Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion, the last Turok game that appeared on the N64, ended in a cliffhanger making it seem like a no-brainer that when Acclaim moved their marquis franchise to the sixth generation of consoles it would be a continutation of that story, but despite having the word “Evolution” as a subtitle, the fifth entry in the Turok franchise went The Phantom Menace route and was a prequel to the first game in the series, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The title “Evolution” was perhaps a poor title to pick but I feel that it was the right call on Acclaim’s part to try to bring the series back to its roots. What made the first Turok game great: feeling like a predator in the jungle hunting dinosaurs kept getting lost as the series went on to the point where by the time Turok 3 showed up it felt like a sequel in name only, plus, after four games, what did we really know about Turok as a character? Evolution should have been Acclaim’s return to glory, much like the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was, and finally make us care about a character that the player only knew really by name. While it’s a competent first-person shooter with some giant guns worthy of the name Turok, some really poor design choices kept it from being a contender in the age of Microsoft’s Halo.
Turok: Evolution starts off during the old west with Tal’Set, the main character of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter locked in combat with one Captain Tobias Bruckner. Just as Tal’Set is about to finish off his enemy, the two are sucked into a portal and transported to the Lost Land where the evil Slegs, bi-pedal dinosaur creatures, led by the evil Lord Tyrannus are viciously slaughtering the armies of humanity. Tal’Set is seen as the last hope of humanity against the looming threat of the Slegs, but they have a weapon of their own in the form of Tobias Bruckner.
Story has never been a strong point in the Turok franchise and Evolution is no exception and that can be seen from the main villains of the name being “Lord Tyrannus” and “Captain Tobias Bruckner”, the latter of which lives on in infamy thanks to EGM’s annual awards of terrible games where they’re awarded the Tobias Bruckner award. Setting out were made to believe that Tal’Set is someone of importance to the human resistance but we’re never really shown exactly why he’s so special to begin with, nor do we see any type of arch for the character. The game tries to explain the origin of the mantle of Turok, something about a village elder by the name of Tarkeen having to pass it down to eliminate a curse, but this is explained so poorly that we’re left with just as little information about the Turok character as a whole as we were in the first game. The same can be said of the main human villain, Bruckner, who multiple times throughout the game the Slegs say things like “why do we need him?” and I tend to agree. Both Tal’Set and Bruckner came from the old west and are transported to a world that has rocket launchers, mini-guns, teleportation and airships so what makes these two so special?
But like the other Turok games all of that doesn’t matter as long as the game is fun and for the most part, it is. Evolution feels more like Turok 3 than either the original or part two where shooting is emphasied over exploration, with this game going so far in the shooting direction that it’s the first to not feature a weapon you have to collect throughout the adventure. As this game came out on the GC/PS2/Xbox this is the first game that actually feels most like an FPS as those consoles all featured controllers with two analog sticks as opposed to the N64’s one so no more awkward C-button movement, analog stick aiming.
The highlight of the Turok series has always been the arsenal over mostly everything and while your instruments of destruction will certainly bloody a lot of dinosaurs, it’s also a tiny bit disappointing in that Evolution doesn’t really have a memorable gun or weapon like the Chronoscepter or the cerebral bore. The cerebral bore returns as an alternate fire function for your rocket launcher making you think that Acclaim ran out of ideas once it saw how much people loved the screaming, brain chewing weapon. All of your other weapons are carry overs from other Turok’s with the only weapons exclusive to this game being a pretty useless flamethrower and a remote-controlled device called the spider mine which I never found use for once.
What’s worse is that the game will randomly take away weapons from you from one level to the next after you collect them, sometimes leaving you with the very worst weapons to deal with some very hairy situations. Strangely enough the levels where you lose a weapon will be littered with ammo for weapons that you don’t have. Taking away weapons can be seen as a way for the developer to force you to experiment with ones you would not normally use, but I sense that the levels where they were omitted were made easier with them and thus they artifically, and unfairly, upped the difficulty of a particular chapter by taking them out. With a lack luster arsenal that can be found in most every other FPS, the only other way for Evolution to stand out is in its setting.
By the time Turok 3 rolled around and opened with the two protagonists exploring a missile silo and a nuclear launch facility, it really made me long for the jungles of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter which I’m glad to say see a return here, however I’m equally sad to say they don’t impress as much as they did on the N64. Despite being on much superior hardware, the jungles don’t feel as lush. Plants and trees feel arbitrarily placed and often either obscure what you need to do, which happened to me around one-third of the game, or confused me as to what was climbable. Early on, and I’m talking chapter one or two, I became stuck and wandered around a small patch of land for quite some time before I realized I could climb up some vines which happened to be the exit. My first thought on this was I couldn’t believe how much easier it was to decipher in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, a launch game on the N64, what was considered a climbable substance and what wasn’t.
The biggest change in setting from any other past Turok game is the sky. For the first time in the franchise’s history the first-person shooting segments are broken up by on-rails and all range mode flying sections where your flying a pterodactyl equipped with a machine gun and rocket launcher. Now, I want you to let that sink in for a second, as it sounds completely ridiculous but also incredibly awesome, but it’s actually one of the worst sections of the game that really tries your patience.
As to why the flying sections are so bad, picture Star Fox 64, arguably the gold standard for arcade flying games. Now imagine in that game you couldn’t barrel roll to repel fire, your twin blasters ran out after a short period of time and grazing anything caused you to die immediately. That describes every single flying section in this game. At first when I started the introductory flying mission I thought it was pretty awesome as it felt like a Star Fox game just in Turok trappings but I quickly realized that these were the worst thought out parts of the game, in particular very late on towards the end when I found out I didn’t have to even depress the trigger button once in the on-rails section as trying to shoot anything was completely pointless. All I had to do was take one hand off the controller, collect health upgrades and get to the end of a stage or to the all range sections where you absolutely have to shoot something. It’s in these sections that the biggest flaw of Turok: Evolution biggest, enjoyment killing flaw: its lack of a checkpoint system.
Though not as egregious as Turok 2’s hours apart checkpoints, Turok: Evolution’s fifteen chapters, each with multiple sub-parts, have no mid-level checkpoints so if you die very late in a level, tough luck, back to start. I would say that not having mid-level checkpoints is a terrible over sight in a post Halo world, but even Turok 3 didn’t force you to start over from the beginning of a level. Turok: Evolution is not a short game with fifteen chapters where only one or two have only one part, and having to repeat stages after cheap deaths is very frustrating, especially in the flying sections where a piece of scenery will come out of nowhere and send you back to the start of a stage where you don’t even have to shoot anything. It’s not like the fights are dynamic either or will change when you die. The enemies respawn in the exact same place every time and it falls on you to remember what order they come out and what weapon you should have equipped to get the jump on them.
I had never played Turok: Evolution when it was new as I heard bad things about it, especially on the PS2 which is the only console I owned at the time, and I was looking forward to playing it for this series to find out if it was indeed as bad as what people had said about it back in 2002. While I admit to having some fun running around and shooting dinosaurs again in the jungle, the nonsensical story, lack of mid-level checkpoints and poorly thought out flying sections make Turok: Evolution a game only for die-hard fans of the N64 games or anyone looking for an FPS with a campaign that’s more than a handful of hours in length.