I’m knee-deep in mud, natural gas screaming out through the floor around me. Ron Perlman’s character shouts useless information at me as a building-tall eel with tentacles the size of tree trunks tries to flatten me. All I can rely on is a flamethrower and lucky timing. And somehow, this isn’t even the third most absurd thing to happen in Turok 2008, the only M-rated game from Disney’s short-lived Touchstone label and developer Propaganda Games.
This game essentially killed the Turok IP for almost a decade. While the original games are remastered, virtually no one has asked for this one to come back. Having experienced it in one wild livestream — yeah, I can see it’s complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Turok is a delightful greasy hamburger of a game. You’ll never enjoy it quite the way I think it was intended, but for every eyebrow-raising decision, there’s a glimmer of brilliance. The main thing that holds it all back is sloppy execution.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the game’s arsenal. Half the weapons available are the most generic, barebones weapons any first-person shooter could offer. For over an hour, an SMG is the only real weapon anyone uses. An entire dual-wielding system is introduced to complement this, letting you wield shotguns, pistols, and SMGs like it’s GoldenEye: Rogue Agent, but then you discover the Sticky Gun. Ignoring the obvious lewd joke potential of that name, this little remote detonator gun is a revelation, feeling like it slipped in under the radar from a Red Faction game.
This becomes a prevalent theme with Turok. It doesn’t so much adapt ideas from other media so much as it jams them in and just runs with it. Everything from Aliens to Predator and even Starship Troopers is in this game. You will stalk through a jungle while being hunted by stealthy panther-like dinosaurs, armed with a pulse rifle. You’ll race from point to point as a horde of scorpions assault you, then blast your way through shadowed halls and fortresses with a flamethrower. Yet it’s this cliche-ridden, eye roll-worthy world design that oddly endears you before long.
Turok is a lost ‘80s movie you can play. As an entire facility is consumed by lava, you blast your way through two overly dramatic one-on-one duels between you and your ex-commander, then you and a T-Rex that just. Won’t. Stay. Dead. You can reload two pump-action shotguns at the same time. Damn near every gun has some kind of unique grenade alternate-fire mode that sends enemies comically flying.
I can’t understate how Turok’s occasionally broken dynamic physics engine is a joy unto itself. You’ll see dinosaurs walking sideways and enemies’ heads curling into their bodies. Yet, with how durable your opponents can be, you’re regularly waiting to see if they’re truly down for the count. It’s a bewildering roughness that maintains tension where a more traditional stop-and-pop affair would leave combat bereft of weight.
So much of Turok works in spite of itself. The sound design is a flip of a coin whether it’s impotent or astonishing, but when it kicks in, you find yourself filled with joy as a plasma grenade tears through thick enemy encampments. The narrow field of view and stiff aiming force you to treat encounters more like in an over-the-top horror game — a Dino Crisis-lite, if you will. Your bow seems to require a full charge-up for an attack, but apparently the titular hero is built like a machine and can rapid-fire arrows at close range if you merely tap the trigger, giving you a brilliant silenced pistol alternative. Standard grenades are practically useless, yet this only serves to highlight how fantastic the rifle-mounted grenades are.
The game’s weirdly racist attempt at being progressive in representing Turok as an Indigenous American also leads to one of the game’s most hilarious lines, and it accidentally almost redeems the rest of Turok’s backstory as a meta-commentary via a mansplaining antagonist. Like Demolition Man and Terminator before it, there’s oddly serious stuff to ponder while laughing at the hilarity on screen.
The narrative still has myriad problems though. Turok is an unlikable grump. Timothy Olyphant is in this game, and you only realize it’s him in the credits because that’s how much underacting there is in everyone’s performances. The majority of the cast is weak in general. This is one of the most poorly structured, oddly paced, tonally inconsistent, and mechanically unfocused games you can experience. There are obvious signs this game went through more than a few pivots in development.
Numerous interactive aspects feature third-person camera angles despite no real reason for them to be there. Then you’re informed there’s a Gears of War-style dodge-roll system that’s relevant for maybe two fights now. It’s reasonable to presume this was going to be a Gears-style reinvention, only for them to pivot back to first-person. It’d explain the near total lack of a HUD yet integrated ammo counters on weapons. There are passive and neutral dinosaurs that can be antagonized, hinting at a more dynamic AI that, sadly, is only harnessed for a few three-way battles between Turok, his old mentor’s forces, and the dinosaurs roaming the jungle.
For all that though, there’s one gleaming level that demonstrates what Propaganda Games was great at: “Down and Out.” In the middle of Turok’s dinosaur hunts and mercenary shootouts, it takes a quick aside into horror territory beneath the planet to confront a bevvy of giant scorpions. It’s instantly in your face, with melee-only enemies and your only weapons being the flamethrower and plasma rifle. Since both are higher-power weaponry, you can’t dual-wield, and each has distinct pros and cons. For me, the flamethrower legitimately scaring enemies back made it a must, with every new scenario testing the weapon in new ways. The flamethrower’s new and awesome variety existed in stark contrast to optional stealth systems and a takedown knife that had been rendered useless by the level design.
Despite only one type of scorpion enemy, their unpredictability and constant ambushes keep you on your toes. The few instances of incursion by mercenaries fighting you and the scorpions ratchets things up to a whole other level, demanding breathing room to fight them with your pulse rifle and warding off bugs with your flamethrower. Given how slow weapon swapping is in Turok, your timing becomes a key part of your strategy, as more enemies pour forth from both factions.
You don’t just get an incredibly well-executed sequence like that in a genuinely bad game. You don’t have enemies designed to back off and be warded away by just waving a jet of flame — it’d be far easier to just have them charge right at the player and ignore it. At some point, there was an incredibly compelling game in mind here. Much of it was obviously lost due to whatever happened during Turok’s production, but when you see it click, it’s something else. It’s a real shame there aren’t proper mod tools, because this is the sort of game begging for a fan patch to polish up the weak spots to even out the rest of the experience.
As the game exists today, Turok is an inherently flawed, aged ride. For some, that’ll honestly be a selling point, while it will instantly turn off others. I can’t say I regretted the five hours it took to clear the campaign, but I absolutely understand why critics at the time weren’t blown away by the package when it cost $60. Nowadays, there’s some brief amusement to be had if you find it for cheap, especially whenever the best elements get a proper section to shine. It might never see the remaster treatment of its elder siblings, but Turok has enough ‘80s-infused action to at least warrant being remembered.