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Monday, July 07, 2008

Game Review:Turok

The sum of all flaws.



The Good:
Many ways to tackle a given scenario * Secondary fire mode for each weapon introduces strategy into gameplay

The Bad:
Story seems rushed and uncompleted * Inconsistent weapon damage system * Inconsistent difficulty * Inconsistent checkpoint allocation * Inconsistent A.I. * Environments lack variety * Really poor visuals

The archetypal bad-guy soldier, the blood-thirsty demons, the mutated bugs and slugs – all too often, these are the enemy subjects of most FPSes. But it seems that someone woke up one day and realized something that everyone else may have forgotten: Dinosaurs. The prospect of wielding a shotgun and blowing up a dinosaur’s brain sounds all too exciting – and that’s where Turok delivers. Surprisingly, it didn’t come out all too well.

Needless to say, for a game with dinosaurs, there is certainly an interesting premise in store. The game puts you in the shoes of Joseph Turok (what a convenient title for the game) who has just quit from a group of mercenaries called Wolfpack and joined Whiskey Company. Coincidentally, Whiskey Company is now on the hunt for Wolfpack’s leader, Kane, who is believed to be hiding on a remote planet and accompanied by his army of soldiers. As expected from such a rivalry-fuelled storyline, Whiskey Company’s ship gets shot down as it nears the planet, paving the way for all the dinosaur action and exploration.

Without doubt, this is a setting that has lots of potential for mysteries and plot expansion. The game delivers on some fronts – constantly drawing on Turok’s past throughout the entire game and explaining how he came to withdraw his Wolfpack membership, as well as construing the existence of giant mutated scorpions on the planet as the experimentation of a proliferative virus by Kane and his men. However, more questions were left unanswered than answered. By the end of the game, I was still puzzled as to why there were dinosaurs on the planet and the connection between Wolfpack and Whiskey Company was ignored for most parts – even Whiskey Company’s motives for wanting to eliminate Kane wasn’t answered. All these make for a pretty stale final fight scene between Turok and Kane and it’s hard not to think that the fight isn’t anything more than a gimmick to display the game’s fight animations, albeit those that are really fluid and intense. Perhaps the setting’s too ambitious, but it seems that the developer really had this great idea, but somehow, they ran out of suggestions on how to continue the story along the way.

Without a solid plot, the game’s left with its action to tide it over. And on that count, Turok is a satisfying experience. The game’s generous selection of weapons, including some unexpected ones, would make even the most seasoned FPS gamer drool. Between the knife, the crossbow and the shotgun, pulse rifle and chaingun (weirdly called mini-gun in the game), you can either choose to opt for stealth or all-out carnage – the choice is up to you. In fact, the game encourages you to adopt different approaches to each scenario by scattering varying varieties of both stealth and all-out weapons at any given area. If you so choose to take a stealth approach, there are tall grasses for you to remain in the shadows, and towers and cliffs that provide excellent locations for some sniping. Players who choose to go for all-out carnage can expect a decent number of covers and explosive barrels to take advantage of. My favorite weapon to use for a stealth approach would have to be the knife. When you are near enough to an enemy, the game will prompt you to knife the enemy via a visual cue, and spectacular knifing animations would be showcased following which. For instance, when you knife a raptor, Turok climbs onto its back before plunging the knife into its head or one of its eye sockets – all in all, it’s a very nicely-done animation and one that will tickle your thirst for more knife kills.

The number of ways to tackle a given situation isn’t limited by the number of weapons, though. You see, every weapon has a secondary fire mode, but the said introduces something more than added firepower: strategy. The SMG is a ‘loud’ weapon, but secondary fire mode equips the SMG with a silencer, effectively making it a stealth weapon. The sticky bomb gun’s secondary fire mode provides you with the ability to lay mines, which really adds extra depth to the gameplay as you can now strategize ambushes. The chaingun’s secondary mode is also useful. For the uninitiated, the chaingun’s secondary fire mode allows you to set it up as a stationary gun turret which will pelt any enemy in its way with a hail of bullets, making it the perfect weapon for tight corners and narrows hallways. On the other hand, the shotgun’s secondary fire mode shoots a flare that distracts dinosaurs, so planting a flare on one of Kane’s men would cause the dinosaurs to maul some of them to death. There are many other strategic and creative ways to make use of each weapon and the game leaves it all to you to experiment with different combinations. To put it the simplest way, there are 101 ways to kill your enemies and the only limit is your imagination.

The secondary fire mode isn’t the only thing going for Turok’s weapons. Almost every weapon in the game can be dual-wielded and there’s nothing more lethal than a pair of shotguns for some close quarters combat. The game also gives you 4 weapon slots, of which 2 can be swopped out with different weapons (the other 2 weapon slots that are occupied by the knife and crossbow are fixed). By the way, a pair of dual-wielded weapons occupies one weapon slot, so in reality, the number of weapons you can carry betters the number of weapon slots available.

