Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (N64)

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a first-person shooter for the Nintendo 64. It’d make sense to start with the plot here, but unfortunately I do not have the manual nor am I familiar with the comics. So while I’m sure there’s some type of story to explain what’s going on, the game itself offers no explanation. Then again, it’s not a big deal because this is a more classically styled first-person shooter. All you have to really know is that you get guns, you shoot down enemies, and you get through the levels. It’s some pretty basic stuff set in a prehistoric themed world.

The gameplay is fairly standard. You run around levels picking up items such as guns and ammo. You use your weapons to gun down enemies, which include an increasing variety of types. There are the human soldiers that brandish all kinds of weapons, gigantic primordial insects just begging to be exterminated, and of course a selection of the titular prey that can either stay out of your way or say hello to extinction. As is normal for these older FPS games, you can carry an arsenal of weapons which will grow as you explore deeper into the large levels. You can get health pickups that heal you, but certain ones will allow you to actually exceed your standard health amount up to a higher cap. Defeated enemies tend to drop ammo and/or health and will sometimes respawn to offer a chance at more. There are also sacred triangles littered throughout the areas that will net you extra lives for every 100 collected. If you fall into a bottomless pit or run out of health you will die and respawn at your last checkpoint with one less life. You can obtain a backpack which will allow your maximum ammo capacity to increase, but it will be lost upon death, just like your extra health. As the levels are quite large, there are save points within the levels where you can save your progress. There are also many secrets to be found, often rewarding you with more weapons, ammo, health, and triangles. Sometimes mysterious portals will pop up out of nowhere briefly before disappearing again. Entering one in time will bring you to a challenge stage, usually requiring precise timing and platforming to get through. These courses tend to have some goodies throughout and something nice waiting at the end if you can make it. The portals at the start and end of these stages can be used to exit back where you left off. The main goal is to look for all of the keys hidden in each level in order to unlock subsequent levels, so exploration is important. You may even find pieces to your ultimate weapon, which can only be used if you find them all. You can do the levels in any order provided you have the keys to access them. Some levels will end with boss battles as well, all leading up to the final level and the final big boss fight.

I found myself enjoying, or at least respecting, certain aspects of this game quite a bit. Of course I’m a fan of the more old school stlye of FPS, so I enjoyed the health and ammo pickups, the full arsenal of interesting weapons, and the variety of interesting enemies. I mean, some of these weapons are pretty cool. I don’t want to spoil that too much for you, but let’s just say you get some weapons that will put your little bow and arrow to shame later on. I also think some of those enemies get pretty cool… like when they start giving the dinosaurs guns. If you’re not sold on dinosaurs armed with guns, you might be a lost cause. I liked the whole collection element of the game because it made me want to explore the levels. Ammo capacity is generally low so you have to use your ammo wisely and search for it often if you’re in a pinch or… a bad shot like me. You also don’t want to miss out on those keys, and the secrets can help you out quite a bit. So a lot of the game feels geared well towards exploring all the nooks and crannies of the levels in order to find those well-placed goodies. I also think the distance fog, though clearly a limitation of the system, actually works well for the overall setting. It gives a more primal feeling when the areas are very misty and foggy. And in dark areas the distance fog is dark to make you feel like it’s just very dark inside caves and such. The setting and overall level design is pretty cool. The music even fits the mood alright as well. Having more lives definitely comes in handy for boss fights as you can respawn and keep fighting without losing your progress on the boss’s health bar. So there are certainly plenty of things I liked about the game, but there were also some real downsides to this one as well.

The control scheme is awkward. I didn’t mind it myself because I’ve played a lot of N64, but anyone who isn’t as familiar with it or hasn’t played it in a while will probably struggle for a bit while adjusting. You can tweak the sensitivity of the stick, but that’s really the only control option you get. There are no alternate control schemes. I would’ve preferred to move with the control stick, strafe with left C and right C, and aim up and down with up C and down C. However, you are forced to use the C buttons to move and the control stick to aim. It works, but it took some adjusting and the option for more types would be nice. There are also no crosshairs for some reason, which is kind of neat that it makes you just hone your aim, but it makes distance shots a lot harder to determine. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to hit enemies on a lower elevation than you for some reason. It can be very picky with the vertical aiming at times. The biggest control flaw is the platforming. The platforming is kind of sluggish. You don’t really jump immediately, and with the uneven platforms and deceptive hitboxes you’re expected to jump to, it can make platforming sections a nightmare unless you REALLY get it down. It’s also a little awkward because you need to move with the C buttons and you jump with R, and the instant you let go of R you drop like a rock. So you have to be very careful to hold the C button and the R button for just the right amount of time in order to land your jumps without overshooting or undershooting them. You can look down to try and help, because it’s first-person after all so you can’t see where you are in relation to the platforms very well, but then you have to hold the stick on top of the other buttons and it just ends up getting tedious. It’s nice that there’s a bit of a grace period where if you start falling you can still jump if you hit R fast enough. It wouldn’t be a big deal except that there are multiple sections where if you mess up this clunky platforming then you’ll fall down an endless pit to your death instantly and have to start the section over again from the last checkpoint. It can be absolutely infuriating. The other thing is that the enemies respawn… a lot. You’ll kill an enemy and ten to fifteen seconds later they’re already respawning. Sometimes they’ll do it five or six times even! This is nice to keep you moving through the levels and to give you something to do when backtracking, but that kind of mentality to keep you moving doesn’t mesh with the exploration that’s set up by all the other things. You don’t want to explore if you’re going to get chased or blindsided by respawning enemies, so you often have to sit around and wait for them to be done respawning, as there is a limit. That waiting around is tedious and wastes your ammo, which may or may not be dropped by the enemies you kill and there’s no guarantee it’ll be the ammo you want besides. It just doesn’t work well with the design. I think it’d be better to just have more enemies in general or simply have them not respawn. Also, I don’t care for a lot of the visuals. They look fine for N64, and they fit the setting, but I just prefer more colorful games. That’s all. Just a personal preference. Oh, and the distance fog can still be annoying even though it has a decent internal logic as to why it is present.

I’m sure it looks bad with my huge section for gripes, but I just wanted to fully explain why those two main things bothered me so much. They certainly didn’t ruin the game, and there are always cheats to fall back on if you’re having too much trouble. Overall, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a nice, adventurous FPS for the N64. It does some cool things to mix up the usual pace of first-person shooters by making you explore your environments and giving you large levels to traverse, making it feel a bit more like an adventure than just running from unrelated level to unrelated level. It’s a bit on the clunky side, but if you like N64 games then you should be able to easily get past it and enjoy a pretty fun experience. I’d recommend it if you can find it for 20 bucks or less. Plus, like I said before, there are dinosaurs with guns in it. Why did I need to keep writing after that? So if you’re interested then go find a copy and proclaim your name as you gun down the dinos into extinction. I wonder what the remaster is like… hmm…

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