It's been almost five years since the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter hit the streets with its fog-filled, dank environments crawling with dinos. While the game isn't revered in the same way it once was, the excitement the original Turok provides was hard to beat back in '96. The second Turok, Seeds of Evil, was the first Nintendo 64 game to use the Expansion Pak for high resolution gameplay, but the fact that save points could take up to three hours to reach ensured that only the most hard-core game player would ever finish the game. Turok: Rage Wars was Acclaim's attempt at a deathmatch-exclusive title in the vein of Quake III Arena that, unfortunately, fell upon deaf ears with consumers despite its ambitious design. For Acclaim's fourth and final foray into the Turok universe on the Nintendo 64, they decided they would attempt to combine all the things players liked about the first three into one cohesive shooting experience. In many ways, the company has accomplished just that, and Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion is a fitting way to finish off the Nintendo 64 franchise in style.
Shadow of Oblivion picks up where Turok 2 left off. The game begins with a six-minute real-time cutscene, in which John Fireseed (the current holder of the Turok title) has a nightmare that ends in his death. When he awakens, he finds that his nightmare was actually a premonition, as minions of the creature known as Oblivion are already infiltrating his abode. While he attempts to fend off his attackers, he instructs his sister Danielle and his brother Joseph to flee and protect the "light burden" that lies within both of them. As the two siblings leave Josh behind to die, they are attacked by one of Oblivion's demonic slaves and rescued by Adon of Turok 2 fame. The two then take up the Turok mantle to protect the light burden and destroy Oblivion.
From here, you must choose between playing as either Danielle or Joseph, who both possess their own unique abilities. As Danielle, you may carry more high-powered weapons, jump higher, and use a grappling hook to reach out-of-the-way places. As Joseph, you may crawl into crevices that Danielle can not fit into and use the sniper rifle in conjunction with the night vision goggles for some serious stealth action. The level design is nearly identical for each character, with small sections thrown in here or there that allow them to showcase their respective talents. This system works well, as playing as the other character allows you to discover areas that were previously inaccessible while still keeping the same overlying theme of each level.
It seems as if Acclaim has taken a great deal of the criticism leveled at previous Turok games to heart. Many of the issues from Turok 2 have been either improved upon or eliminated altogether. For starters, you may now save anywhere, which is a big improvement, to be sure. Turok 2 is a quality game, but playing for much longer than you want to in order to save your game is ridiculous. Not only can you save anytime in Turok 3, but specific areas trigger midlevel checkpoints that you return to upon death. This helps greatly in keeping the backtracking to a minimum, and it also aids in avoiding that lost feeling you get when a gameworld is just too big. Similar to Half-Life, Turok 3 is broken up into dozens of small titled chapters that help you remember if you have been to a particular area already or recognize that you're just finding a new way to enter an old area. Finally, a Turok game is something you can pick up and play for short periods of time and actually make some headway. The pacing in Shadow of Oblivion is what makes it so hard to stop playing. Wandering around areas with no enemies is a rarity, and the way to go is often fairly obvious but hidden enough to require some intuition. Just about the time you start to wonder if something exciting is about to happen, it does.
The weaponry in Turok 3 is adequate but not overboard. Each character has eight main weapons that may be upgraded in different ways for a total of 16 weapons per character, or 24 weapons total. While the shredder from Turok 2 has been replaced by a weapon called the firestorm, many of the old standbys have made it in, including the cerebral bore and the grenade launcher. When using the cerebral bore, an alternate upgrade is available for Danielle that allows you to control the character whose brain has been bored. Simply send the "bored" character over next to a group of enemies and detonate - it's genius. The multiplayer has eight different modes including blood lust, capture the flag, last stand, golden arrow, the ever-popular monkey tag, arsenal of war, color tag, and weapon master. You may choose to frag it out on one of 48 different maps, including old favorites from Seeds of Evil and Rage Wars, along with several new maps designed from the ground up. Bots have also been added to the mix, but using them causes the game to run at an unacceptable frame rate. While the multiplayer mode isn't as option-heavy as Perfect Dark and moves a bit slower, as an added bonus on top of an excellent one-player mission, it's not so bad.
Turok 3 isn't the most beautiful or detailed addition to the series, but it plays the smoothest. It seems Acclaim has decided to err on the side of restraint. The real-time lighting that was used so profusely in T2 is now used only when you're actually aware of it. The sheer number of death animations has also been cut back, and a great deal of the gratuitous gore is strangely absent. The levels themselves are standard Turok fare, as you normally spend equal amounts of time in cramped, musty corridors and moss-strewn open spaces. The game engine pushes the fog back a good distance, but there are still times when a little extra field of vision would've been appreciated. Some of the open areas have heaps of geometry going on, but the frame rates still stay fairly solid. This was reportedly accomplished by removing the Expansion Pak from the development kits so that the developers at Acclaim could keep a reign on T3's RAM utilization, and it worked. In low resolution, T3 screams along at a steady 30 frames per second, but the textures become muddled. In high-resolution, Shadow of Oblivion runs well most of the time, but entering expansive areas from a corridor generally causes the game engine to belch loudly. The weapons effects are also toned down a bit, as the explosions aren't as large as they used to be and the discharge from guns falls a bit short in awe factor. There are also some problems with the 2D effects, as well. For instance, sometimes the waterdrop sprites will hover in midair, or the splat left from enemy fire will be magically suspended at a 90-degree angle out from the wall. However, the cinemas in Turok 3 are some of the best on Nintendo 64. The multipolygon character faces are full of emotion as they perfectly lip-synch the spoken dialogue. It's a first on the Nintendo 64, and it looks simply amazing. There are 48 different character models in Shadow of Oblivion. Some of them return from previous Turok installments with new textures, while others are completely unique. Their attack animations are especially impressive, as the raptors will jump over 20 feet to get into your face. While they may be pretty to look at, your enemies' intelligence has taken a hit. Where the enemies in T2 would play hide-and-seek with you around obstacles, most enemies in T3 simply run toward you and attack. Acclaim is very proud of the fact that T3 has living environments. In theory, this is supposed to mean that things take place in the world completely independent of what you are doing in the game. In practice, this simply isn't the case. Sure, cops wander around their barricades and the AT-ST-like walkers prowl about looking for Oblivion's lackeys, but that's about it. Most of the time, just walking into a specific area triggers the cinemas.
Turok 3's sound hits its marks. The weapon sounds are crisp, clear, and - most importantly - realistic. The ambient sounds are especially good, and when the game is played in surround sound, the immersion levels max out. Enemies approaching from the rear can be heard before they are seen, and the overall clarity of each specific channel is worthy of praise. The cinema dialogue is surprisingly clear, considering the compression routines that are required to squeeze it onto a cartridge, and the orchestral tribal beats and chants really help to set the tone.
With 25 hidden game features waiting to be unlocked (including alternate skins for deathmatches, new weapons, two characters to play the through the game with, and a deathmatch mode with 48 maps), it's easy to see why Turok 3 will stay plugged into your Nintendo 64 for some time. Shadow of Oblivion is successful because it concentrates upon what made the Turok franchise a best-seller instead of attempting to one-up the competition, making it in many ways the best Turok yet.