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The Story: Based loosely on a comic book series dating back to the early 1950s about a pre-Columbian Native American who is trapped in a lost valley filled with dinosaurs, in the game series the term Turok refers to a title handed down from each generation to a man charged with guarding the barrier between humans and this lost valley. In Turok 2, the new Turok passes through the portal and is met by a mysterious blue-skinned woman named Adon, who, in service of the Elders of the Lost Lands, has been tasked with finding help to defeat the Primagen, a powerful alien entity who is attempting to escape imprisonment and has created an allegiance among a variety of species to help conquer the Lost Lands by destroying all five energy totems within. Turok alone must face these enemies and defend the totems while acquiring specific magical Talismen throughout the journey that will be necessary to defeat the Primagen. Meanwhile, another entity called Oblivion taunts Turok on his quest, and schemes to prevent the hero from accomplishing any of the tasks (and is the primary antagonist of Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion).
Impressions: If one was forced to describe the gaming experience of Turok 2 in only one word, atmosphere would mostly likely be a top choice as the game, for the time, was a masterful work of sound design, with highly emotive audio effects and a musical score (by Darren Mitchell and Alberto José González) that is still one of the best ever composed for gaming. Give it a listen. It’s that good. The graphics, while almost rudimentary by today’s standards, were stunning at the time and still, honestly, have a great charm to them, with rich vibrant colors, that pop, despite the limited draw distance. The level design and artistry throughout made each section and level a treasure that felt almost open-word in its era. Barely a year after the groundbreaking GoldenEye had stunned the gaming world, Turok 2 redefined what the Nintendo 64 was capable of doing, setting a new standard for graphics and exploration, but more importantly, the intelligence of the enemy A.I., a common complaint of GoldenEye (1997) and other shooters of the day. In Turok 2, enemies were sharp, moved constantly, anticipated attacks and used strategy to defend themselves. The game also features a robust multiplayer suite with 4-player split-screen modes on the N64 and 16-player LAN maps for Windows. Players in these modes can choose to play as a villain, taking on roles such as the Dinosoids, which significantly changed the dynamic as certain characters can only attack in close-quarters situations. Imagine being a raptor and rampaging straight for a solider with a shotgun.
There a number of enemies Turok must face, including the aforementioned dinosaur-type beings called Dinosoids, genetically modified species of dinosaurs that come in a range of intelligences and abilities, from standard raptors to heavily armed, bi-pedal creatures that mobilize and communicate. They answer to the Primagen but also have their own mission, in which to eradicate all of humanity. Other enemies include the aggressive Pur-linn, primitive, ancient beasts that are weaponized and have great distaste for humans, the devastating insectoid Mantids, and the ghastly Deadside Deadkin, a race of undead beings aiming for resurrection and carnage. Also, many of these enemies can cloak to near invisibility, which is as daunting as it sounds. To beat all these foes, Turok is bestowed with some particularly effective weapons, including his trusty spiked-club, bows and arrows, pistols, shotguns, rifles, grenade launchers and the now infamous Cerebral Bore, a highly advanced weapon that fires a projectile that homes in on a target’s head, latches on and burrows into their skulls before exploding. It’s messy and oh so satisfying.
The fun of Turok 2 comes from the constant, well-leveled challenge, providing tremendous gratification in overcoming the puzzle-like combat of each scenario. Like many of the games of that time, it often takes repeated efforts to learn enemy placements and timing in order to succeed. As the environments are very large, exploration is not only expected, it is required as the player must find specific keys in order to open up further portals to reach new areas where the totems are located. Furthermore, there are six Primagen keys scattered throughout that must be located in order to reach the end, so there is a lot of gameplay that involves checking every corner of each varied map. This does lead to some minor headaches as routes must be memorized in order to find your way back, but this is only a slight issue. The game does lose some steam toward the end aboard a spaceship as the confined corridors and rooms, which all look the same, strip away the openness of the surface environments and don’t quite work as well.
Level 2: The River of Souls: After completing the rigorous Level 1 and defending the first energy totem from a horde of Endtrail Dinosoids, you have access to the Hub, where you gain entrance to other levels (if you have the keys). Once the level begins, right away, you are met with a stabled dinosaur, who, based on your experience to this point causes the player to momentarily panic, but it’s not long before realizing it’s not only tame, but ridable. Before mounting the enormous Styracosaurus, a quick scan shows a long wide corridor-like path ahead. While walking forward is a viable option, there’s no resisting the lure of the great beast waiting in the corner, mostly because it has two very large rocket launchers attached to the saddle. Enough said. There’s no way you’re not riding it. Once atop the massive dinosaur, the player point of view is now framed by the creature’s bulbous spiked, plated head and the cannons in each of the upper corners. With a twinge of anticipation, the player guides the animal out of the stable, fingers itching for a first fire opportunity to blow up a Dinosoid. It’s not a long wait. After one corner, your first victim scrambles into your sites and you unleash a screaming volley of hellfire at the hopelessly outgunned enemy, trails of white smoke billowing behind, splattering the little beast into a geyser of shiny streams of crimson and reptile green. And it only gets better. From there, you navigate through a maze of brick walled corridors (of which some are destructible), battling attackers from all sides and positions, from ground assaulting lizard soldiers to mortar fire atop castle towers, all the while plowing forward in a near unstoppable death-dealing, armor-plated, head-butting, missile shooting Styracosaurus.
Why it Matters: Turok 2 is not an easy game, even on the normal setting. Players coming off GoldenEye – arguable the greatest shooter in gaming – discover right away that this is a wholly different experience that requires a lot more strategy (and do-overs). The opening level puts you right in the action and has players traversing, climbing, hunting, running and fighting from the start, and as it builds to the totem defense, there is a lot of challenge. Players learn to use weapons and health wisely, and a lot of the combat relies on a peek, fire, back away and try again method. It’s great fun, but packed with some breathless battles that can leave a player overwhelmed if they don’t plan well. It only ramps up with each progressive level. Perhaps that’s why the developers decided to give the players a little break at the start of Level 2. While the Styracosaurus isn’t indestructible, and if you linger in crossfire too long, you’ll lose health and die, the mounted dino can take a lot of hits and enemies up-close don’t stand a chance. Most actions games give players a chance to use a mounted turret or drive a tank in some form or another, but back then, it was still fresh. It only lasted a short time, and when the stage ended and the animal corral came into view, we knew break time was over and it was back to the challenge, but for those few minutes, it was all fist-pumping, high-five action as we howled with joy at the chance to cause utter, explosive chaos on the back of a dinosaur.