25 years later – Turok: dinosaur hunter

25 years later — Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

The Nintendo 64 has never been the best platform for shooters. At a time when the PC had already shifted to mouse and keyboard, a limited controller held the console back: moving and rotating the camera at the same time was generally avoided, making tank controls the only choice for first-time shooters. person. As a result, nearly all console shooters from the late 90s play much closer to those from the past decade. Wolfenstein 3D than their contemporaries, such as the Quake series or Duke Nukem 3D. So it’s curious how well known the N64’s contributions to the genre are still very well known, so much so that Rare is perfect black, is still Metacritic’s highest-rated shooter of all time. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter isn’t quite there, but it shares a lot of the quirks and limitations of its console mates, if you can really call them that.

These limitations – like tank controls, low draw speed and distance, and limited vertical camera movement – weren’t much of an issue for gamers at the time, although perhaps we should say that they were not a problem for console players. Platforms were very separate in the late 90s, so much so that porting a game to a different platform often resulted in an entirely new product.

The ports of this era are then very interesting, grappling with design dilemmas that have since disappeared: how to make universal a software inextricably linked to its hardware? How much can the gameplay change before the game becomes unrecognizable?

Most companies simply choose to outsource the problem, allowing some freedom in the meantime, as was the case with the Windows version of Final Fantasy 7. Others, like Id Software with DEATH 64choose to let another studio create an entirely different game under the same IP, in order to preserve the essence of the series without sacrificing playability.

With this background in mind, we can now understand how Turok really is: an almost careless direct port to the immensely different PC ecosystem. The result is almost irreproachable, even today.

Turok, The Nintendo 64 Classic

In its simplest form, Turok is a treasure hunt. Each level is like a violent visit to an exotic new location, full of secret rooms and invisible bridges to an ammo stash. The objective is to collect enough keys to unlock a new area.

Although keyfinding (the act of searching for keys in an FPS) has been commonplace on PC for at least Wolfenstein 3D, he was rarely seen in console shooters. Moving under the weight of its slower, more methodical gameplay, Turok changed the function of the keys so much that it reshaped the nature of the game itself, until even the PC port was unrecognizable from its inspirations.

On the one hand, the keys in Turok do not open new sections of the level you are in. On the contrary, if you acquire enough of them, you can unlock a whole new level. Since keys are no longer needed to reach the finish line, they can be hidden much better than they were before, and the developers seem to be jumping at every opportunity to do so.

In fact, what immediately fixes Turok apart from its contemporaries are the dark, natural environments, woven into mazes by level design. The effect is both nostalgic and original, organic and clearly artificial. The game’s theme also plays with this duality, mixing together dinosaurs, aliens, and a time-traveling militia. She, too, is incredibly creative for her time, a much darker affair than the first. Far cry, not quite the comedy that is the original shadow warrior.

Image: Night Dive Studios

Being loosely based on a comic might have helped Turok conveying its campy action movie tone through the poor storytelling, but what really sells it is when the story just isn’t there. The first boss battle comes completely unprompted, as an SUV jumps out of the bushes and tries to run you over. Defeat it twice and an ordinary human soldier jumps out of it, machine gun in hand. He laughs like a poor imitation of Stallone and takes as many bullets as the car to get down.

Turok, PC socket

Or Turok really shows that its Nintendo 64 roots are in the rhythm of the game. The labyrinthine structure perfectly serves the sprawling necropolis and ancient cities that make up the game’s levels. This structure also works perfectly for the slow, methodical gameplay common to most FPS games. on console of this generation.

The same goes for the focus on secrets and hidden areas, which works great on N64 but would be nearly impossible to find on a fast-paced PC shooter. And therein lies the problem with Turok.

Although not as well received as the N64 version, the PC port of Turok was a major economic success. More importantly, it is on this platform that the legacy of Turok lives: The easiest and most comfortable way to play the first two episodes of the series is through the stellar remasters of Night Dive’s PC ports. Prior to that, it was by the original port of 1997.

