Turok Multiplayer Hands-On Preview

Iguana Entertainment's original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter (N64) managed to receive critical acclaim without including a multiplayer component, simply because a competent console shooter hadn't been crafted up to that point. "For me, Dinosaur Hunter was the thing that broke through the glass ceiling that shooters could be on consoles," Propaganda's Joel Manners, director of the studio's upcoming Turok (PC, PS3, X360) reimagining, told me at a recent Turok multiplayer event.

When Turok 2: Seeds of Evil (N64) hit retail, Rare's GoldenEye: 007 had made multiplayer on a console shooter pretty much mandatory. Luckily, Turok 2 didn't disappoint, taking a drastically different approach from GoldenEye's multiplayer with frantic action, wide-open maps, over-the-top weapons, and unique game types like the monkey-murdering Frag Tag. While the single-player gameplay of subsequent titles in the Turok series quickly degenerated, its multiplayer component became its strong point, with players embracing the manifest eccentricities that came to define the franchise.

When I spoke with Propaganda studio manager Josh Holmes earlier this year about the single-player component of the reimagined Turok, he told me the developer wanted to leave behind most of the far-fetched fantasy the series had adopted in later years. Although it's more likely the tired gameplay of the later titles, rather than the absurd story situations they presented, contributed more to the franchise's downfall, a desire to ground the new title in a more realistic (albeit dinosaur-filled) environment seems like a good move.

Playing several rounds of Turok's 8-on-8 multiplayer at a recent event, I found the transition to a more believable Turok experience had been incorporated into the multiplayer component as well. Unfortunately, most of the absurdist notions of later Turok titles that made for a cornball video game narrative lent most strongly to making the multiplayer a singularly addictive experience. In paring down the gameplay to provide a more straightforward shooter affair, the multiplayer component becomes a decidedly less memorable, although certainly playable, Turok-flavored experience.

The core Turok multiplayer gameplay of knife kills, arrow-impalings, wandering dinosaurs, and interesting environments mostly made its way to this Turok update. Manners told me the team had pretty defined goals in what they wanted to bring to the multiplayer with respect to the Turok games of yesteryear. "It's got to be fast. It's got to be destructive," the director said. "You've got to be able to kill people in multiple ways and get satisfaction out of it."

Gameplay-wise, it still feels like a fairly standard console shooter, though it certainly isn't as fast and crazy as the Turok titles of old. But using the franchise's trademark bow-and-arrow and knife to defeat fellow players in a primal manner is certainly as satisfying as it always was. There will be several multiplayer modes in the final package, including one supposedly unique to the title, but Propaganda only showed off deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag at the event.

Although the three maps I saw didn't capture the fog-ridden jungle environment of the older Turok titles, they were all fairly competently designed and managed to showcase the new Turok's graphical fidelity. A dinosaur graveyard of sorts set in a fiery, volcanic environment resembled what I imagine Earth looked like after an asteroid sent the world's prehistoric giants into extinction. With a dark, ash-filled sky above and magma bubbling up from a quaking, charred earth below, this map's tumultuous environment also significantly affected gameplay--large slabs of volcanic rock both lifted and sunk into the unstable playfield.

Propaganda outsourced some of the map-designing duties to Vancouver-based Threewave Software, who worked on id's Quake and other titles, as well as Boston-headquartered Mad Doc software. I'm glad the maps seem of higher quality than most, as the seven included maps certainly won't match the quantity of older Turok titles--Acclaim Austin's Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion (N64) had an insanely high 48 multiplayer maps.

A couple maps had random dinos prowling around certain areas, and while they could be avoided for the most part, the presence of a third party added a few interesting mechanics. It certainly makes it easier to kill a foe when they're getting mauled by a dinosaur, which can be done most effectively with a grenade, taking out both man and beast in one hit.

The infamous brain-sucking cerebral bore of Turok 2 won't be making a return in the new Turok, but it would be nice to at least see some more interesting weapons than was shown at the event. All of the weapons in the game have a secondary fire, but none provide much in the way of a drastically different shooter experience. A plasma rifle's secondary fire sends out an explosive concussion grenade, doing little damage while sending opponents flying. This was certainly the most enjoyable secondary fire tactic, while not the most effective, as foes could be essentially disabled through being bounced around the map with these fairly harmless concussion grenades. Another weapon, the sticky bomb gun, is essentially a remote mine in primary fire mode and a proximity mine in secondary.

But unless you're using one of the few overpowered weapons that provide a one-hit kill, finishing off opponents becomes an overly cumbersome exercise. It felt like it took a few too many bullets to kill any opponent--I wasn't able to finish off a player without reloading at least once with even the "armor piercing depleted uranium slugs" of the plasma rifle. This led to a high reliance on grenades, or most often, knives.

Unfortunately, the knife kill mechanic requires extremely precise timing--which wouldn't be a problem if it wasn't your only melee attack. Like in the single player mode, an onscreen prompt comes up to tell you when you're eligible to pull off lethal knife-kill. But even playing multiplayer on a LAN introduced some lag, making it very tough to time this button press correctly. The bulk of my close-range combat with other players resulted in an awkward dance of death, both of us circling clumsily and harmlessly stabbing the air until one of us managed to activate the knife-kill animation.

These drawn-out deaths only compound the already slowish pace of the battles. Whereas Turok titles of old were known for their frenetic speed in multiplayer matches, this game doesn't feel very fast, and certainly doesn't play as fast as some of the other shooters out there.

While I don't necessarily want to have the raptors as a playable character, this title certainly feels like it needs to be more than just Turok in name to set it apart from other shooters--something the wacky multiplayer of the older Turok titles had no problem achieving. You actually can't play as Turok in the new game's multiplayer, as Manners said he didn't want the iconic character represented by a fallible avatar. "He's not just another one of these guys that dies 100 times in a multiplayer match," he told me.

Even so, the Spartan-esque character models only served to remind me how little the title manages to differentiate itself from other shooters. Even Manners admitted there wasn't a standout aspect of the multiplayer to make it an entirely new experience. "I'm not going to say there's this one feature that'll make you play it over others," he said.

That's not to say the multiplayer is unenjoyable, but unless the soon-to-be-unveiled multiplayer game type is something truly remarkable, Turok's multiplayer gameplay will only serve as a fairly unimaginitive add-on and extension of its single player campaign--an unfortunate trend in modern console shooters.