The great thing about the age of digital distribution is how it’s allowed people to relive their gaming memories without going through the hassle of abandonware and the pitfalls that sometimes brings. Discounts on games from the 1990’s are a dime a dozen now, but it wasn’t that long ago that getting them to work on modern operating systems was a nightmare.
But that’s all in the past. Maybe a better way of putting it is to say that the past is now part of our future. Problem is, sometimes the past is better left alone — as I discovered with the remaster of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.
Most recent memories of Turok come courtesy of the atrocious 360/PS3 reboot (which was later ported to PC) in 2008. It had nothing to do with the original N64/PC games from Iguana and Acclaim, and it was a fine example of hot garbage. Without the dinosaurs, it might have been completely forgotten in the annals of gaming history.
But the original Turok stuck in my memory for one reason: the graphics. It was something of a technical marvel for the Nintendo 64, showing that third-party developers could push the boundaries of the console just as much as Nintendo could.
It saved Acclaim as well, with the publisher finding itself severely in the red as it transitioned out of the Sega Master System/NES era. But the original Turok proved to be a financial boon. Acclaim’s stock price shot up and sales of the dinosaur slaughter simulator eventually hit 1.5 million after a year.
And that’s what I remembered about Turok. The blood shooting out of an enemy’s arms as they fell to the ground; the compressed roar of a dinosaur as it leapt forward, teeth bare.
What I didn’t remember about Turok was the endemic trait of all shooters from the 1990’s: hunting for keys.
The above illustrates a common thread throughout my dinosaur hunting experience: running around with the map overlay on, double checking every corner, nook and cranny. I had to make sure I hadn’t missed an entrance or opportunity to find another path to explore, or another piece of the chronoscepter.
There were a lot of comparisons drawn with DOOM back in the day, but perhaps a slightly more apt comparison can be found in Hexen. Hexen, Raven’s follow-up to Heretic, was a devilish take on the FPS genre that introduced hub levels and puzzles that often required you to traverse multiple levels to solve. It’s fiendish and, after more than a decade of narrow corridors and cut-scenes masquerading as a levels, can be a touch perplexing at times.
Turok isn’t as convoluted or layered as Raven’s classic. But as I quickly discovered, it’s still a pain in the arse.
The advantage of nostalgia is that it often lets you forget the shittier parts of a game’s design. Night Dive deserve some credit here too, since the work they’ve done on the remaster is actually quite skillful. It triggers your original memories while removing the compatibility issues and blocky boundaries that often arise when playing ancient titles nearly two decades on.
The Turok remaster isn’t a full HD remake, although Night Dive has added support for widescreen monitors, anti-aliasing, OpenGL 2.0 support, some dynamic lighting, improved water effects, customisable binds, Steam achievements and full controller support. The latest patch even replaced the original PC sounds with that of the N64 version.
It’s just enough of an upgrade to remind you of the past without quite looking like it. It let me concentrate on the level design, the jumping puzzles, the enemies that respawn behind you.
Basically the worst bits of Turok.
You’ll notice blue blobs on the first and third screenshots. They’re portals that transport you to various bonus stages filled with collectibles, provided you don’t mind navigating more timing and jumping puzzles. You get an extra life every time you collect 100, and once you collect 9 lives you unlock the infinite lives cheat. That was great, because it meant I could ignore the extras and cut out the busy work.
Even without that though, you’re still hunting for switches, rooms and various bits and pieces as a matter of course. In the shot above, you’ll notice that I’m technically off the map — I found a tunnel that isn’t marked on the map, which led me to another area far away. Which contained a piece of the chronoscepter, the weapon you need for the final level.
That’s what Turok’s really like: not about shooting dinosaurs, but jumping from platform to platform, searching for bits of the map you haven’t uncovered. It’s a mindless grind that lacks the sophistication or craftsmanship of Dark Forces 2, Quake 2, GoldenEye 007, or even Hexen 2, all of which came out that same year.
But not Night Dive’s fault. From their end, they’ve been as faithful as they could have been. I actually prefer a honest recreation like this, rather than a complete overhaul. This reminds me of what Turok looked like.
And now I’ll never forget what it played like: the repetitive, typical 90’s shooter that it always was. Some might find that too harsh, but you know what? Sometimes dinosaurs can’t save everything. Night Dive apparently can, but next time I think I’ll stick to their Looking Glass and MicroProse remakes.
You can purchase Turok for PC now through Steam for $28.48, with ports to other Steam-compatible platforms supposedly due later this year.
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