic Turok game yet, Turok 3: The Shadow of Oblivion.

According to Acclaim, the storyline picks up where Turok 2: Seeds of Evil left off, when you were first introduced to "Oblivion." A monstrous cosmic entity that consumed everything in its path, Oblivion reigned before the birth of our world. Invading the bodies of the living and devouring them from the inside out, Oblivion fed off of the energy of the dead and dying. When the Primagen's lightship was destroyed, the resulting chain reaction was so powerful that the universe as it existed was completely eradicated, and the almighty Oblivion was pushed to the very brink of destruction. In this one fateful moment, the Lost Land was born, and for the first time, Oblivion felt pain, fear, and hatred.

Though totally ravaged, Oblivion survived and now desperately seeks a means to punch through the Netherscape - the energy field that separates our world from the Lost Land, and the Lost Land from countless other worlds. The last shreds of the pure energy source that created our world and nearly wiped out Oblivion are contained within the Light Burden that every member of the Turok lineage has carried. The death of the Turok mantle and the Light Burden falling into the wrong hands will signal the beginning of the end - the rebirth of Oblivion.

While the storyline is an extension of the plot created internally by Acclaim's Austin Studio (formerly known as Iguana) for the entire series of games, this is the first time a Turok game lets you play as two individual main characters - Danielle and Joseph Fireseed. While Turok 3 is still a first-person shooter, it is unique in offering two completely different play styles, depending on the character. As the older sister, Danielle is the heavy hitter and is often equipped with big guns and a grappling hook that she can use (Zelda-style) to get to high, out-of-reach places. Joseph is the less brawny of the two, relying more on stealth and cunning to advance through the game. Being much smaller than Danielle, he can also crawl through spaces that his bigger sister cannot. Joseph will also rely on his sniping more than Danielle will.

The long list of refinements found in T3 reflect Acclaim Austin's efforts in going back to the drawing board and coming up with the best of the three previous games, while ditching the least successful elements. For starters, the maps are about 40 percent smaller than the maps in Turok 2, resulting in a lot less meandering and effectively cutting down on the overly gratuitous design of previous games. The characters will have eight main weapons, each of which upgrade differently depending on which character you're playing as, for a total of 16 different types of weaponry per character. While previous games featured fly-throughs of the upcoming level, T3 features fully storyboarded FMV cutscenes using the game's graphics engine, while adding full lip-synching and expressive facial animations. Acclaim Austin is also putting more focus on the story of Turok 3, with more FMV than any of the previous games. The opening introductory scene alone is six to seven minutes long.

Another factor that should benefit the final N64 appearance of Turok is that the game does not require the 4-Meg RAM expansion pack to function. When it was first introduced for Turok 2, Acclaim Austin's creative director Dave Dienstbier stated that the RAM pack masked RAM issues, as all the development team members had one in their dev stations. Hindsight being 20/20, the team decided against using the RAM packs during development of Turok 3, ensuring that the game would run at a constant 30fps without one and would simply enhance the graphics to a high-res mode if one were used.

As with each of the previous games, all new textures have been fitted into the environments, with absolutely no recycled textures from previous games. All the weapon poly-models have also been completely redone for the game. The fog distance has been pushed back, and the game features a new collision-detection system for more accurate hits and less "clinging" to unseen 3D elements.

