If Microsoft’s PR department is to be believed, Halo and Gears of War are the video game franchises that defined the last two generations of console shooters.
It’s difficult to deny their influence – I mean, before Halo came along, shooters used to be varied, exciting and tense. Before Gears of War was released, shooters used to be colourful, fast-paced and be mainly about shooting things instead of hiding behind a rock sucking your thumb. Yes, remember when shooters were creative, heart-pounding fun; not dull, insipid dullness?
In Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, you take the role of a time-travelling Native American warrior, tasked with protecting the mystical barrier between Earth and the dinosaur-infested Lost Land. Writing this, I realised that even the briefest of plot summaries makes it very clear that this game would never be made today – proven by the fact that the 2008 reboot Turok was modified to be about a grizzled space marine who spent the whole game ripping off Aliens.
Okay, perhaps I have been quite unfair in my assault on modern shooters, but I’m afraid I can’t help being bitter. Halo and Gears of War were two of the first games I got on their respective consoles back when I was a wee nipper, and both were huge disappointments. I found both games to be so boring that I could barely make it through a couple of levels in their single player campaigns, meaning my far more well-practised brother would destroy me in local multiplayer matches.
Personal grudges aside, since discovering the old arcade shooters of the 90s I can much better understand what frustrated me so much about their modern equivalents. And now, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter – the Nintendo 64 FPS which deserves the recognition of pioneering console shooters perhaps even more than GoldenEye – has been remastered and re-released on Steam; giving me the chance to finally play it and see how it holds up.
Looking at the graphics, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a remastering in the same way that spitting on a Labrador is luxury pet grooming. This is an unfair assessment though; when a game is remastered we expect it to be like an episode of Pimp My Ride – we open our eyes and there’s a slick new paint job, garish flame decals and rims like four glowing wheel-halos. In this case, the car has more or less the same old battered body but the tuned-up engine, suspension and chassis mean that car’s going to drive better than it ever has before. In less confusing terms, new Turok now has widescreen support, anti-aliasing and V-sync; as well as a few other small improvements over the original Windows port.
The nostalgia hits immediately; the first thing you are expected to do in the tutorial being precision platforming from a first-person perspective. Oh the fun you’ll have, trying to land on a stick-thin pillar when your feet are essentially non-existent. It’s an annoying motif that persists through the entire game, but I prefer awkward jumping issues to the problems that blight more modern shooters – such as regenerating health, limited weapon slots and brown-grey colour palettes.
The main aim of the game is to travel through levels collecting keys to unlock the other stages, and eventually to collect every piece of the ancient weapon threatening to destroy the planet (or something along those lines). It’s a rather uninspired plot line by today’s standards, typical of the era in which it was made; but it does allow for some open, explorative level design reminiscent of early Tomb Raider games, setting it apart from the likes of earlier shooters.
At certain points in each level, a glowy blue portal might appear to take you to a mystical realm, where you can complete a brief platforming section to get extra health or weapons. These provide a unique and challenging method of gathering extra supplies, but randomly doing jumping puzzles in the middle of fast-paced shooty action is an odd change of pace – like stopping half way through a 100 metre dash to complete a Rubik’s cube.
While I’ve spent a large portion of this review bashing the more recent styles of FPS, the truth is you probably already know if you’ll like Turok: Dinosaur Hunter or not. Are you a fan of old-school retro shooters and their imitators? Like Doom, Serious Sam and Duke Nukem? If so, Dinosaur Hunter is a great example or the genre; its level design allowing for a nice amount of exploration and verticality which helps it stand out from being just another Doom-clone. The remaster is only a slight polish of the old PC port, but one that does allow compatibility with the new generation of technology. Thanks to the new Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, players can either re-live (or newly discover) a brilliant title from the beginnings of the console shooter – or give up on the first level because some of those platforming puzzles are complete bastards.