Review: Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion
Way back in the late 90s, I had many a fond memory of playing Turok 1 and 2 on my N64. Naturally when they were remastered I had to pick them up, but I never did play Turok 3. Now it’s finally getting a remaster of it’s own, and it was finally time to see what I had been missing all these years.
Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion was originally released by Acclaim in 2000, with the remaster by Nightdive Studios released on all major consoles on November 30, 2023. The Steam version was played for this review
Mysteries upon Mysteries
Turok as a series is known for running around in the jungles shooting dinosaurs and aliens in the face with over the top weapons. Right off the bat, Turok 3 establishes a darker tone by having the forces of Oblivion (a brutal faction of otherworldy creatures hinted at in the previous game) launch a surprise attack on the previous player character’s home and slay him. His brother and sister survive the attack and you take control of one of them as they take on the mantle of Turok.
This dark tone continues by having the first couple stages be a modern city under siege and a military base, where the police and military are your enemy, as was the style at the time. It’s not until about halfway through the game that it remembers the series is known for jungle environments full of dinosaurs and ruins rather than urban environments, but by that point the mood has been set.
There’s a definite focus on narrative this time around. Previous titles would maybe give you a bit of exposition about where you’re going, who’s there, and what you’re doing. But now we have plenty of conversations between the main characters, they’ve introduced the shadowy Council of Voices, and there’s some real attempts at character building this time around.
It’s a shame that all this extra cutscene time doesn’t amount to much. Most of these scenes are spent building up mysteries, like the council being up to something, some entity called the Keepers that can help, the fact that there is some child we have to rescue. Most of these mysteries go unanswered, and what answers we do get are underwhelming at best. The rest of the cutscenes can largely be summed up as “Why are we here? I don’t know, let’s just push forward and hope for the best.” Perhaps the original writers were really banking on a sequel coming out, but it’s basically all setup for no payout.
Maybe it’s nostalgia, but I vastly prefer the level exposition we had in Turok 2. It was narrative in service of the gameplay; you were entering a level with a purpose in mind. In Turok 3 we have a narrative, but the only tie it really has to the gameplay is that Oblivion is our end goal. The levels are simply stops on the road, more or less.
The More Things Change…
Fans of the previous two games will find there’s a lot familiar here. Many of the recognizable weapons like the Razorwind are back, and it’s largely the same run-and-gun action with occasional puzzle elements. The interesting part is where it differs.
First off you get to choose between two protagonists, Joseph and Danielle. Joseph reflects a more stealth oriented playthrough, with weapons like sniper rifles and silenced pistols, and is able to squeeze into small gaps and use night vision goggles. Danielle reflects a loud playstyle with weapons like explosive arrows, miniguns, and the ability to leap over tall fences and use a grappling hook. This alone is a rather nice feature and gives some early player choice and incentive for a second playthrough.
Unfortunately, more could have been done to commit to this difference. It’s not like stealth or going guns blazing is off the table for either of them, and the different movement options sadly change very little. I can think of only two occasions across the entire game where my choice of character made a section fundamentally different, and they were small sections at that. For most of them the difference amounted to whether you go over or under a single obstacle.
Stealth also felt a little underpowered or possibly bugged. While there were occasions where I could get the drop on enemies by crouching up to them, there were many others where enemies kept spawning in that knew exactly where I was. On top of that, being crouched messes with the game’s aiming in a way that’s not reflected in the crosshairs, drastically reducing accuracy. So, regardless of character, I found myself just running through guns blazing most of the time. Maybe that was how it was intended, since it’s how the previous games played, but when you present one player as being stealthier, I can’t help but feel I should be stealthy as them.
The other main difference is in the level design. The first two Turok games had fairly wide open levels with plenty of branching paths. They felt like proper areas to explore that just had FPS objectives in them. Turok 3 decided to streamline the levels considerably. It’s not quite one long corridor from start to finish… but it’s not that far off either. There’s usually only ever one way forward and when levels loop back on themselves it’s typically fairly obvious what opened up. Between this and the large number of more human opponents in the early game, it feels like an attempt was made to capture the market that other FPS games had by emulating their design elements, and in the process lost some of what made the series special in the first place.
Limits to Polish
Graphically the game looks gorgeous. Well, gorgeous for 2000 anyway. There is that uncanny valley that realistic 3D was struggling with at the time, but everything is in far higher resolution, the lighting and draw distance have been vastly improved on the original, all running at a steady FPS. There’s a certain silliness to the models these days, but changing that would have removed some of the charm.
I wish I could say the same for the sound. The voice acting is quite bad, which is all the more highlighted by the game’s attempt at making things more cinematic. The music is not much better, and nowhere is that more evident than in the ending where it’s trying to go for some big dramatic reveals, and they’ve dropped their sequel bait for a Turok 4…and then the credits roll and it begins playing elevator music. Literal elevator music. Easily the second most baffling musical decision I’ve ever seen in a video game.
A Sign of the End
I wish I had more good things to say about this, and in truth I feel conflicted. I am not simply reviewing Turok 3, I am reviewing the remaster. From what I’ve been able to tell, the original looked worse and performed far worse as well, and basically all my complaints were things baked into the original.
This is undeniably the best way to play the game, and Nightdive also did a few touches here and there to enhance the experience without drastically changing it, like making the various cheats unlock through gameplay now instead of button combinations and even adding at least one new fun one.
I came away from this with the impression that I really didn’t miss out on much. Turok 3 is a game that lost its identity, and it now comes as no surprise that the next game was a reboot where Turok was changed into a space marine. In trying so hard to be like the other big name franchises, it became little more than another copy and sadly faded into obscurity. That all said, it’s only just mediocre at its worst, and you still get to shoot grenades at dinosaurs, so at least it has that going for it.
Review copy provided by Nightdive Studios for PC. Screenshots provided by reviewer.