First Look: Turok Evolution

First impressions from an early look at the next Turok game for the Xbox.

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Acclaim finally unveiled the latest entry in the Turok series, Turok Evolution, today at its Austin studio. While every game in the Turok series has traditionally been a Nintendo-exclusive franchise, this latest entry will be released for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Nintendo's GameCube in September. The early build of the game demoed was up and running on an Xbox at the press event.

Aiming to please old fans of the series and bring new ones up to speed on the game's history, Turok Evolution tells the story of the original Turok, Tal'Set, one of the last survivors of the Saquin Indian tribe. The game's story opens in 1886. Captain Tobias Bruckner is attacking the last few Saquin as they race through Texas and on to Mexico. With their chief, Grey Bear, killed, the remaining Saquin make one final stand. During the fight, a wounded Tal'Set and Bruckner fall into a cavern. When a rift in the Lost Lands opens, Tal'Set is pulled into it. Emerging in the Lost Lands, Tal'Set is found near death by the natives of the River Village, who take him in and nurse him back to health. As he spends time with them, Tal'Set discovers that the River Village natives live in hiding from the Lost Land's greatest threat, the evil Lord Tyrannus and his reptilian hordes. Dedicated to "purifying" the land, Tyrannus and his armies raze anything they come across. Tal'Set is eventually drawn into the ongoing war raging across the Lost Land. As he becomes more involved in the conflict, Tal'Set recognizes Tobias Bruckner, a member of Tyrannus' army. Motivated by the desire for revenge, Tal'Set heads out to take on Tyrannus and his armies, not realizing that the journey will teach him his true destiny and place in the Lost Lands.

Just as the story offers some new faces to get used to, the gameplay in Turok Evolution provides some fresh material for gamers to become accustomed to. At its core, the game still offers the same first-person shooting action that has made the series a success. However, there's also quite a bit of new gameplay elements to explore. The most dramatic one is the addition of flight. Turok Evolution now offers segments that place you on the back of a pterodactyl, exploring and engaging in combat with air- and ground-based opponents. You'll have the option to switch between a first- or third-person camera angle for the segments that offer a change of pace from Turok's standard gameplay. Your "ride" is armed with infinite machine gun ammo and a set amount of lock on rockets. Though you carry a limited number of the very useful rockets, you'll be able to find pickups that give you more ammo. Rather than reusing existing levels in the game for the flight sequences, the development team has created levels specifically suited for aerial combat and exploration.

The other additions to gameplay focus on the traditional first-person shooter action we've come to expect from the Turok series. Taken individually, the new features are solid additions to gameplay, but when viewed as a whole, the new features radically affect how you play the game. You'll now be able to use the newly rendered environments for offense and defense. Described as "living environments" by the development team, the levels offer interactive touches that you'll be able to exploit. The new graphics engine lets plants move in reaction to wind or motion, which will enable you to see if something is heading toward you in a forest. You'll also be able to use them for cover by hiding among them if you are being hunted and can keep still. The plants are mixed blessings, as they can also alert enemies to your presence if you're not careful. You'll also be able to use trees for similar purposes. While hiding behind trees is a no-brainer, shooting at one and causing it to fall on one or more enemies is a new and pleasingly wicked use for Mother Nature. But you'll also have to be careful, as your foes can do the same thing. Another subtle but far more deadly tweak to the game can be seen in the AI. For example, enemies are a bit craftier, falling back and taking advantage of any available cover during a fight. In addition, the development team has implemented a new system called S.D.S (squad dynamics system), which lets squads of enemies attack you intelligently. The system lets AI enemies establish a hierarchy among themselves and a main member of their group to give orders to the rest. The benefit is that they can attack you more efficiently; the downside is that you'll be able to lower their effectiveness if you target their leader in a fight.

Another tweak to gameplay can be found in the assortment of weapons available to players. While Acclaim didn't reveal all of Turok's arsenal, we were able to see and hear about some of it. In our hands-on time with the game, we had access to the war club, a melee weapon, the tek bow, armed with poison arrows that cause enemies to double over and vomit when hit by them, the chain gun, shotgun, sniper rifle, and remote unit. While most of the weapons and their secondary fire options should be familiar to longtime fans, the remote unit is a versatile and enjoyable new addition to Turok's arsenal. Essentially a remote control unit that you take control of, the small unit can run among enemies and trigger one of its three modes: lure, gas, and bomb. Lure mode lets it call out to humans and animals for a variety of results. For example, the unit can call out and attract humans to distract them or can attract dinosaurs and let you lead them to an enemy camp. Gas mode lets that unit release bursts of poison gas to incapacitate enemies. Finally, bomb mode is just that, a powerful explosion best used to take out groups of enemies. In addition, the team mentioned other weapons that Turok uses: variable payload cruise missiles, gravity disrupter beams, and the swarm bores, which will let you shoot 10 bores--which are similar to the cerebral bores seen before--one at one time. Most of the weapons are upgradable and feature secondary fire options for maximum efficiency.

Our time exploring an early Xbox build of the game at the event showed it to be coming along well. We were able to explore indoor and outdoor levels, try several flight sequences, and also get a taste of the game's multiplayer mode. Control was solid and reasonably close to what we expected from a Turok game. The graphics were detailed, and they showcased the game's new features well. Check back for more on the game soon as we follow up with more detailed impressions.

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