Turok: Evolution Preview
We play a near-finished Xbox build of the first game in the long-running Turok shooter series to appear on the latest generation of consoles.
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Though GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 is commonly acknowledged as the godfather of console first-person shooters, the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter predates that legendary game by a full six months. Turok lacked the multiplayer features and some of the technical intricacies of GoldenEye, such as that game's locational damage model, but it sported some truly great looks, some truly massive weapons, and some truly challenging levels. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was truly the first great Nintendo 64 shooter, and it left its own legacy and started a series that's since spawned several sequels. Though some of these sequels received favorable reviews, arguably none has truly lived up to the original, and certainly none has surpassed the first game's overall level of quality. Now another Turok game is nigh, and it is the first game in the series to be developed not for the Nintendo 64 but instead for much more powerful systems like the Xbox, the GameCube, and the PlayStation 2. That game is Turok: Evolution, and the question is, is that a fitting title? Or is this Turok also destined to remain in the shadow of the 1997 original?
We've been playing a recent preview build of the Xbox version of the game, and we're here to offer the beginnings of an answer to that question. This build appears feature-complete and is fully playable, and it controls much like most any recent console shooter, despite earlier reports that suggested the game would play more like the N64 Turok games. You use the left analog stick to move about and the right analog stick to aim. The right shoulder button is used to shoot and the face buttons are used to switch weapons. If you've played games like Halo or Medal of Honor Frontline, you'll be able to get the hang of Turok: Evolution in a snap. You'll quickly notice, though, that the main character is very fast on his feet, seeming to sprint from place to place very rapidly. Thus the action moves at a good, fast pace, but unfortunately the frame rate of this build doesn't quite keep up. We got some debug code that allowed us to drop the clipping plane, reducing how far we could see into the horizon in exchange for a better frame rate, but Acclaim promises that the finished game will both run smoothly and have a good view distance.
This Turok game is a prequel to the others. After a lengthy opening credits sequence, the game's perfunctory story unfolds--a Native American tribe is being slaughtered, and just as a tribesman, Tal'Set, is about to defeat the commander that slew his shaman, a strange rift opens, thrusting the tribesman into a strange land. He is awakened by a group of mysterious beings that seem to have some big plans for him. Soon he finds himself on a dangerous first mission, and at this point, you begin play and the story quickly takes a backseat for the time being. Considering that the Turok property began as a comic book, Turok: Evolution seems hurried to get you into the action and bashing stuff.
You start off with a simple bow and a tomahawk that can also be used as a club. Of course, this wouldn't be Turok game unless you got some bigger, better hardware later on, and you will. Huge shotguns, chainguns, rocket launchers, and energy weapons are available, and they cause big damage and bright, flashy effects. Most weapons have an alternate firing mode, to boot. You'll never be able to lug all the game's weapons around simultaneously, but in each chapter, you'll have a number of different weapons at your disposal, letting you rain death upon your various foes in whichever bloody fashion you choose.
So what's the gameplay like? Read on to find out.
The Way of the Dinosaur
Before you get at all those big guns, though, you'll quickly notice that there's a lot of activity in your junglelike environments. Indigenous herbivores can be seen milling about, though they surprisingly do not flee at the sight of your heavily armed hunter. Trees and other plants move gently with the breeze and limit your visibility. The environments don't look entirely lifelike. The textures and level architecture are pretty simple, and the levels themselves seem to be quite small. So don't expect a Halo killer here. We spotted scarce few details that seemed to take advantage of the powerful graphical features exclusive to the Xbox, leading us to suspect that Turok: Evolution was designed for three different consoles' lowest common denominator. Nevertheless, some of the settings do look good and seem quite large. Not all the game's missions are set in dense jungles. You'll have to go on a nighttime stealth mission in an enemy encampment, infiltrate a high-tech installation, and more.
