The year 2000.
It use to sound so futuristic, but it’s hard to believe it was fifteen years ago. From the amount of things that were happening in the video game industry at the time, it really did feel like the future though: The Dreamcast was in its second year of life and championing online gaming through a console; Sony’s PlayStation 2 launched with DVD playback capabilities; Microsoft was teasing their own console titled the “Xbox” and Nintendo had not one, but two new devices in the pipeline: the Game Boy Advance handheld and the GameCube home console. With all this new technology being thrown around, it spelt the end for the already existing consoles, the PSOne and Nintendo 64, and both had some big guns to go out on: Sony had the likes of Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross while Nintendo was going out with a bang in a second Legend of Zelda game, Majora’s Mask and the game I’m here to talk about today, Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion, the final chapter of the third-party series that helped kick off the Nintendo 64’s life cycle.
The original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a great show piece title for the then new Nintendo 64, but as the series continued to evolve through sequels, handheld games and spin-off’s, it started to really lose its identity and move away from what made the original Turok so much fun: dinosaurs, the jungle setting, and the open-ended exploration. Instead Acclaim seemed to be trying to emulate what was popular at the time: Turok 2: Seeds of Evil tried too hard to be much like a Nintendo or Rare collect-a-thon while Turok: Rage Wars was a half-hearted attempt to capitalize on the popularity of franchises like Unreal and Quake. Turok 3 was the last hoorah for the franchise on the Nintendo 64 before the series was rebooted on the following generation of consoles. The third part of the Turok trilogy is easily the second best game in the series after the original and fixed some of the biggest problems that reared their heads in Seeds of Evil. At the same time, it moves into darker territory than even the second chapter and takes some strides that make it feel less and less like a Turok game.
Set after the events of Turok 2, the most recent member of the Turok lineage, Joshua Fireseed, is having visions of a child in danger from the Oblivion spawn introduced in Seeds of Evil. The same minions he saw in his visions then attack him at the home of his only living relatives, Joseph and Danielle Fireseed, and in order to save them Joshua sacrifices his own life, informing his relatives to seek out the child. With a looming menace on the horizon, Adon summons the Fireseeds to inform them that one must take on the mantle of Turok to save the universe from Oblivion.
Turok 2 was a much darker game in tone than the first chapter, and from the second you turn on the system and see the iguana mascot from Acclaim Studios Austin (the renamed Iguana Studios who made the other games) turn into bone and guts followed by the opening cinematic, you know that Turok 3 is going even further in this direction. The Turok series was never intended to be played by a younger audience and was always rated “M” for mature, but the first game still had some light touches of humour mixed in with all the bullets and carnage; Things like the enemies exploding in the air or dancing when they were hit in certain areas. There’s nothing wrong with a more mature approach to a franchise, some of my favourite games from that era were the Resident Evil, Dino Crisis and Metal Gear Solid series, but it doesn’t really fit that well for Turok and it comes across as generic where it once had an established identity.
Something that the Turok series has never excelled in despite making strides in the second entry is story telling, an issue remedied in Turok 3. Stages have in between cut-scenes that tell a story as opposed to just setting up the next stage and mission objectives. Despite being on the ageing N64 hardware which, lets face it, never used cut-scenes and voice over well for the most part, Turok 3 has a decent amount of voice acting and characters that actually animate their mouths when speaking as opposed to just having moving heads. The developers wisely used in-game cut-scenes as opposed to FMV’s like Resident Evil 2 and it doesn’t take the player out of the experience.The story is nothing spectacular: evil is coming, it must be stopped, but I applaud the effort and also that for the first time they let the main characters open their mouths and have a personality.
An issue I had is that with this ambition is that the audio quality suffers greatly. I had no trouble understanding the spoken dialogue in Turok 2, yet I had to turn the sound way up in order to pick out what the characters were saying here as the sound is so muffled; Unfortunately there’s no option for sub-titles either. The memory taken up by audio seemed to also take away from the overall graphical quality as well. Turok 2 for all its problems still looks really good today, especially with the expansion pack, but even with the extra RAM Turok 3 looks for the lack of a better term, “N64-y”: muddy, brown textures that lack any type of detail. The characters themselves also don’t look as well put together as Joshua and Adon in Turok 2, and it took me awhile to even know that Adon was carried over from the second game as she gets a radical makeover. Perhaps the Adon title is one that gets passed down like the Turok mantle, but it’s never stated.
