Version tested: PlayStation 2
Games which receive as much hype as Turok has inevitably fail to live up to expectations. Somewhere along the line, they slip up and disappoint, and however great the sum of their parts, they fail to capitalise on all the attention and excitement surrounding them. In Turok's case though, Acclaim never really gave themselves a chance. Instead of being a resoundingly good game with a few crippling problems, Turok is crippled by poor design and a lack of innovation, and sadly it's just not much fun to play.
First of all, the matter of that subtitle. The OED defines evolution as the process by which different kinds of living organism are believed to have developed from earlier forms, especially by natural selection, and goes on to paraphrase this as "gradual development". Honestly, I'm tempted to brandish the trade descriptions act. Simply put, Turok: Evolution is Turok 2 without the fog, and at times this will impress. The game combines first person shooter elements with pteradon-back flight sections, and both can throw up some amazing vistas from time to time, without a hint of slowdown. But the low resolution of the textures, the simplistic enemy models, the unsophisticated level geometry, and the frankly criminal borders which chop a good three or four inches off a 25" television display are just some of the things which thwart the game's attempts to look good. Coupled with a narrow field of view, you could be forgiven for thinking Tal Set had tunnel vision.
Getting back to the graphics, Tal Set moves awkwardly through cut-scenes, which is pretty representative of character models at large, and weapon designs and their animations are at best functional. Another problem is that when scaling walls by inching up low-res meshes of greenery, Tal Set keeps both hands on his gun. How so? I thought that was bad, but then I got to a bit where the mesh is above your head - the idea being to jump up and grab it, except the effect is that you jump up and your head inexplicably sticks to the vines, and you slide across as though you're on a coat hanger.
Good graphics a great game doth not make, but they would help, and in Turok's case, they would at least help to cover up a few inadequacies. Turok is an incredibly linear adventure - step more than a few feet off your expected path and you come up against a wall of low-res plant and fern sprites impeding your progress. This living, breathing jungle is far from living or breathing - it's rather more like walking through the set of a primary school Christmas play. With a bit more superficial detail the thick jungle surrounding the level could have been quite believable.
The level design itself is also a bit poor and often designed such that you miss interesting elements. For example, one early level sees you walk out onto a grass plateau next to a river. You can hear enemies taking potshots at a human somewhere further up (or to be more precise, you can hear his screams), but you can't get a look because you're too busy fighting some incredibly irritating crocodiles, who happen to be low to the ground, difficult to hit and extremely quick.
Whether intended or not, this is a frustrating experience. The next area isn't much better. You find yourself faced with a series of stone columns which act like steps rotating upwards around a tall central column, on top of which rests an icon of some sort. Lay a foot on the first step and the columns all vanish into the ground. You are subsequently mauled by a huge number of angry monkeys, and the only way to beat them is to back away quickly so they form into a pack, and then unload rounds at them until they're all dead. They reminded me of the frogs in Daikatana - surely that's all I need say?
Working your way through the extensive first person sections is a task made all the more arduous by jumping sections. You're very much at the mercy of the game's awkward physics and controls here. Leaping across a relatively small gap to land on a walkway for instance, I found myself on the wrong side of the railing, and even though I could hold up against it, I couldn't climb back over or do anything, and eventually had to give up, plummet to my doom and restart the level.
Getting back to the wildlife though, the wonderful AI we were promised is completely absent. Sleg troops fall within your Tek Bow's effective range miles before they have a chance of spotting you, and they rarely notice if you headshot people in their line of sight, so you can usually cut an area down to size by finding a reasonable vantage point and calmly decapitating everybody. This is a theme which runs throughout the game. In fact, on the whole the enemies are consistently disappointing - the only enemies I found even remotely trying were the T-Rex dinosaurs and other large fellows who can both outrun and outgun (or chomp) you. Once you've found your trusty explosive arrow rounds though you can kill pretty much anything.
Weapons in Turok are, on the whole, another disappointment. The first bow is useful for five minutes, and the pistol is a popgun. The Tek Bow - with its helpful zoom function - will be your weapon of choice for most of the game, with the shotgun and rocket launcher amongst your other occasional choices. Many weapons are just too quirky to be helpful - the spider mines, for example, can be moved into position and then instructed to release gas, but unless you happen to be five feet from a room of sleeping Sleg, they're not too useful. The developer was obviously aware of their clunkyness, because Tal Set's form is apparently quite invincible while operating a spider mine. I stood in the doorway of a room and withstood a barrage of shots from five or six Sleg shotgun-wielders as I fumbled for the "detonate" button.
I thought for a while that the flying sections might provide some sort of respite, but unfortunately the control of your pteradon is even worse than that of Tal Set. Levels involve flapping around firing machine guns from your wings or heat-seeking missiles and destroying targets. Your pteradon catastrophically explodes if you fly into anything, like the branch of a tree, and there are lots of enemy fighters who can apparently handle their birds a lot better than you can. That's not to say these sections are "hard". They take a couple of goes to complete, but it's the fact that the difficulty is completely the fault of the game's control system and their manoeuvrability that frustrates.
Other aspects of the game fail to captivate either. The sound effects are very poor, and the digitised speech from your pteradon instructor sounds like it's being spoken down a telephone line through a wet tea towel. Elsewhere, the split-screen two-player-only deathmatch is an arduous experience due to the narrow field of view.
Those of you who have bought it will no doubt be finding it hard going and disappointing, but there are some high points to look forward to. The fourth chapter stealth mission may be quite facile, but it is a bit of a break from the tedium of running through rocky passes shooting Sleg whilst dodging their grenades, and watching the bushes for raptors and then fighting them off can be quite engrossing. Sadly though, it's often followed by a silly jumping section or a 'find two buttons to open the door' puzzle.
I doubt the score here will surprise anybody, because Turok is very average first person shooter and extremely disappointing to boot. Fans of the series will probably enjoy it, but it is by no means the evolution we were promised. The Cube and Xbox versions allegedly cure a few of the PS2 release's graphical and audio ills, not to mention alleviating it of dinosauric load times, but when the game simply isn't much fun to play, there seems little point in opting for any of them.
5 / 10