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After the mess Acclaim made of its flagship FPS series, it's amazing that anyone remembers Turok, let alone looks forward to a new HD incarnation. Cast your mind back, however, to the early days of the Nintendo 64 and it was a different story. While the early primitive console FPS games were merely trying to ape their PC brethren, Turok took a different approach with incredible results. Out went boring brown corridors and space marines. In came lush jungle environments and dinosaurs. Out went shotguns and rocket launchers. In came knives, bows and grisly special weapons. Turok even added platform elements to the FPS, with some success. These days we might mock the ludicrous quantities of mist the game used to hide its pitiful draw distance, but Turok was arguably the Halo of its day. It didn't just show that a console could produce a PC quality FPS - it showed that a console could produce one that made PC owners jealous.
So the big disappointment in the new Turok's early stages is that a series that made its name by ringing the changes now seems so desperate to fit in with the crowd. It's one thing to make our new hero, Joseph Turok, a strapping space marine; quite another to place him in a clichéd gritty sci-fi setting - someone has been raiding the Aliens/Starship Troopers dress-up cupboard again - and get him involved in what looks like your bog standard men on a mission setup. We've got a rogue military unit, a strong-but-silent hero who used to be part of them, and a gang of special forces hardnuts sent to find them. Once all the preamble is over, Turok's battle cruiser is suddenly shot down, crash-landing on a mysterious planet where his ex-comrades, now enemies are based. Can Turok find his fellow survivors, get his former mentor and escape alive? Frankly, it's a challenge to care.
Why, you ask? Well, to be fair Turok is a more impressive product than you might expect. Keen to make a mark on the competitive console market, Propaganda Games and Disney's new adult game studio at Touchstone has clearly put a lot of money and effort into making it so. The graphics are powered by a tweaked version of the Unreal 3 engine and - at its best - the game looks pretty good. The rugged jungle environments are reminiscent of Ubisoft's work in King Kong, while the character models look solid, are atmospherically lit, and stand up to close inspection in the numerous cut-scenes. Lighting, haze, weather and wet surface effects are frequently excellent. Most importantly, the dinosaurs - when they arrive - are big, impressive and can move with a terrifying speed. Turok has more than its fair share of ugly textures and a handful of rotten dinosaur models, but for the most part it actually looks better than some of the screenshots you see here might suggest.
Touchstone has also splashed out big bucks on the soundtrack. The background score hits all the right action movie notes, while a voice cast including Powers Boothe, Timothy Olyphant and Ron Perleman means that the lines, while clichéd, are at least delivered with authority. There's even been a certain amount of effort to give the characters, particularly our hero, some depth.
Platforms: Xbox 360 reviewed, also available on PC and PS3.
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