As if to help solidify the Xbox's ground in the games industry, the big black box now has its own version of Turok. The newest game in the series, Turok: Evolution, debuts on the Xbox alongside the PS2 and GameCube versions, and in some ways, it's the best of the three. Certainly, Xbox owners would expect no less, but this doesn't change the fact that the game itself, though not without its merits, is pretty cut-and-dried. Turok: Evolution gives you more of the same dinosaurs and mayhem found in the last three Turok games on the Nintendo 64, and this should please fans of the series as a whole. You won't find much that's new in Turok: Evolution, with one notable exception, but chances are that if Turok is your thing, you won't want a lot of new whiz-bang features getting in the way of the gameplay anyway.
Evolution is sort of a prequel to the Turok series. It casts you in the role of Tal'Set, a Native American warrior fighting against the incursions of the United States Army. While Tal'Set is fighting his archrival, Captain Bruckner, on a cliff, a mysterious energy swells up and pulls him into a strange realm called the Lost Land. Tal'Set is rescued by the indigenous people of this primitive world, and from the seer Tarkeen he learns that he is Turok, the legendary Son of Stone sent to battle the villainous reptilian Sleg and their master, Lord Tyrannus. Tal'Set reluctantly accepts this charge and sets out to do battle with the Sleg, Tyrannus, and even the not-quite-dead Captain Bruckner. As in past games, the storyline in Turok: Evolution is passable, but nobody really plays first-person shooters for their stories, anyway, and the plot here serves mainly as an excuse to frag some dinosaurs.
The original Turok game's subtitle, "Dinosaur Hunter," may be consistent with the license's comic-book roots, but in Evolution, you won't be battling as many of the massive beasts as you might hope. Most of the game's dinosaurs serve as backdrop elements only, although you'll occasionally have to defend yourself against a couple of raptors or a tyrannosaur. The bulk of the fighting in Evolution is directed at the Sleg, a warlike humanoid-reptilian race with a perplexing command of technology. The upright lizards have overrun the Lost Land, and you'll spend most of the game's 15 chapters engaging in standard run-and-gun shooter combat against them. Periodically, you'll have to engage in some extremely basic forms of puzzle solving, such as finding two switches to open a gate, but for the most part, your single objective is to kill everything that moves and reach the end of the level.
Enemy AI is a bit inconsistent in Turok: Evolution. At times, you'll find the Sleg warriors hiding behind cover, rolling out of the way of your shots, falling back to a defensible position--in short, making your life difficult. Other times, though, you'll see silliness like an enemy dinosaur stuck on a piece of the background, making it a pathetically easy kill. We even saw a so-called sniper running around and around in a circle, ad nauseam... until we mercifully removed his head. Generally, the enemies are pretty deadly, but occasionally they can be more droll than dangerous.
The shooter levels in Turok: Evolution really don't do anything new for the genre. You do have access to an impressive arsenal, ranging from the primitive club and bow and arrow to the more-futuristic plasma cannon, remote-controlled spider mines, and tekbow, which is a high-tech version of the classic bow and arrow. Evolution tries to incorporate stealth into a few of its levels, but it often comes off as contrived, as the nature of the guns-blazing gameplay and controls make it very difficult to avoid being spotted by enemies. Fortunately, Evolution does feature one major new addition to the Turok series: flying stages. Several times in the game, Tal'Set takes to the back of a pterodactyl armed with, well, .50-caliber machine guns and guided missiles. As silly as that scenario sounds, the flying stages are actually pretty fun and don't feel at all like a last-minute addition to the game. They provide a nice dose of variety when the shooting levels begin to border on monotony.
Of course, no first-person shooter released today would be complete without a multiplayer mode, and Turok: Evolution comes with a fully featured one that supports up to four players. It gives you complete control over multiplayer variables like power-ups, available weapons, and one-hit kills. A generous selection of maps is available, and 10 gameplay variations are included. In addition to the standard deathmatch, there's a kill-the-man-with-the-ball game called "monkey tag," a sniper match that allows only headshots, and "one flag," which is a twist on capture the flag. There's even a multiplayer mode involving pterodactyl combat. In all, Evolution's multiplayer activities should keep you busy for a while after you've finished the single-player game.
Even before you've hit the multiplayer segment of Turok: Evolution, you can get your money's worth from the single-player campaign. Each of the 15 chapters in the game is pretty lengthy, with multiple sub-levels in each one, and the pterodactyl-piloting stages are interspersed between the on-foot levels evenly enough that you've always got another one coming up fairly soon.
From an aesthetic standpoint, Turok: Evolution does its job well. Of course, that job is depicting overgrown, armored lizards armed with laser rifles, but Turok fans have come to expect this. The environments comprise a good mix of lush tropical settings and futuristic industrial locations that span the Lost Land. Visually, Evolution looks like the same sort of techno-jungle that we've seen in previous Turok games, this time with a stark graphical upgrade. In terms of sound, there isn't much of it worth noting. Everything from the weapon blasts to the gravelly enemy voices to the unobtrusive tribal music is quite serviceable but not really outstanding. Your allies' communications in the flying stages can be unintelligible sometimes, unfortunately.
Since Turok: Evolution is also out for the PlayStation 2 and the GameCube, it's important to address the strengths of the Xbox version for those gamers who own at least two of the three consoles. The biggest advantage of the Xbox edition of Evolution is its image quality. In a side-by-side comparison, the graphics in the Xbox game are head and shoulders above those in the PS2 version, and they're also slightly better than the graphics in GameCube version. The Xbox version of Evolution has more advanced lighting, shadowing, and shading effects, and it sports a much cleaner look overall. The GameCube version's frame rate is somewhat higher, but the frame rate in the Xbox is never low enough to be an issue. In terms of gameplay, the Xbox version is pretty much identical to the other two games, with a slight nod going to the GameCube version for its controller. If you own both an Xbox and a GameCube, you might want to go for the Xbox version, as its image quality is certainly higher and the frame rate difference isn't enormous. The loading times are also better.
Ultimately, Turok: Evolution is another dose of the prehistoric shooter action that we've seen in previous installments. It's formulaic but done well enough, so if you're into the previous installments or looking for another first-person shooter, then you'll find something to like in it. Don't expect the next Halo from Turok: Evolution, but the game largely accomplishes what it sets out to do, and for Turok fans, that should be just fine.