Turok: Evolution, a Twenty Year Reunion
I’ve mentioned my love towards the Turok franchise a few times before. If you grew up with a Nintendo 64 and had parents who didn’t care at all about the degree of violence in the titles they were buying for their six year old child (thanks mom and dad!), you probably had a Turok game in your collection. The original and its sequel were some of the most iconic N64 titles of all time, and further proof to developers that yes, FPS games worked on a console. After three main titles and a multiplayer-centric spinoff on the N64, Turok was ready to debut on next-gen hardware. On September 1st, 2002, Turok: Evolution was released. Except very few people liked it…
Despite loving Turok, I don’t remember playing Turok: Evolution that much back in the day. I bought a preowned copy for the original Xbox back in 2005-ish, but given how that system was filled to the brim with first-person shooters of the highest of quality, I probably played it once and never cared about it again. That was before the release of one of the most loathsome games of all time in my opinion: the terrible Turok reboot that showed up on Xbox 360 and PS3 many years later. Not to mention the atrocious Turok: Escape from Lost Valley, released not long ago, and subsequently delisted. I wanted to revisit Turok: Evolution and see if it was indeed the low point of a franchise full of really high highs and shockingly low lows.
Turok: Evolution is infamous for its troubled development cycle. Acclaim wasn’t known for being the best of publishers, not caring at all about giving developers enough time for them to craft their games… not to mention their “questionable” marketing stunts when trying to promote their games (paying people actual money if they named their child “Turok” was one of them). While Iguana Studios had enough time to craft the original Turok for N64, as well as an increased budget in order to come up with a beefier Turok 2, Turok: Evolution was rushed beyond belief. The developers had to cut a lot of content in order to meet the publisher’s deadline, and for four platforms at once, a first for the series. And it shows.
With that said, before I start talking about Turok: Evolution proper, I have to admit: I don’t think it’s THAT bad. Just like I was expecting, playing Turok: Evolution after the last few new entries on the franchise, as well as a crap ton of really bad shooters released for more modern platforms, made me realise this game is simply just average. Disappointing? Yes. But not downright terrible. At the very least, it feels like a Turok game, something that cannot be said about that horrendous reboot.
It might be a simplified, by-the-books, dumbed down version of the original Turok game from 1997, but it’s still a Turok game at heart. Fitting, as Turok: Evolution is actually a prequel to the 1997 original, showcasing how the Native American warrior Tal’Set reached the Lost Lands, and how he acquired the mantle of Turok (yes kids, Turok isn’t a name, it’s a warrior title). Although, you’re not here for the story, even though there’s a lot of it. Between the atrocious voice acting, sound effects so compressed they make the N64 games feel like they support Dolby 5.1, and some of the worst characters in the history of the medium (including the infamous Tobias Bruckner), the plot in Turok: Evolution is better left ignored.
Due to the developmental challenges, all there’s left is the simplified level design and structure, which ditches the “metroidvania-but-not-really” vibes from the first two games in the franchise in favor of something more generic. Something that could be achieved under tighter time constraints. Levels are just a mere corridor where you’re told to go from point A to point B, with the occasional branching path where you can get an item, a key, or some health for your character. You never feel lost, despite the deceiving visuals making it look like you’re about to explore a vast jungle right from the get-go.
Even though the environments look pretty for 2002 standards, the characters look actually worse than those found in the Nintendo 64 games, somehow. It’s amazing how Turok: Evolution constantly manages to look more dated than a handful of games hindered by the capabilities of cartridge technology. With that said, the framerate is actually excellent. Playing it on a GameCube, I was able to get 60 frames per second throughout most of my playthrough. Add in the surprisingly responsive controls, and you’re in for a good time whenever you’re shooting enemies. There aren’t as many as in other Turok games, nor do you have access to the brutal alien weaponry the franchise was known for, but it’s still fun. Exploding heads will always be fun, no matter the game.
One of the most famous gameplay elements included in Turok: Evolution are its Pterosaur sections. In those levels, you control a Pterosaur as if you were controlling an X-Wing from Rogue Squadron. Here’s the problem, though: when you’re so used to the tight-as-hell controls from Rogue Squadron, trying to tame that stupid flying dinosaur feels like a hassle. Add in the fact that these sections are long and plentiful (they were included in order to artificially extend the game’s duration), and you’ll quickly start to long for the traditional FPS sections, as, and I cannot stress this enough, the gameplay isn’t bad at all.
That’s the shocking part about revisiting Turok: Evolution after all these years. I expected a lot worse. It wasn’t entirely bad. Without a doubt, the worst “classic” Turok, but one that still feels legitimately like a Turok game, unlike the reboot released a few years later. It clearly feels rushed and incomplete, but signs of Iguana’s talent are present throughout the game. Will Nightdive Studios ever decide to bring this bad boy back from the dead? Considering they’re not even willing to remaster Shadow of Oblivion, an actually good Turok title which absolutely deserves some extra love, I highly doubt it. Honestly though, I think Turok: Evolution deserves a second chance, if you’re curious about the franchise. As long as you ignore the dumb-as-hell storyline and its insane loading times, you’re in for some mindless fun.
Turok: Evolution is available now on PS2, Game Boy Advance, Xbox, PC, and GameCube.