I can go on and on about how greatly the weapons in Turok have been implemented into the game, but no amount of praise can save this game from its ridiculous number of inconsistencies. Incidentally, the best part of the game – the weapons – isn’t excused from inconsistency. For a game that has you fighting waves of enemies on an almost consecutive pace, the poor weapon damage system is something worth worrying about. Something must be seriously wrong when you realize that nothing less than 3 to 4 shotgun shells will be able to down a human enemy, which can otherwise be accomplished via one knife stab. And you know there isn’t any logic in this game when 2 sniper shots are occasionally required to silence a human enemy. On the other hand, a single arrow from the crossbow is enough to kill a human enemy – that’s where the weapon damage system performs. This inconsistency doesn’t affect gameplay that much when you are dealing with only a few enemies, but for most parts of the game, that doesn’t happen.

The other inconsistency present in this game is the difficulty, which is largely imbalanced. But it has also got to do with the poor checkpoint allocation and equally inconsistent A.I. Some parts of the game feel genuinely challenging, but there’s nothing worse than the game sending wave after wave of enemies at you with no checkpoint in-between, and that’s when the difficulty tips towards the side of insane. At other times, mutated scorpions are endlessly spawned in for more than 5 minutes – in a way that feels really unjustified. Speaking of checkpoint, I have an experience where the game saved 3 times within 1 minute: there were 3 raptors, and for every raptor I killed, the game saved. And there were the moments where the game didn’t save for long periods of time. Take, for instance, one part of a mission where I had to invade an enemy base, and after killing all the initial enemies, I had to withstand 4 waves of attacks. Upon clearing the 4 waves of attacks, I was forced into a corner and had to repel 2 waves of assaults at close range – all these without any checkpoint to provide a breather.

Next in line is the A.I., which can be really brilliant one moment, but retarded the next. Chucking grenades your way to flush you out of your cover is one technique that you may need to get used to, but at the same time, moments where the A.I. stand still out in the open would be certain to induce a snicker or two. The A.I. is intelligent enough to take cover when you open fire at them, but doesn’t have the common sense not to pop his entire body out from the cover at the exact same spot every few seconds – and when that happens, you merely need to focus your reticule on the spot where he will pop out and nail him when he decides to greet you. You can snipe the A.I. down, but his patrol partner who is only a few meters away from him continues with his routine as if nothing has occurred.

Fortunately, that’s where the inconsistencies end. But hey, that isn’t necessarily a good thing because the remaining 2 flaws present in the game are outright blemishes. One of the drawbacks of this game is that its environments simple aren’t varied enough. For your first few hours, the considerably realistic jungle setting might intrigue you with some really impressive lighting and shadows. From time to time, there would also be sounds of rocks falling and dinosaur screeches and roars, making for a really immersive experience – but only for a short while. But then, you realize that you will be seeing the same damn jungle for the next 9 hours – there is a really tangible feeling that the effects that make the jungle so realistic in the first place are starting to wear off as you progress through the game. On a sidenote, the jungle is very disorientating, so be prepared to get lost for a significant number of times. Sure, there are the interiors of the human enemy bases from time to time to spice things up a little, but they have failed quite miserably in their job. For all the ballyhoo created by the explosions and gunfire outside the bases, there is actually nothing interesting inside the enemy complexes. Ignore this if you count endless supplies of dull walls as subjects of general interest and entertainment – it isn’t until towards the end that the interiors of enemy complexes start to deserve more attention and details.

The poor graphics don’t do the environment much favour either. For a game utilizing the popular Unreal engine, I was expecting something better, but was left severely disappointed. This isn’t a current-gen game (in terms of visuals, at least). Approach rocks, walls, and trees, and all you will see are hideous textures (think big blobs of pixels). Yes, it’s THAT bad. I am really surprised that the bad visuals are even able to make it into the retail version.

Like any other standard shooter, Turok will last you from 7 to 9 hours, but there’s quite a decent multiplayer. There are 7 maps, which isn’t a lot and all the typical multiplayer modes are present, including deathmatch and capture the flag. The great thing about Turok’s multiplayer is that there are A.I.-controlled dinosaur roaming the map together with you and your opponents. Online co-op allows 3 friends to accompany you in 3 different missions. Now, that’s a welcomed bonus.

Final Comments
The weapons are arguably Turok’s strongest point and most players would leave satisfied with its gunplay. However, Turok only delivers a whole lot of inconsistencies beyond that. Though Turok begins promisingly, the story seems rushed and uncompleted. Now, don’t get me started on the variety of environments here – because it simply doesn’t exist. The sub-par visuals sum up this could-have-been-so-much-better game: It’s a classic case of ‘too many little errors pile up to become one big flaw’.


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