Another "feature" the team is eager to point out is the new "living environment," which has been designed to envelop the gamer in a much more natural, realistic setting. Examples of this are police forces setting up barricades (which also double as the environment's finite limits) in the name of martial law and characters fleeing buildings. While you are not allowed to kill the police (an ethical stance on the part of the development team), approaching too closely will result in your character being fired upon, something that will not be lost on gamers interested in keeping their health bar up. At one point in the game, you encounter a character the development team lovingly refers to as "Poor Otis." Otis is found in an almost fetal position, cowering from the forces of Oblivion. When he realizes you're not one of them, he eagerly tries to show you the way out. A little on the overzealous side, Otis is a difficult critter to keep up with, resulting in an untimely bitter end for Poor Otis. Other things, like huge Robocop-like bipedal AT-AT walkers, stalk the streets, continually on the lookout for Oblivion's minions.There are five worlds that make for roughly 20 levels in the game. The maps are now complete world models and not the typical "built on a grid" levels of past Turok games. What this means is that the levels look like real environments and not like some studious, predictable progression of lefts and rights. The goal is to make things more visually exciting, and from what we've seen, the team is well on its way to making this a reality. The Oblivion tilt on the storyline lets the character creators get away with a lot of neat ideas, such as the police chopper that has been "possessed" by Oblivion and mutates into a large, pulsating chopper-monster complete with propellers and a large gaping maw where the cockpit used to be. There are lots of different looks to the levels too, with new areas like a military installation, the Oblivion Cult, and even levels brought back from the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, which should give longtime fans something to cheer about. Even the "classic" levels from the first Turok will look different, with completely redone textures, designed to make the levels look about 75 years older.

The game will also feature weather effects like rain and snow and will offer some dramatic lighting effects as well. Even now, the current build throws real-time shadows around on all the character models whether they are NPCs or dinosaurs or fireborns. The shadows add a lot to the look of the game, in contrast to the nondescript ovals usually found in most games. Adding to the intensity is the fully "orchestrated" score being handled by Acclaim's on-site soundman Nelson Everhart, who is giving the game a filmic soundtrack that is appropriately epic at times and ambient at others.

Gamers wondering what to make of T3's multiplayer engine should find the following information encouraging. Instead of just tossing Rage Wars into the 32-meg cart, Acclaim Austin has handpicked the most successful multiplayer maps from all of the previous games, while designing brand-new deathmatch maps specifically for T3. The game will still let you play with or against a predetermined number of bots, while continuing the four-player support the series is known for. Weapons will be a "greatest hits" collection similar to the level selection, with new twists being added to old favorites. One example of this is the cerebral bore. Depending on which character you play as, you'll be able to upgrade the cerebral bore into a cerebral burst, which drills into the head of the victim and can be detonated on command to cause further damage to enemies standing close by, or the cerebral possessor, which lets you mind-control the "recipient" and guide him, via first-person perspective, into a crowd of onlookers, where he'll explode. Other weapons, like the fireswarm cannon, are updates of previous weapons.There are a large number of customization options available in the multiplayer mode. Blood lust, capture the flag, last stand, golden arrow, monkey tag, arsenal of war, color tag, and weapon master, each have their own set of rules and are considerably different from each other. There are also a number of mode variations you can adjust: easy to kill, hard to kill, slow movement, fast movement, low gravity, high gravity, no health (basically one-hit kills), low ammo, lots of ammo. Other settings such as weapons availability, victory, time, team damage, sudden death, arena, damage, respawn points, ammo pickups, ammo capacity, and initial ammo are also available.

The final feature that will make gamers happy is the "save anywhere" function. Unlike T2, which only offered save points in between the massive levels (so an untimely death would require starting the level over), T3 will either let you save anywhere you wish or offer "signposts" that will restart you at a recently achieved point in the game. No more frustration from the save system here.

While we haven't had a chance to gather any real hands-on playtime, from what we've seen, the team's efforts are definitely paying off. The environments look great (in that N64-ish kind of way), and the character models are more interestingly designed than in previous games. Adon makes an appearance but has been completely redesigned and no longer looks like the Battlestar Galactica reject that appeared in T2.

With Rage Wars generally received as a mere distraction bearing the Turok name, it was an unspectacular exercise that Acclaim cannot afford to repeat twice. With newer, more powerful hardware on the video game landscape, T3 had better be something special in order to avoid an untimely death as an also-ran in the wake of Perfect Dark.

While T3 could easily establish itself as the finest of the four Turok games for the N64, what really needs to be seen is whether the game is really just a polite extension of a franchise that needs a kick in the ass, or a trailblazer that brashly sweeps aside its legacy to makes its own set of rules. Turok 3 is scheduled to ship in September 2000 but is touted to be ready to play at this spring's E3. Stay tuned for further updates.

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