Turok: Dinosaur Hunter review – how does it play today?

by Martin Watts, 10 April 2018

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter title screen

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter garnered critical acclaim when it first released in 1997. While not as revolutionary as GoldenEye 007, it proved that first-person shooters were viable on console.

But how does Turok: Dinosaur Hunter fare over two decades later, especially now that first-person shooters on console are commonplace?

What’s Turok: Dinosaur Hunter about?

Despite its name, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter doesn’t actually involve hunting dinosaurs (but you do get to fight them). Instead, the game follows Tal’Set, a native-American warrior who assumes the mantle of Turok. Whoever is Turok must protect the magical barrier that exists between Earth and the Lost Land.

Tal'Set, protagonist of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64

The Lost Land is an otherworldy place where time has no meaning. Humans, dinosaurs and cyborgs all co-exist. And despite being a primitive place, the Lost Land is home to a surprising amount of advanced technology.

The setting allows for a lot of creative freedom, but at the same time everything fits together.

The Campaigner, main villain of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on N64

As Turok, you must stop the Campaigner – an evil overlord hellbent on ruling the universe. Across eight levels you must battle his forces before engaging in a final showdown with him.

Lost in the fog

One of the first things you notice about Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is that it features heavy fog.

It uses this to mask the game’s limited draw distance. As a result, you can only see a very short distance in front of you.

Fog in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64

It’s hard to appreciate the game’s environments, and very easy to lose your bearings. You can bring up a wireframe map, which helps, but feels out of place given the setting.

The fog does, however, add to the game’s atmosphere. Enemies can get very close to you before you spot them, making you feel bit more vulnerable. Seeing a raptor suddenly emerge from from fog and run straight towards you never stops being slightly terrifying.

A raptor attacks in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for Nintendo 64

Treasure hunt

You must find keys in each level to progress through Turok: Dinosaur Hunter.

Some of these keys are well hidden, and the game’s fog makes it all too easy to miss them. There’s also no indication of when you’re near a key or at least on the right track.

Engaging in a gunfight with guards protecting a key in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on Nintendo 64

It’s possible to finish a mission without finding them all. This means you can end up having to play through some missions multiple times, which becomes tedious very quickly.

You only receive some keys after beating a boss. This wouldn’t be an issue, but you only find out about a boss after you’ve entered the level’s end portal. As a result, you can spend a lot of time searching the level for a key that isn’t actually there.

Ancient City level in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64

Each level also contains a piece of the Chronoscepter superweapon. The Campaigner seeks this ancient artefact to carry out his evil plan.

Despite how dangerous it is, finding all the Chronoscepter pieces is actually optional. However, if you find them then you get to use the weapon yourself – it’s worth it for the final showdown.

It’s a shame there isn’t more to do. Doing the same thing over and over does feel a little repetitive.

Firing a Pulse Rifle in Turok N64

There are secret areas to find, but they don’t require much in the way of problem solving or skill.

They do at least provide plenty of weapons and health and armour bonuses to find. And stockpiling equipment is important, because it greatly increases your chances of survival.

First-person platforming

Unfortunately no amount of firepower or armour can save you from Turok: Dinosaur Hunter’s dreaded platforming segments.

Falling down a chasm results in instant death, and you lose any health or ammo capacity bonuses you had.

Jumping across gaps is very fiddly as the camera re-centres if you don’t hold the joystick in place.

Jumping across pillars in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64

It’s difficult to know when to jump as you can’t only see the edge by looking down. And if you’re looking down then you can’t see where you’re jumping to.

The game does try to compensate for this. As you run off a platform, you have a very brief window in which you can still jump. However, it feels unnatural, and in some instances leaving it this late means you may end up overshooting your landing.

The platforming wouldn’t be such a big issue if it didn’t feature so prominently in almost every level.

Dumb AI and bullet-sponge bosses

Be they human, dinosaur or advanced alien race, all enemies behave exactly the same: charge towards you with reckless abandon.

You can never sneak up on an enemy because of the fog. In fact, they can see you through the mist before you’re able to identify them.

Turok N64 - fighting a soldier

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter’s boss battles are equally shallow. These encounters don’t require any strategy, pattern memorisation or skilful aiming.

Instead, it’s just a matter of unloading an awful lot of firepower into them. It’s actually quite remarkable how many shots they all take before dropping.

T-Rex boss from Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for Nintendo 64

If you haven’t stocked up on ammo beforehand then you’ll find yourself scrounging around for it during the battle.

It’s a mindless, yet frustrating slog – very much in keeping with the rest of the game.

Saving and checkpoints

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter uses on a frustratingly archaic save and checkpoint system.

You can only save at specific locations within each level. If you die, you’ll either revert to the last one you saved at or a checkpoint. And these points are spread far and few between.

A save point in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64

Going back to a checkpoint isn’t ideal, as you don’t respawn with any armour or health bonuses you had. So in most instances you feel like you have to reload your game, which can set you back even further.

It’s just another dated element that makes Turok: Dinosaur Hunter even more difficult to play today.

Limited control options

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter features very little in the way of control customisation. For example, the game predates GoldenEye 007, and so it doesn’t have the option to look with the C-buttons.

The standard control setup uses the joystick to look, which is the opposite of what modern first-person shooters use.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter options screen

Ironically, the left-handed option enables you to move with the D-pad and use the stick to look.

This will feel the most familiar nowadays, although having to stretch your thumb for the A and buttons isn’t ideal.

Another gripe is the strafe hop ability. Double-tapping C-left or C-right enables you to quick hop sideways.

It’s great for dodging incoming attacks. It’s also a great way to inadvertently throw yourself off a cliff when lining up a jump.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter’s technical performance

The game’s heavy use of fogging means it generally runs smoothly.

However, this isn’t really an achievement when plenty of other N64 games with longer draw distances perform just as well.

Jungle Ruins in Turok: Dinosaur Hunter

This is because Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is one of the N64’s earliest games. It came out before developers had gotten familiar with the system.

Nevertheless, it looks really dated today. It adopts a realistic art style, which looks bland and dull, and is hard to appreciate with so much fog.

As a result, it looks washed out and very dark on modern TVs. Even using an UltraHDMI N64 does little to improve the quality.

Purr-Linn creature from Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for N64.

For the best experience, you have to play Turok: Dinosaur Hunter on a CRT TV.

The game does at least have a great soundtrack, composed by Darren Mitchell. Fast-paced tribal drums accompany your trek through the jungle, adding to the ambience.

Conclusion

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a relic of its time. It was impressive back then, but feels too clunky and dated to truly enjoy today.

As a first-person shooter, it’s just not fun. The combat lacks depth, and boss battles are a long-winded exercise in circle strafing and holding the trigger.

A volcanic area in Turok N64

Awkward and frustrating platforming segments feature heavily throughout the game. They’re fiddly and unnecessarily difficult due to the limited first-person perspective.

Limited control options, an archaic save system and heavy fogging only make Turok: Dinosaur Hunter even more frustrating to play.

There are better N64 first-person shooters. Play them instead.

Our verdict

bad

  • Creative, imaginative setting
  • Really heavy fog
  • Key system means you may have to replay missions multiple times
  • Dumb AI and drawn-out, unintelligent boss fights
  • Awkward, fiddly platforming segments
  • Archaic save and checkpoint system
  • Limited control options
  • Muddy, washed out visuals – even on UltraHDMI N64

To learn more about how review N64 games see our review scoring system page. Because we focus on whether a game is still enjoyable to play today, we try to avoid discussing a game’s development history, impact or legacy in our reviews.