We Need More Games Like Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley

We Need More Games Like Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley

The game isn't exactly what I want, but I can't fault the idea of playing around with properties.

This is probably not the Turok you've been looking for. Back in 1997, developer Iguana Entertainment and publisher Acclaim Entertainment released Turok: Dinosaur Hunter for the Nintendo 64. At the time, it was fairly unique: the prehistoric future setting was cool, the environments were fairly open, the weapons were top-notch, and Goldeneye 007 was still a few months away. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was an instant hit, and a sequel followed in a relatively quick year and a half later.

This is probably the Turok you remember. | Nightdive Studios

The entire Turok gaming franchise is based on a fairly serious comic character that started publication back in 1954. The comic version has come and gone many times since then, but the video game iteration put Turok on the map. Since then, developers have tried four times to recapture the moment in time shared by Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and its sequel, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. Nothing's taken.

For years fans have asked for more Turok, As with Goldeneye, they seem to want the old N64 game, but with modern mechanics and presentation. It feels like a tall order, and no one has cracked the code. Nightdive Studios released remasters of the first two games a few years ago to great success, so why can't we get an all-new entry in the franchise?

If you asked me to outline my dream new entry in the Turok franchise, Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley would not be it. I'd say there's room for a first-person shooter that visually calls back to the Nintendo 64 era, not unlike Dusk's homage to the days of Quake. Alternatively, a retro side-scroller like Blazing Chrome or The Messenger would be a solid vehicle for the Dinosaur Hunter.

Instead, Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley is an isometric action game with an aggressively cute exterior. I call it "My Dinosaur Hunter Can't Be This Cute" or "Turok-chan" for short. Pillow Pig Games, the developers behind the indie fighter Fighties, brings that same aesthetic to Turok. You can't even call Turok-chan a Dinosaur Hunter, as the dinosaurs themselves are referred to in the game as "Honkers." (Which itself is a reference to the original comic.)

It's a fairly linear game with some light branching paths for exploration, but largely focused on combat. Turok is armed with his knife for melee attacks, and bow for long-ranged attacks. The knife has a stronger charge move and the bow needs to be drawn for maximum distance and damage, meaning both weapons also have a fairly long start to be efficient. Positioning and timing is key in this Turok. You have a dodge roll for a quick escape, but on Normal difficulty, missing an enemy or boss pattern is fairly punishing. The cute exterior belies a title that wants to hurt you.

Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley is also rather fiddly. When I first started playing on PC, I used mouse and keyboard, but aiming is clearly balanced for a controller. Because Turok can only aim in eight directions, enemies will frequently be slightly between your sightlines. Platforming is also frustrating in places, given that you actually need to dodge obstacles and pinpoint jump onto platforms. This new Turok is a miss for me; there's a solid core idea, but it needs some polish.

Enemies have straightforward attack patterns, but if you miss, they will punish you. | Universal Studios Interactive Entertainment

This can probably be attributed to it being one step removed from a fangame. Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley is the result of the Universal GameDev Challenge, a contest that opened up the Universal properties-Turok, Back to the Future, Battlestar Galactica, Voltron, and Jaws-to independent developers working with Unity. The two winners of the contest were Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley and Voltron: Cubes of Olkarion, another title you can find on Steam Early Access right now.

I'm all about this experimentation with existing brands, especially if the IP holder isn't doing anything with it. I was excited about the first iteration of the Square Enix Collective, which opened up Gex, Fear Effect, and Anachronox to indie developers. The resulting game, Fear Effect Sedna, wasn't great, but at least a developer tried something creative. It's better than nothing.

I've argued in the past that more companies should let developers play around with their IPs. Electronic Arts has been slow to capitalize on Star Wars, and I believe there's space to let more visionaries mess around in that universe. I wrote last year, "If you have to, shuffle these projects off into their own line, like Disney did with the old Expanded Universe. 'Star Wars Legends' could be projects based on the Star Wars universe that don't have to worry about canon and continuity; something like The Star Wars, a comic series based on George Lucas' original draft of the first film. Let creators have fun with familiar concepts. Worst case scenario, you never talk about it again. Best case, you get new ideas to infuse into the main universe."

Murder adorable enemies across many environments. | Universal Studios Interactive Entertainment

Why don't publishers let developers mine the past more often? Who's to say that there's not an indie out there ready to crack the code of Legacy of Kain, Final Fantasy Tactics, Twisted Metal, Golden Axe, Viewtiful Joe, or Jet Set Radio? Konami is making its own Contra title, Contra: Rogue Corps, but I'd say Blazing Chrome did a better job capturing what I want from the series. Sometimes the homage gets what made the original great more than the official sequel.

Having a game like Turok: Escape From the Lost Valley doesn't hurt Turok overall. It's one shot at the property, and even if it's not what you want from Turok, it shows Universal Studios Interactive Entertainment that there's some life left in this old Dinosaur Hunter. Maybe this is the step to a proper Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. Maybe it's just a one-off. Either way, I think the community is better off for it existing, and I wish publishers would let their franchises out to play a bit. More games, less languishing in a metaphorical warehouse collecting dust.

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Mike Williams

Reviews Editor

M.H. Williams is new to the journalism game, but he's been a gamer since the NES first graced American shores. Third-person action-adventure games are his personal poison: Uncharted, Infamous, and Assassin's Creed just to name a few. If you see him around a convention, he's not hard to spot: Black guy, glasses, and a tie.

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