You'll be pleased to know that, very early into Turok: Evolution, you get to fight some dinosaurs. Your trusty tomahawk makes short work of them, actually. You can press the right shoulder button repeatedly to perform a quick combo, or press and hold the button to prepare a powerful bash attack, and either way, your dinosaur foes are toast. Your bow is less useful, since steadying your aim is slower than hacking away with an ax, but soon you also find a high-tech pistol and the good old tek bow, which is basically a mean-looking compound bow that lets you shoot poison or explosive arrows. Sure enough, your opponents aren't just dinosaurs. You'll face off against alien gunmen early on, and they're just as vulnerable to your fast, deadly attacks as anything. Some of them drop health power-ups, which let you instantly recover from your wounds.
The gameplay in Turok: Evolution seems to be pretty straightforward for a shooter. Early on, you're already platform jumping and searching for keys to open doors. Your character runs fast and jumps far, so it remains to be seen whether the developers will use this to set up lots of devious jumping puzzles like the notorious ones from the original Turok game. For the most part, the game seems to be heavily focused on combat, so puzzle solving is probably going to serve as a diversion more than anything else.
Some of the levels in Turok: Evolution put you on the back of a flying pteranodon, which certainly breaks up the standard shooting action. These are essentially rail-shooter sequences, reminiscent of games like Rebel Assault or Panzer Dragoon, and you'll probably have a tough time guiding your pteranodon through these enemy-infested levels, as it's difficult to avoid contact with the walls or ground, and making contact is fatal. The pteranodon is luckily strapped down with machine guns and rockets, making it more than just a moving target. In addition to the single-player pteranodon levels, you can also engage in a flight-based multiplayer deathmatch. You may be wondering how you find yourself on the back of a flying dinosaur at some point. Acclaim has promised that the story will be an important aspect of Turok: Evolution, and also that this will be the biggest Turok game to date.
Turok: Evolution will sport numerous multiplayer modes, letting up to four players take on one another in deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag, and many other types of competitive events. The frame rate holds up relatively well with two to four players playing, though the build we played would often stutter to a halt during multiplayer sessions, particularly when players were blown up.
Find out more about multiplayer Turok and what still needs to be done with the game next.
Four Times the Turok
Multiplayer Turok should definitely give the game some longevity, provided that the developers work out the issues with the game sporadically grinding to a halt. The numerous available modes seem pretty fun, taking a nod from previous games like GoldenEye and Turok: Rage Wars. In one mode, players start with and are limited to sniping weapons, and only by scoring a headshot against an opponent will you defeat him or her and score a point. In another mode, players start with all the best hardware, so you'll soon find yourself in the midst of serious carnage. Yet another mode brands one player as the hunter and challenges the others to try to gang up and take the hunter out while he or she wreaks havoc.
You can choose from a number of different characters to play as in multiplayer, but this seems to be a purely cosmetic distinction. The one thing that limits the appeal of Turok: Evolution's multiplayer feature is that there appears to be no option to play against computer-controlled bots. With such a wide variety of multiplayer modes available, it's too bad you can only experience them in the company of others, especially since you need not just one but several other players to get a good deathmatch or capture-the-flag game going.
It will be interesting to see to what extent the game will be optimized before its release, since the frame rate apparently still needs work. Some of the graphics, including some of the weapon models and character models, do appear rather simple, so certainly the Xbox version of this game should be able to run at a nice, brisk pace. The loading times between levels could also stand to be shorter. Additionally, the audio in Turok: Evolution probably could use some work. Some sounds seem relatively oversampled, such as the loud footstep noises of the main character, while other sounds seem rather flat. The over-the-top arsenals of the Turok games, which consist of many high-powered rifles and other ballistic weapons, deserve to be as impressive sounding as they are flashy.
Turok: Evolution is scheduled to ship in just a matter of weeks for all three consoles. Though the version we've been playing certainly isn't finished, it's relatively close, which leaves us wondering whether the finished product will manage to live up to the high expectations that fans of the series have and that the game's publisher has helped foster. Especially in light of the title of the game, and the fact that this is the first Turok game to not debut on the Nintendo 64, the stakes are rather high for this upcoming release. So high, in fact, that there've even been reports that one Turok fan has been camping out,