Content at a glance:
Computer Platform: Xbox 360 (Microsoft)
Produced by: Touchstone
Price Range: $21-30
Learning curve time: 1-2 hrs.
Age level: Teen to Adult
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Reviewed By: Phil Rownd (boyward)
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Christian Rating: 3 of 5 (average)
Gameplay: 4 of 5 (good)
Violence: 2 of 5 (heavy)
Adult Content: 3 of 5 (mild)
Joseph Turok is a Native American commando who can manhandle dinosaurs and kill them with a combat knife. The good news is that's a pretty cool hook for what is an otherwise generic first-person shooter. The bad news is… it's an otherwise generic first-person shooter that failed to earn distinction upon its release in February 2008. But if hunting dinosaurs and gunning down sci-fi mercenaries sounds like your thing, you'll be pleased to know that while Turok is bloody enough to been rated “Mature” by the ESRB, the most graphic violence is committed against dinosaurs instead of human beings. This, in the eyes of some gamers, makes Turok a different animal than other recent first-person shooters.
Attached by special order to Whiskey Company, an elite commando team, Joseph Turok's mission is to bring an escaped war criminal to justice. But on approach to Roland Kane's fortress planet, Whiskey Company's ship is blown out of the sky and crash lands on the planet below. From the manual: “Your ship is in pieces and your teammates are either killed or scattered to the wind. Ruthless mercenaries and voracious, bloodthirsty creatures are hunting down the ones that are not dead. Your mission has become fatally, unrelentingly simple: survive at all costs.”
As Turok and his surviving teammates push through the grass the leaves sway just right to give the feeling you're really there in the wild. The primal soundtrack sets the mood for a sci-fi safari, kind of like the music from the Predator movies or the King Kong video game. The Native American survival vibe is definitely here, and pitting Turok against dinosaurs is what saves this game from mediocrity. The game plays up the suspense at first, shaking the ground with the footsteps of an unseen Tyrannosaurus, and showing a fleeting glimpse of Raptors in the trees. For me, the “survive the dinosaurs” theme was enough to hold my interest for the next 8-10 hours, but the average critical score for this game is 69%, and I can understand why.
Knife controls are hard to get used to at first. Early in the game, a dinosaur was about to munch on my buddy's head and as I stood right there next to the dino's backside and swung my knife I could hit nothing but air. Only when dino came out of his attack animation was I allowed to hit him with a context-sensitive swing of the knife, which pulls the point-of-view away from the player and shows Turok delivering the killing blow before switching back to the first-person view. At first I thought this was a flaw, that I should be able to hit the dinosaurs from any angle, however I want, but as I got the hang of approaching the dinosaurs from the side, I was able to get in there and deliver the killing blow almost every time. After a while, I came to appreciate the finesse involved. If you can learn to play by the game's rules, you'll probably enjoy it more than if you force the game to play your way (as many critics likely did), so go in with an open mind.
I make special mention of the knife controls because I quickly learned that Turok's knife is much more effective than the guns he picks up. The only things that can't be killed by the knife are the helicopters and the awesomely animated Spider Tanks (think of a tank mounted on spider legs instead of treads). Those require standard sci-fi weapons like the RPG and Plasma Rifle.
Which brings us to another thing that takes getting used to: there is no auto-aiming or targeting help. Everything is done manually on the thumbstick, so for those who have enjoyed snap-to-target aiming in recent console FPS games (Call of Duty 4 comes to mind), Turok may feel like a step backwards. For the first few hours you'll probably waste lots of ammo while desperately try to get your crosshairs over those pesky mercenaries, but it's a skill that does improve with practice.
Something else that seems to bother people about Turok is that it's challenging, even on the easiest difficulty setting (“Normal”). I don't mind dying a few times before making it to next checkpoint, but in Turok some of the checkpoints are 15 minutes apart. It is a flaw, but again, practice makes perfect, and the frequent deaths remind us that survival in a dinosaur-infested jungle can be difficult.
Turok is enabled for online multiplayer and 4-player co-op. I haven't played those modes so I can't comment here. Approximately 850 of the game's 1000 Achievement Points are geared toward the online game, so those who wish to only play through the story mode won't be earning many Achievements. Here's what you can expect from the single-player game:
Five uses of the s-word, four uses of God's name in vain, and about a dozen other mild profanities. A member of Whiskey Company twice tells his teammates to “grow some balls.”
Despite the fact that human beings are stabbed, shot, and eaten by dinosaurs, none of this is as graphic as you might expect from an M-rated game. None of the men bleed or lose any body parts when they become dino-dinner. The violence done to man would likely earn the game a Teen rating on its own. The game begins with a flashback to Turok's days in the black ops when he killed some innocent peasants in a village. Turok expresses sorrow when he realizes what he's done. In another flashback Turok headbutts a man. During gameplay, Turok shoots mercenaries and he can sneak in for a knife kill, which we see, but there is no blood and we don't see the men's faces because they all wear masks. We watch from a distance as a gorgeously animated T-Rex devours some men whole. No blood is shown. We watch as Kane tests his new bio-weapon gas on his own men; dozens of men fall over dead. Kane executes a prisoner by shooting him in the chest. In all of this, we never see a drop of human blood or the kind of dismember we've come to expect from games like this. Where the game becomes an “M” is in the graphic violence committed against the dinosaurs. Turok uses his knife to cut their throats or stab them through the skull, jaw, or eye, and we see blood briefly splashing from the wound. Turok can grab dinosaurs and break their backs by cracking them over his knee. Mortally wounded dinosaurs occasionally writhe and spasm before lying down dead. If Turok manages to throw a lit grenade under a dinosaur, the lizard's body is blown apart in what the game describes as a “meat fountain.” Turok sticks a grenade deep in a T-Rex's eye socket and blows off the top of her head. Turok and other men get into grappling contests with the dinosaurs, where the dinos try to chomp down on the man's head, and the man can get out by out-muscling the beast or stabbing it in the jaw. Turok can kill the harmless herbivore dinosaurs who roam the planet, but this is inadvisable as these dinos provide a distraction against the carnivores. When the planet's volcanos erupt, some of these gentle giants are struck dead by flying boulders. The shotgun's flare attracts dinosaurs, so if you shoot it into something– dino or man– the target will likely be attacked by hungry lizards. The game encourages the player to lure the dinosaurs over to the enemy mercenaries and watch them kill each other off. We regularly encounter bloody dinosaur carcasses, leftovers from the Raptors' dinner.
Turok is genuinely repentant over sins committed against innocent peasants when he was in the black ops. Initially suspicious of Turok, the members of Whiskey Company gradually come to trust him, and sacrifice their own well-being to protect his. Until that point, Turok silently endures hostility from his teammates, and could be used as an example of the way Jesus handled harsh treatment: “While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:23).
Overall, I liked the character of Joseph Turok as well as the game that stars him, and now that the game is approaching bargain-bin status it is easier to recommend to teens and adults. However, I would caution you readers to become familiar with the kind of content you'll be exposing yourself to, especially the sight of a dinosaur getting stabbed in the face.
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Year of Release — 2008
[tags] 3.5 stars, First-Person Shooter, Xbox 360 (Microsoft), M (Mature), Touchstone [/tags]
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this Spotlight review are those of the reviewer (both ratings and recommendations), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Eden Communications or the Christian Answers Network.
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