For its first venture into the world of M-rated games, Disney’s videogame unit isn’t taking a big risk. Revive a well- known but dormant property and utilize the formula for one of the biggest franchises of the decade and out pops “Turok,” or as gamers will soon be calling it: “Halo With Dinosaurs.” Lack of originality isn’t too big a strike, however, against a game this polished, with visuals, audio, controls and artificial intelligence that are all top notch. “Turok” won’t exactly revolutionize the game biz, but it should draw strong interest from “Halo” fans looking for a change of pace and prove that Disney Interactive can compete for the core gamer demo.
First created for comicbooks 50 years ago, the Native American “dinosaur hunter” Turok had a successful run of games in the late ‘90s before fizzling out along with defunct publisher Acclaim. As part of a recent expansion of its operations, Disney Interactive picked up the license, assigned it to start-up developer Propaganda, and is releasing the game under the Touchstone moniker to differentiate it from a core slate of E-rated “Hannah Montana” and “High School Musical” spin-offs.
Traditionally, Turok has hunted dinosaurs in a lost valley on Earth. In the updated version, however, he crash-lands with a company of soldiers on an alien planet where his former mentor is conducting a series of nefarious experiments. Story isn’t well developed, but “Turok” at least errs on the side of minimalism rather than burdening the player with a dense and pretentious mythology. In a nice twist, the game does a good job of establishing Turok as an outsider amongst his own crew, a welcome change from the standard revered superhero protagonist.
Basic visual design and controls are well done, albeit remarkably similar to any number of action titles inspired by “Halo.” But while it looks and feels like dozens of other shooters, “Turok” differentiates itself a bit with a well-implemented stealth element. Silent knife kills are an essential element of the game, though they can be frustratingly difficult to pull off since both Turok and his enemy have to be in the exact right spot. When they work, however, stealth kills trigger brutally satisfying animation sequences. For anyone who ever wondered how Native Americans traditionally killed a velociraptor, “Turok” has the answer: a swift kick to the head followed by a knife through the skull.
Game world is nicely populated with a broad array of creatures, from harmless herbivores to fast-moving raptors to vicious T-Rexs. Players have to not only keep an eye open for hungry dinos, but also an ear, since they can be heard rustling through the bushes or stomping the ground from a distance thanks to the game’s excellent audio design.
“Turok’s” dinos are ultimately believable, however, thanks to their savvy artificial intelligence. Creatures come after Turok when they see or hear him, but can also be distracted by fire. Crafty players can use well placed flares to send dinosaurs after an enemy squadron, taking them down without firing a single shot. Level designs aren’t particularly inspired, but the option to get past each challenge with stealth kills, guns blazing, or by egging on hungry creatures makes “Turok” much fresher than it initially appears.
Game also has online multi-player, with standard modes like “deathmatch” and “capture the flag.” It’s basically on par with competitors, though there aren’t nearly as many features as “Halo 3.” Only difference in “Turok” is the presence of computer controlled dinosaurs with their own agenda — eating — as well as the knife-killing option, which leads to a lot less gunfire and more players trying to get the jump on a friend and slit his throat.