Even then, many basic elements of the N64 Turok almost works against this port: keyhunting doesn’t translate well to faster gameplay; strafing in a circle around enemies often breaks them; the lack of manual saves makes each missed jump more difficult. Even then, there’s no doubt that the remastered PC version is the most enjoyable experience of the bunch.

Of all the bad decisions made in this port, speed is by far my favorite. The faster run speed is a boon since enemies also die faster when using a mouse and keyboard, though finding secrets isn’t any easier when you run past them faster than a Velociraptor.

Additionally, running and strafe at the same time dramatically increases speed, while jumping, strafe, and spinning the camera at the same time seems to warp the fabric of space itself. Needless to say, this ruins a lot of the platforming challenges. Many, but not all.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunters Retrospective
Image: Night Dive Studios

The platform might actually be the worst casualty of this port, along with key hunting. Challenges aren’t anything special for a 90s shooter, but in Turok they play a much more central role. Unfortunately, a modern player will only realize this once a single missed jump nets him three minutes. Or realizing, after spending half an hour trying to speed through it, that what looked like a platforming challenge was actually just a navigation puzzle.

Still, the overall port works incredibly well, considering how differently it plays from the original. While some may be the merit of forethought, with the port releasing fast enough that we can assume it was planned alongside the N64 release, part of it was due to the revolutionary control scheme originally proposed.

In a really risky move, especially for a 1997 N64 title, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter decided to move away from tank controls altogether, not even letting its players choose a control scheme they were more familiar with. Although not really a dual analog (i.e. left stick moves character, right stick aims), the effect was still similar to the feel of WASD and the mouse that PC gamers were already used to.

What’s left of Turok now

It’s true, as much for Turok as for the equally revolutionary alien resurrection and time separators, that the dual analog control scheme wasn’t brought by a single game. But with its timely PC port, released less than a year after the original N64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter stands as a statement of what really translates and doesn’t translate between those early console shooter innovations and modern PC shooter conventions.

What stands out the most is what is missing: Turok has no crosshairs, no crouch button, no quick save or manual save from the pause menu. There’s no sprinting either, instead the protagonist is always running at top speed, a speed far beyond what most of these levels, and enemies, were built to accommodate. What’s also remarkable is how really short the levels would be, if it weren’t for the (now much harder) Key Hunt.

Playing Turok now the feeling is that the character too has aged with the player, and he too is revisiting this world, having learned a few tricks. This sentiment is especially evident in the stellar remasters, both from Night Dive Studios, of the first two games in the series, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok: Seeds of evil.

Along with great accessibility features, such as the highly customizable head-hopping options and much tighter controls, the draw distance has been made seemingly endless. This completely removes the foggy effect and reveals that most of the levels, which looked like dense natural environments, are actually the typical mix of larger areas connected by tiny hallways common to most video games to date.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunters Retrospective
Image: Night Dive Studios

Overall, while the remaster loses some of the magic of the original, playing the Night Dive version of the PC port feels even more like looking at a relic of the past, which is a magical feeling in itself. : it’s like taking a look at the foundations of an ancient city and imagining what it must have looked like with its walls still standing; it’s like using an elevator to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

Even plugging in a controller won’t replicate how the game works on the N64, instead allowing for an experience that certainly feels closer to the original than the mouse and keyboard.
“Feel”, you may have noticed, is the keyword for these remasters.

Fighting with the (now) completely out of place Key Hunt cuts experience down a peg or two, and only saving the game in certain spots can be quite a pain at times. The same goes for the lack of shade under your feet, which makes every jump harder than necessary. Still, the positives far outweigh the negatives: the game itself is incredibly playable for an experimental N64 shooter, and the remasters are some of the best we’ve seen in recent years.

The Night Dive versions of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok: Seeds of Evil, themselves an excellent sequel to the original, are the best (and most accessible) way to replay the classics. They come with the excellent map creation tool, and the Steam Workshop and the fan sites are full of community map packs and even mini-campaigns. On a value per money spent basis, the convenience of both games cannot be overstated.

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