Version tested: Xbox 360
With former publisher Acclaim long since bust and memories of Turok: Evolution as few as they ever were favourable, Touchstone Games' 2008 Turok gets the benefit of a fresh start, even if Propaganda Games' narrative rebuild is anything but: space marines shot down on a hostile planet, anyone? As Joseph Turok, a Native American black-ops knife specialist new to his unit, you're tasked with hunting down Roland Kane, of whose Wolf Pack unit you were once part.
After a few middling cut-scenes and a brief button tutorial dressed up as a flight through a spaceship under fire, you're dumped in the jungle. An Unreal Engine 3-powered first-person shooter with some stealthy knife-kill bits, Turok pits you against Kane's endless army of fascist goons in fancy dress and the rather more savage indigenous population of velociraptors, tyrannosaurs and other grumpy lizards. The dinos are the more versatile of your enemies - harder to spot than the humans and prone to spawning behind you (sorry, "flanking"), they move quickly and unpredictably, pouncing from trees and rocky crevices, and filling the air with grunts and growls that advertise each new area's expected enmity.
To tackle them, you have an arsenal of meaty weapons, including shotgun, assault, pulse and sniper rifles, and eventually a flamethrower, but Turok's best weapons are his knife and bow. The latter is both silent and devastating, given time to aim, but the knife is the more exciting, allowing you to sneak through the visual cover of long-grass to dispatch the goons, or even dinos. Yes, you can stealth-kill raptors, leaping onto their backs to slit their throats (quite why Muldoon didn't think of this...), or plunge the knife into their heads as they move toward you. Anything that lives can be melee-killed if you tug the right-trigger button when prompted (including unsuspecting herbivores - harsh), and the cut-away third-person animation is a gruesome reward reminiscent of Gears of War's chainsaw bayonet slayings, or the counter-attacks in Assassin's Creed. Propaganda also fords the bloody river between mid-to-long-range projectile engagement and knifey throat-slitting with the occasional QTE button-mash - allowing you to fight off raptor mauls by matching randomised prompts for waggling the analogue stick or hammering the triggers.
You can also use the dinos to your advantage. They're dangerous, but once you grow in confidence you can clear a valley of raptors with nothing but the knife, while Kane's rifle-packing minions are more withering in their attacks, forcing you to keep your distance for fear of getting stuck reloading in their midst. Fortunately, the dinos seem to have a thing for flares, which your shotgun packs as alt-fire, allowing you to turn the terrible lizards on whoever's annoying you, man or dino. Resist the urge to announce yourself with bullets as you enter an area, stock up on flares, equip the bow, and keep the knife on standby as you crouch through the undergrowth, and you can cause all sorts of damage with a minimum use of ammunition. Propaganda regularly opts for broad, multi-tiered terrain with lots of grass, hollowed out logs and other points of cover for the game's set-piece encounters, so there's often lots of room and plenty of options for patient hunters.
The visuals can be very cartoon-like - chunky, big-nosed characters with endless scars, too many identikit moss-covered trees, grass that dances randomly to simulate wind, and ragdoll bodies for man and lizard that spasm endlessly post-mortem - but Propaganda does a good job with dense foliage and dino audio to build up a hostile atmosphere, and there's an appreciable effort on the developer's part to change and escalate, not just with more enemies, but with regular set-pieces, like the descent along a sniper-covered ridge into crumbling ruins, a cat-and-mouse battle with a suitably gigantic tyrannosaurus rex, and the introduction of new beasts, like the tree-climbing lurker, which looks a bit like an iguana and moves and acts like a panther with its tail on fire.
There's a desire to fall back on the knife, bow and shotgun, but the level design encourages you to use the rest of your arsenal, like the one-hit-kill sniper rifle, the RPG, the pulse rifle and the flamethrower, until you're often sad to have to leave one behind, which is a good sign for a shooter. Dual-wielding is another option, which robs you of the ability to look down the sights with the left trigger, but compensates with, well, two guns. The two or three minutes after you grab the first pair of shotguns, fighting raptors in the dark, are seriously meaty.