While it may not have gotten as much play-time as GoldenEye or Perfect Dark, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a staple in my house growing up. The Nintendo 64 gem has become a bit of a cult classic over the years, as its solid gameplay and unique world have endeared it to fans. The subsequent entry in the series, 1998’s Turok 2: Seeds of Evil would achieve even higher marks, with the game’s mission structure being particularly praised. Unfortunately, the series would eventually be irreparably damaged due to the disastrous Evolution in 2002, and with only a solid, if slightly disappointing reboot being released since, it doesn’t appear to be returning anytime soon. That didn’t stop publisher Night Dive Studios from deciding to remaster and re-release the first two Turok games, though, which have now both arrived on the Xbox One after previously launching for PC.
If you’re new to the world of Turok, it’s important to know that that is not the actual name of the character you play as. Rather, the name is one that is passed down to a different warrior tasked with protecting the wall between Earth and the Lost Land. In Dinosaur Hunter, it’s the time-traveling Tal’Set who has been chosen to do battle with the evil being known as the Campaigner. In order to defeat this force, Tal’Set will need to gather the pieces of a weapon known as the Chronoscepter before the Campaigner can. Seeds of Evil picks up with both a new Turok (Joshua Fireseed) and new baddie (the Primagen). It also further expands on the extraterrestrial aspects of the first game, with both an alien ally and a mysterious, other-worldly force lurking in the shadows.
Honestly, going into both of these games, I had largely forgotten about the over-arching storyline. It’s pretty silly, but not in a way that I really enjoyed. You’re thrown right into the craziness as soon as you boot either one up, but it’s nowhere near as absurd as it should be. It’s an example of late 1990’s plotting, where things are way more serious than they should be. This is despite the fact that you are a time-traveling Native American who kills dinosaurs and aliens with equal prejudice. The whole thing is crazy, and I wish it had leaned more into being satirical than straight-faced. The original Turok could have also benefited from some more plot detail, as the game barely explains what the heck is happening before sending you on your way. Seeds of Evil rectifies this by expanding the world of the game, and even considering my misgivings about the plot, it was ultimately the right move from original developer Iguana Entertainment.
The interesting thing about playing through both Turok and Turok 2 in 2018 is how refreshingly quaint they feel. With the exception of 2016’s Doom, most shooters tend to be more complicated than simple point and shoot mechanics, and the few that do try the throw-back move, such as Strafe, often do it poorly. Since these are retro games though, that feeling of pure, refined shooting still shines, even after almost 20 years. There’s some light puzzle solving and a heaping ton of exploration in both games, but the combat is what really holds things together. The controls are fast enough to keep up with the action, but aren’t sensitive enough to cause response issues. Often times nostalgia can cloud your judgment on something, so it was nice to be able to go back into these games and still find them both enjoyable to play.
Perhaps the aspect that has aged best about the two Turok games is the selection of weapons you wield. While much more prominent in Seeds of Evil, both titles feature a satisfying array of death-dealing devices. From traditional fare such as pistols and shotguns, to more interesting devices like the Cerebral Bore and Tek Bow, there’s an almost over-whelming amount of weapons to use. Ammo tends to be in short supply too, so you’ll need to utilize everything over the course of your adventure. This variety gives the game a unique personality that not only stood out in 1997/1998, but even still stands out in 2018. This could very well be a personal preference, and I understand that, but this varied, but useful, weapon arsenal should be standard, not just in old-school games.
Unfortunately, since these are just remastered ports, and not full remakes, the problems that plagued them originally pop up here again. Most of these issues can just be chalked up to questionable design decisions that were the norm back in the 1990’s. Constantly respawning enemies will never not be annoying, and the frustrating save and checkpoint system used in Dinosaur Hunter is annoyingly inept. The former is a flaw in Seeds of Evil as well, but at least there’s a quick save option included. While certainly not exclusive to either of these games, the boss battles in both aren’t terribly enjoyable to play. They’re not particularly well-designed, and are (frankly) just boring to play. The over-head map used in both games is also borderline useless, and ties into my major issue with both of these games.
Although they may have been ahead of their time upon release, the level design on display in both of these games are terrible. They are way bigger than I remembered them being, and normally this wouldn’t be a bad thing. It’s just that the levels lack personality and aren’t memorable outside of how frustrating they can be to navigate. The map is useless, so trying to figure out where to go and how to get there is a constant exercise in frustration. And again, since the checkpoints are placed so infrequently, when you die, you’ll often find yourself back at a location you passed long ago. It wouldn’t be so bad if you only had to worry about making it from start to finish, but each level needs to be fully explored. New levels can only be unlocked via keys, which are hidden in previous levels. So just because you finish level two, you can’t move onto the next level until all of the keys for level three have been found. And these keys are often sequestered off in sections completely outside of the main path. Maybe if these sections were any fun to play, it would negate the tedious backtracking, but since they aren’t, it just feels like an overlong slog.
Additionally, Turok 2 also comes with its multiplayer mode, as well. It may lack the feature set that modern gamers are accustomed to, but as far as fun goes, it’s a pretty good time. The battles are fast-paced and brutal, and if you’re looking for some straight-forward killing, you could certainly do worse. There’s even a brand new mode, Last Turok Standing, which is pretty self-explanatory.
Night Dive Studios has extensive experience in the remastering retro titles, and it shows with both of these releases. Both Turok games still retain their N64 caliber visuals, but they have been upscaled to look a little more modern. The visuals won’t blow you away, sure, but their antiquated look holds a kitschy appeal. The studio also significantly cut back on the amount of fog present, which is a defining, if it entirely welcome, facet of the original games. Perhaps the most impressive work has been done for Seeds of Evil, specifically in regards to the frame rate. Due to the advanced nature of the game upon release, the title really struggled on the N64. With the technology bump that comes from a modern console, though, the game now runs at a consistently smooth rate.
Considering that Turok is a bit of a forgotten property in the world of retro shooters, I was surprised at how well both Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil play today. The shooting is simplistic, but fun, and the vast arsenal of weaponry that can be used remains as appealing as ever. And while not everything about them translates well in 2018, specifically the shoddy level design, they still feel at home on the Xbox One. Night Dive Studios has clearly discovered the perfect process for bringing classic games to modern platforms, and I hope these two releases are a harbinger of future Turok remasters.
This review was based off the Xbox One versions of the games, which were provided to us.
Both Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil may not be as advanced as they were upon release, but they still hold up remarkably well. They're both still enjoyable to play, and the excellent remaster treatment from Night Dive Studios helps bring them up to modern standards, while still maintaining their retro identity.