The Nintendo 64 was the first home console capable of delivering great First Person Shooting experiences. While the PlayStation (and Sega Saturn) would have some first person shooters, by comparison, most (if not all) were subpar when stacked against the games that the Nintendo 64 was running in that particular genre.
The Nintendo 64 had the hardware to do justice to the genre in ways that the competition couldn’t (until the arrival of the Sega Dreamcast), and its capabilities in the genre were showcased early in the console’s lifecycle.
Rare’s legendary Golden Eye – for the most part – will get the credit for delivering the first great First Person Shooting experience on home consoles, and for paving the way for the Nintendo 64 to become a viable platform for the genre. While I will agree that Golden Eye might have been the first game in the genre that could be considered “Great” on home consoles, there was another very good first person shooter that came before it, and consequently beat Rare’s masterpiece to the punch in the “paving the way” category.
The name of that game? Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. The world of Turok (and its characters) were based on a comic license that Acclaim (one of the most popular publishers of the 1990’s) had acquired in 1994. Acclaim was faced with dire economic troubles in the middle part of that illustrious decade, and it was up to its development team Iguana Entertainment, and their Turok game to save the company from certain doom (no pun intended).
Turok had an interesting development cycle, its developers at iguana had an established universe to work with, but settling on a video gaming genre in which to work with was a tad more trickier. When development for Turok started, the PC had games like Doom, other games like Quake and Prey were on the way. First Person Shooters seemed like a genre that could take off with the aid of the N64’s horsepower, and so Iguana settled for that style of presentation and gameplay even though 3-D 3rd person games (Like Mario 64, and Tomb Raider) were the rage at that particular time.
From 1996 until 1997, the Nintendo 64 also had the distinction of being the most powerful piece of hardware available on the consumer space (PC and Consoles included). In an interview with IGN.com, David Dinstbier (the Project Manager for the game), we got some clarity as to the mindset of the development team when considering genres for Turok:
“We knew that what we could do with the N64 would be vastly superior than what could be done on a PC. It (Going First Person) just seemed like a natural way to showcase the 3-D power of the machine. Other ideas we had were very similar to the third-person perspective like Tomb Raider and Mario, and the reason we kept it with the first person perspective, is that we wanted to get the kind of immersion you need to be fully complete. You lose a little bit of scale of the environment when you see a game from an over the shoulder look.” -David Dinstbier
Thus, Turok would settle into as a First Person shooting experience, and the development team had to overcome some hurdles despite the massive hardware advantage that the N64 provided over every other machine at the time. The issues ranged from common of the time period (Iguana was pretty much one of the pioneers of the genre’s entry into the full 3-D spectrum), to one that would plague Nintendo 64 game development for the remaining of its life-cycle: The cartridge limitations as a storage medium.
The issues with space contributed to the game being delayed from a target September 1996 release (which would have made the game a launch killer app), to an eventually March 1997 release. Turok was a big leap over anything that had ever been done before with in the genre, tech wise it was way ahead of anything that had ever been attempted even by Id’s Doom on PC.
“I was given a book, and in it the authors were talking about the original Doom on the PC, and that each level was composed of about 3,000 polygons, and that each level of Quake was composed about 10,000 (polygons). An average level in Turok runs between 250,000 and 300,000 polygons. So, honestly, I could say that I would like to have a slightly larger cart.”- David Dinstbier
Turok would eventually launch on an 8MB cart (which was the standard space featured on carts in the early N64 days). The game would go on to span a multi game series on the system ( and franchise that is still alive today in the form of the remasters), as it was well received, and sold about 1.5 million copies, which was a very impressive number for a 3rd party game on the Nintendo 64.
With that background on the game in place, we can now travel back to my own memories of the title. Little 12 year-old me was mesmerized by the game from the moment that it booted up on my old TV. I recall vividly how Turok was the first time I played a first-person shooting experience. I was impressed by the smooth textures, and the speed at which both human and dinosaur enemies approached me during my playthroughs. It must be stated that all of the enemies were rendered in full 3-D glory, which at the time, was unheard of in the genre.
The early water part with an underwater cave designed for exploration, ignited by imagination in ways that no other game (save for Mario 64) had been able to do. The water shaders themselves were ahead of anything at the time, even on the system. Turok was a first person shooter, but it was also an adventure game.
The over the top weapons were always a treat and a feast for the eyes, and even the fog effect (which was utilized heavily to hide the draw distance) added to the mysterious atmosphere of the game. There was diversity in the look of the levels too. From tropical jungles, to ancient ruins, everything was rendered as fantastically, as could have been done (in the mid 90’s).
The experience wasn’t perfect, the game featured platform jumping sections which were a bit frustrating given the nature of the first person view. The game also required the purchase of a Memory Pak in order to save your progress, which for a kid like me was a bummer, as I had to rely on my mom to purchase the device for me, which eventually happened, but for a few weeks, I couldn’t really progress far into the game at all.
That said the game pushed the genre forwards, and even its story (which in the first person shooting genre was mostly inconsequential) was gripping, featuring futuristic, and time traveling themes. The game’s ending also sets up the sequel Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, perfectly.
Turok was one of those games that you would showcase to your PlayStation owning friends at the time in order to hype your console up, it deserves a legendary rep, as I believe it remains a great game to play today because of it introduced vertical exploration to a genre that had been previously defined by corridor shooters. Not only that, but backtracking, and fully exploring its gigantic levels was a necessary component of its gameplay.
Turok survives today in the form of the remasters, which are widely available in all platforms, including the Nintendo Switch. So, there is no excuse to not experience this classic firsthand. Its once groundbreaking visuals are now archaic and primitive, but the gameplay ideas and concepts that it pioneered on 3-D remain enjoyable today.
As an interesting side note, Turok’s influence is widely felt on one of the greatest games of all time in Retro’s Metroid Prime (GameCube), as many Retro employees were once Iguana members that worked on Turok Dinosaur Hunter. Long live Turok, and its legacy!