Kickin’ It Old School – Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

There’s nothing like a good first person shooter. And the latest installment in the Turok series? That’s nothing like a good first person shooter. How did the series lose its way? It was so awesome back in the day, and now it…blows. How can they screw up a game about killing dinosaurs? It boggles the mind, really.

I first received Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for the N64 on my tenth birthday, April 29th, 1997. Yes, that game was rated M, but I most certainly did not turn into a homicidal maniac. Or a dinocidal maniac. That game was fun at ten years old, and has only gotten better with time.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (N64, 1997)

Did I mention this game is awesome? Well it is. Just look at the story. A time traveling Indian Native American named Turok (who is not the same character as depicted on the game’s box, which puzzles me to this day) arrives in the Lost Land to find and assemble the Chronosceptor, a weapon that kicks serious ass. The antagonist of the story is “The Campaigner,” who intends to find the Chronosceptor for himself and use it to take over the universe. What a jerk!

As much as the game is about shooting dinosaurs and various other creatures, there is also a heavy emphasis on exploring. There are eight levels for you to explore, each with a number of keys to the next levels hidden throughout. Not every key to the next level is hidden in the preceding one, so lots of exploring over every inch of each level is necessary. The keys to level 8 especially are hidden in nearly every level. Also hidden in every level is one piece of the Chronosceptor, which is necessary to defeat The Campaigner in the climax.

There is a wide array of weapons, ranging from a knife, to exploding shotgun shells, to alien ray guns, to a missile launcher, to the aforementioned Chronosceptor, which is like a bow and arrow with a nuclear warhead attached. The enemies you face range from humans, to many different dinosaurs, to dinosaurs with guns, to aliens, to demons, to pretty much anything you can think of. You’d think such a mish mash of enemies wouldn’t work, but it’s fun. There are other items you can collect, like extra armor and “life force,” which are like coins in the Mario universe. You get an extra life for every 100.

The controls were pretty weird back then. The 4 C-buttons moved you in each direction and the control stick aimed your weapon. I’m actually not a fan of dual analog control, but Turok feels pretty natural, despite the fact that half of it isn’t “analog”. Whatever, it’s dual, that’s the point. Let’s just move on.

Turok was the first game I had that used a Controller Pak to save games. I remember thinking that this should have been impossible, since memory cards were usually reserved for the elitist Playstation snobs with their Final Fantasy VII nonsense. Cartridge games were supposed to save games by themselves. That Controller Pak never worked right; it always corrupted the data, despite me never doing anything while it was saving. Sure I left it out to collect dust once I got the 100 times more useful and more used Rumble Pak, but it really never worked, not even when it was brand new. What gave with that?

Anyway, the graphics are pretty great for the time. Everything is detailed really well, and the characters aren’t too blocky, as N64 characters tended to be. The game used distance fog to keep things from getting laggy, though things got laggy at times if there was too much excitement onscreen. The music was pretty good, each track matching a certain environment. I especially loved the background sound effects, like in the catacombs level, when random screams would pierce the air as you’re frantically running around a maze. Just awesome.

My favorite part of the game is the crazy passwords. They must have decided that most password systems were too easy to use, so they took out all those pesky vowels that took up so much space. Even “Y” was removed, and that’s only sometimes a vowel! Those bastards! Anyway, the passwords end up being pretty cool, like the all weapons code: CMGTSMMGGTS (come get some, maggots), the infinite bullets code: BLLTSRRFRND (bullets are our friend (who made this game, the NRA?)) and the Big Cheat: NTHGTHDGDCRTDTRK (on the eighth day, God created Turok (notice they forgot the first H in “eighth”…threw me off for years)). The Big Cheat unlocked everything, and allowed you to warp between levels and even skip to each boss, including The Campaigner himself, which was cool, but why would you want to do that? The game is fun from beginning to end.

So how did this series lose its way? It looks like another good example of Charlie Marsh’s Theorem of Crappy Video Game Sequels: good game + too much storyline – good old fashioned action = crappy sequel. In Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, as with many classic games, you’d have to look in the instruction book to find the storyline. As the series progressed, more and more time was devoted to unskippable cut scenes. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil opened up with such a scene, as did each level, and by the time the game started, I was either too bored to play or I was asleep. All this game needed was a time traveling Native American slaughtering dinosaurs with ray guns to be good; I don’t know why they had to mess with that system.

Next Time: Super Mario World! Sure it’s a little generic for a retro column, but a) I’ve been playing it lately and it’s still awesome, and b) it’s quick and easy for a finals-time column.







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