This time around you have the ability to play as two different characters and the choice to play as a female character. Each character has their own unique weapons and abilities to encourage playing through the game twice: Danielle’s weapons are skewed more towards firepower, she can jump higher and comes equipped with a grappling hook not unlike Samus’ in Metroid Prime; Joseph has stealthier weapons, like a silenced pistol, can enter small openings and see in the dark with night vision goggles. A missed opportunity in the two character dynamic is that even when you play as both characters, the game is still more or less the same other than a few detours. The levels are the same, the cut-scenes are the same which is odd because at the start of the game they make a big deal about how their can only be one Turok, but it clearly shows both of them taking on the role. A game I already mentioned, Resident Evil 2, that came out in 1998 did something like this but each of the two protagonists in that game saw things from unique perspectives that made you want to replay the game. Turok 3 is the shortest of the N64 trilogy and I assume this choice was made to promote replay but it doesn’t really work.
From an overall gameplay standpoint, there’s not much to say about the controls here as if you’ve played the other games, you know what you’re getting into with this one. For the first time ever though you can customize your controls such that you can play like Goldeneye 007 (move with the stick; aim and strafe with the C-buttons) and also non-inverted. The funny thing is though that after playing through the N64 Turok’s, it felt odd to play any other way and I still played the same way as before.
Turok 2 got a bit excessive in all the collectibles, mission objectives and back-tracking and thankfully that has been scaled back immensely here. No more hunting for keys, feathers, portals, sacrificial chambers or anything else, just one mission objective to move you from one area to the next. While I do appreciate not being lost as much, it also makes this game feel like a regular shooter and not a Turok game. This game is focused a lot more on action over exploration, and I feel a balance between the first and second game was needed more over throwing out everything that made Seeds of Evil a drag to play sometimes. All you’re ever really doing here is running through a level, hitting a switch or collecting a key to open a door, fight a boss,then onto the next area. Boss fights I will say are a lot more interesting than they ever have been in a Turok game, as you have to do more than just strafe around and deplete a power bar while keeping your ammo up.
Thankfully the biggest problem with the last installment, being the sparse save points that had you playing for hours, has been totally fixed. The levels are broken into areas now and to save all you need to do is pause and save anytime, good-bye save points! The amount of memory to save has also been reduced, back to a reasonable sixteen pages, so you can set up multiple saves again without needing two or more memory cards.
When it arrived back in 1997, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter impressed with its lush jungles despite being drowned in performance hiding distance fog. Turok 2, though taking the game out of the jungle, had a variety of traditional stone architecture cities, dark caves, swamps and alien spaceships. Of the core Turok N64 trilogy, Shadows of Oblivion impresses the least with its environment choices. For a majority of the game you’re not even in the Lost Land where the other games were set, instead you’re in city streets, a missile silo and a junk yard, all of which are devoid of dinosaurs. Do you remember when the words Dinosaur Hunter were in the title? By the time you do actually make it to the Lost Land you’re pretty deep into the game, though it does have a nice pay off as it’s a recreation of the start of the original game, something I liked as a fan of these games.
What makes it even hard trudging through uninspired levels are not so great graphics and after the sharp, detailed visuals on display in part two, three comes across as flat-out ugly. the lack of graphical fidelity does come with a bonus however, as this game runs much smoother than the game that came before it. When the graphics were turned way up in Turok 2, the game’s performance suffered greatly but that’s not the case in this game. Both characters feel more nimble like Tal’Set in the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and not like they’re slogging through water that’s up to their knees. As much as the game at times can be hard to look at, I’ll take smooth movement and control over a pretty backdrop any day.
What made Turok a stand out title in the FPS space was its over-the-top weaponry. Turok 2 did a good job of expanding the arsenal but Shadows just features a lot of carry overs with minor upgrades. That being said, some of the upgrades are pretty cool, like Joseph’s second level cerebral bore that lets you see through the eyes of the enemy before their head explodes. The only other real new addition is the vampire gun that I never once found to be useful compared to everything else in my arsenal. In tradition with the other mainline games this game also has a weapon that has to be built by collecting parts found in each level. Dubbed the P.S.G, or “Personal Singularity Generator”, it creates black holes that warp the world and suck in bad guys. Like the Nuke and Chronoscepter before it, it’s worth seeking out or plugging in a cheat code to see it in action.
If you’ve steered away from the other Turok games on the N64 because they were too big or too daunting, Turok 3 is probably the entry that will be for you. The series has never been a stickler for lore so just because this is the fourth game on the system, you won’t need to have played Dinosaur Hunter, Seeds of Evil and especially Rage Wars to know what’s going on. The reason why this game would appeal to previous naysayers though is that it doesn’t really feel like a Turok game. It’s always great to see a developer take criticism to heart and fix what didn’t work, but the final chapter of the Turok franchise sucks out what made the series so great to begin with for the sake of being just another FPS. It’s a solid FPS don’t get me wrong and of the best the system has to offer, it just goes to show how quickly the series went off the rails.