We travel back in time to check out a work-in-progress version of Tiwak's upcoming platformer.
First announced by Microsoft at 2002's Electronic Entertainment Expo, Tork: Prehistoric Punk is an Xbox-exclusive platformer in which you'll assume the role of a young caveboy whose father has been kidnapped. After an eventful couple of years in development, Tork is currently scheduled for release through Ubisoft in January, and we recently had an opportunity to spend some time with an almost-finished version of the game.
To rescue Tork's father, you'll have to fight your way through a number of different time periods, each boasting a handful of levels that can be accessed in any order from a hub area. The prehistoric era that we played through, for example, featured four distinct locales that were available right at the start of the game: a desert, a volcano, a forest, and an icy area. The gameplay in each area isn't nearly as varied as the scenery, unfortunately, and basically revolves around killing everything that moves, destroying a whole lot of stuff that doesn't move, and jumping between platforms. Your goals in each area, besides reaching the end of it, are to rack up as many points as possible by taking out enemies and inanimate objects with your bola, and by collecting special items. Many of the high-scoring items can be found away from the most obvious route through the level, which makes it particularly unfortunate that you're afforded far less control over the camera than is now considered standard for the genre. We didn't actually find the camera to be problematic, for the most part, but there were definitely occasions when being able to rotate it would've made searching for items a lot easier and a lot quicker.
In addition to the requisite running, jumping, and double-jumping, Tork's skills include both melee and ranged attacks with his bola, and transforming into animal forms when he becomes enraged. We've been able to change only into Tork's powerful yeti form thus far, but later in the game he'll also have armadillo and flying squirrel forms available to him. In his yeti form, Tork is slightly less agile, but he's able to throw powerful punches, pound the ground so hard that it hurts all the enemies in his vicinity, and even call down a shower of ice shards from the sky. As tempting as it was to transform into the yeti form whenever Tork was enraged enough for us to do so, the best use for the form (at least in terms of point scoring) is actually to punch your way through the destructible walls that block the only possible route to high-scoring items. Using the yeti form to knock down walls feels like a waste of his destructive talents as far as the gameplay is concerned, but we still found that we had plenty of opportunities to put them to use against enemies.
The enemies that we've encountered to date have come at us in many different shapes and sizes, including tiny insect-type creatures that attack you in swarms until you take out their nest, prehistoric swordfish that jump out of the water, and large dinosaurs that are big enough to totally block your path. The intelligence of the enemies in our unfinished version of Tork: Prehistoric Punk seems very limited, and we've noticed only three distinct behaviors during our time with the game: enemies that aim straight for you (smaller creatures, mostly), enemies that follow patterns (the swordfish jumping out of the water and sliding on ice, for example, might as well be swinging axe blades or rolling boulders), and enemies that seem unable to move (many of the larger dinosaurs look like they're ready to charge at any moment, but only ever rotate on the same spot and, as such, can be taken out quite simply using ranged attacks).
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Tork: Prehistoric Punk at this point are its visuals, which, despite not having changed much since we saw the game at E3 2002, really aren't showing any signs of age. The environments look particularly good, and, given that the gameplay feels less than inspired right now, your chief motivation for seeing the game through to its conclusion might actually just be that you want to see Tiwak's takes on all the different time periods.
As is stands, Tork: Prehistoric Punk feels like a game that might have impressed in 2003, when it was originally scheduled for release, but will have a much more difficult time doing so in 2005. Why any developer would produce a 3D platformer in which the camera position is as good as fixed in this day and age is something of a mystery, especially when it's detrimental to the (admittedly limited) exploration aspects of the game. Whether or not Tork: Prehistoric Punk will benefit from any changes between now and its scheduled January release remains to be seen. It'd be great if we didn't have to spend a portion of our review talking about the same camera issues that we've addressed here, though.