Not much can dampen the visceral thrill of going toe-to-talon with a thundering T. Rex — but "Turok" does its best to manage just that.
This sci-fi first-person shooter for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 offers a series of peaks and valleys that's heavy on the latter. It's unfortunate, too, because there is still an undeniable coolness to dinosaurs that would serve to cover up lesser gameplay problems. But shortcomings like clumsy controls, unexciting weapons, and waves of brainless human enemies are just too much for these dinos to undo.
The game starts with the hero, the titular "Turok," crash landing on an alien world undergoing a terra-forming project, not entirely unlike a jump-started Genesis. Dinosaurs roam freely in this jungle paradise, serving as complications in a manhunt for Kane, a rogue super-soldier, that once mentored Turok. It's not a bad yarn, really, and it's sold by good voice acting. The best is Powers Boothe, who powers Kane with his venomous baritone and proves he needs to be in more games.
(Small request: Can we please put a five-year moratorium on the name Kane for bad guys?)
If the name "Turok" sounds a little familiar to you, you might remember the dwindling fortunes of the once-strong game franchise. "Turok's" spiral was a sad sight for fans of the great Nintendo 64 original, only to watch it eventually devolve into a mess on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Touchstone wanted to ditch as much baggage as possible when resurrecting the hero from the bargain bin, but in doing so, they chucked what was one of the series' best features: Over-the-top weapons.
Previous chapters hosted giddily entertaining gear like the Cerebral Bore, a projectile that actually homes in on an enemy's brain. The new "Turok" tilts toward the real with shotguns, machineguns, a sniper rifle, rocket launcher, and a flamethrower. All of these weapons feel underpowered, but at least they have secondary functions. The shotgun doubles as a flare launcher, for example. You can use flares to lure dinosaurs both away from Turok and even into nests of enemy soldiers.
Because the high-tech is so uninspiring, players will gravitate to Turok's two decidedly Luddite weapons: Knife and bow. Turok's bow can silently neutralize an enemy from across a canyon, a feature that would be useful if Kane's soldiers really paid attention to their surroundings. (Seriously, Kane bought them all a lifetime subscription to Dumb Henchman Quarterly. They love to stand over the corpse of a comrade and shoot at you, seemingly unaware that you have that spot particularly covered.)
The knife is a single-hit killer that, when triggered at just the right time, pulls the camera back to show Turok violently ventilate a soldier or slice up a dinosaur. These scenes are brutal and likely the sole reason the game earns its Mature rating. There's something disturbing about Turok holding up a tiny dinosaur by the neck and slitting its throat before throwing it to the ground. It's just... unsettling.
Turok's knife also highlights some of the game's sloppier control problems — weapon handling. In order to pull off a stealthy knife attack, you must press down on the control pad to activate it first. Because your opportunity to execute knife attack is so split-second, you miss your window when you find yourself sneaking up on an enemy. By the time the knife is out, that enemy has detected your presence. But now you have a knife out while your enemy has a gun and, well, if you've seen "The Untouchables," you know Sean Connery's logic about using a knife against a gun.
Underpowered weapons are not the only things working against Turok on this mission. The game is loaded with cheap situations where enemies either ambush you from a serious advantage point or you must fight off a giant monster that is able to wipe you out with one hit. Gamers love a good challenge to be sure, but anybody that makes it to the spider tank sequence will know frustration. "Turok" isn't exactly brimming with checkpoints, so prepare to replay several sequences over and over until you memorize exactly where death is about to materialize.
The main story is flanked by an entirely playable online multiplayer mode. All the expected offerings are available, such as deathmatch and capture the flag, but the co-operative missions are much better. Unfortunately, the brain drain that numbs bad guys from thinking about their plan of attack is present here, too, but the missions themselves are still fun to play with friends.
The biggest problem with "Turok," though, is simply that there are better first-person shooter games on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It might not be totally fair to compare "Turok" to "Orange Box" or "Call of Duty 4," but both of those games simply offer better action. True, neither of those games offer dinosaurs, but then again, nobody's perfect.