When I was growing up, I had a PlayStation and my step-brothers had a Nintendo 64. Each was hooked up to a separate TV in a separate room, so it wasn’t rare to see our collective attention split between the two.
However, there were occurrences when a game would captivate all of us simultaneously, and we’d gather around a single TV, oftentimes passing a controller around and sharing our game time. Since I only lived with my step family for a little over a year, this was one of the few things the step-brothers and I actually got to do as a group. I have very fond memories of bonding over Jet Moto, Super Mario 64, and, of course, Final Fantasy VII.
Another game that pulled us together — one I don’t think any of us expected — was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. As it turns out, few things are as engaging for a household of teenage boys than the opportunity to shoot velociraptors in the face. (Few things that don’t require locking your bedroom door, that is.)
As much fondness as I have for the PS1/N64 era, I’m levelheaded enough to admit that many of its games haven’t aged well at all. This is why I didn’t return to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for almost 20 years; so many of the things that were made in the 1990s are best left remembered through the disorienting haze of nostalgia.
At the tail end of 2015, Night Dive Studios released Turok, a lovingly updated version of the classic Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, so I crossed my fingers, took a deep breath, and jumped back in. I found myself falling back in love with a game I hadn’t played since I was a teenager.
Far too much time has passed for me to confidently say whether this is a testament to the original game’s charm or the competence of the folks at Night Dive Studios, but this is a genuinely great game. It may be a relic of the 1990s, but Turok never really lets that get in the way of its enjoyability. The controls are surprisingly smooth, and players are able to run at super speeds, which allows the game to very rarely feel slow-paced or tedious, even when replaying a section for the umpteeth time because you missed a key somewhere. And some of the platforming sections I remember being an absolute chore on the N64 are a breeze with the mouse and keyboard, with a little help from the minimap overlay that you can toggle on or off with the Tab key. (The overlay was also a feature in the N64 version).
The game is gratuitous. It’s violent, it’s absurd, and it has no story to speak of. You’re just a dude stuck in a time paradox world that allows you to take all sorts of futuristic alien weaponry and blow the crap out of dinosaurs. There’s no ADS (aim-down-sights), and there’s no regenerating health — but it’s hard to even notice the pieces that modern gaming would claim are missing because Turok is so playable without those things.
It might not be a smart game, but it’s not ignorant of the things it does well. This means you spend almost all of your time zooming around tropical environments and blasting dinos to smithereens instead of wasting precious seconds on cutscenes are dialogue. And the game is actually much better for it.
My only real complaint is that game designers really loved their pea green and dull brown color palate back in the late 90s, which isn’t an easy dish to swallow nowadays. But, to be fair, even The Legends of Zelda: Ocarina of Time has this same problem.
In 1997, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was a tough game not to love, even if you weren’t aware of the long-running comic book series it was based on. In the present, it lives as a reminder of one of the FPS genre’s early successes — and a damn enjoyable one at that.