Monday, August 18, 2014

Turok 2: Seeds of Evil

 photo Turok2box_zpsdd825b05.jpg
Released on October 21, 1998, by Acclaim Entertainment, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil sends players back to the Lost Lands to vanquish unspeakable evil, in more epic, hyper-violent, first-person shooter action.
 photo c5dda261-74e9-48cb-ad81-5b32c98ef01c_zpse3bd90a5.jpg  
The Personal Story:
Turok 2. I can't remember any Nintendo 64 game having more pre-release hype outside of a certain other sequel to another highly popular first-person shooter. Turok 2, sequel to Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, was going to have the best graphics. The biggest levels. The most and coolest weapons. The most detailed and disgusting death-animations. On top of that, another burden was placed on the game: despite a wealth of great games, the Nintendo 64 was not exactly known for having an edge. While Playstation owners had numerous adult-geared titles to choose from, the 64 had, at the time, the reputation as a "kiddie system." Turok 2 had to be the game to break the stigma. By the date of its release, Turok 2 had no chance of meeting its enormous reputation. The simple allure of being sixteen and playing a game where I got to blow monsters specific limbs off without my mom knowing was enough for me to circle my calendar, though. While low, sixteen year-old finances kept me from purchasing Turok 2, I caught a ride to Blockbuster to rent it as soon as I possibly could. What I got wasn't exactly what I expected. The graphics were awesome. The gameplay was violent. The game felt epic. But it was so. Incredibly. Difficult. The levels might as well have spanned a thousand miles, with only two or three save points with a hundred miles between them. I spent two of the three rental days just beating the first level. The final morning, I used cheats just to get a look at all the weapons I was certainly never going to earn, and the levels I was certainly never going to reach. That was it. The game went back to Blockbuster. I rented it a few more times, but only for parties, where my friends and I enjoyed the multiplayer deathmatch until we got tired of it and pulled out Goldeneye, yet again. Years later, I found Turok 2 selling for $3.99 in the used video game store bargain bin. I couldn't resist the purchase, but years went by before the cartridge ever found my Nintendo 64. By that point, though, I was no longer a teenager of meager ability. I am The Curator. 

 photo e1c9130b-d562-49d0-a91d-0063534050d4_zps184f98e6.jpg

Graphics: Turok 2 certainly delivers on the graphical front. While the trademark Turok fog is back, it stays way further out in the distance than in its predecessor. The developers also wisely set four of the game's stages at night, or in indoor environments, so the far distance can simply be dark instead of foggy. As far as the environments themselves, textures are quite good, and the detail is high. Real-time lighting and shadow effects are also top notch. The game's six stages all have a unique appearance, which will be further discussed in the "GAMEPLAY" section. Turok 2's enemies are well-animated and more highly-detailed then perhaps any to appear on the system.  Muscle-movement is even visible under the skin, and Turok 2's dozens of enemies all move realistically. Animation routines are seamless to the point they are seldom noticeable. When a monster roars at Turok, the player can see its tongue-flapping, and count individual teeth. Turok 2's death-animations are also as gruesome as advertised, with enemies coming apart based on where they are hit, and by what weaponry is devastating them. Overall, these are 2nd generation Nintendo 64 graphics at their best. 

Speaking of weapons, Turok 2's look incredible. The amount of detail put into each gun, blade, and instrument of destruction is stunning--in years since, their high aesthetic quality has barely been improved upon. All of this graphical superiority comes with a bit of a price, though. The game does run noticeably slower than its predecessor--Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's blazing speed is noticeably absent. Framerate slowdown also peeks its ugly head into Turok 2 from time to time. While this only occurs when environmental detail is very high, and plenty of enemies are attacking, it certainly affects gameplay and makes aiming at those moments difficult, even if they seldom occur.

 photo 4c2689ae-1659-4fcf-ace8-be68f0a09076_zpsfe2b7a2a.jpg
Sound: Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's music was a source of contention for some players. While the minimalistic synth lines and tribal beats perfectly fit the prehistoric atmosphere of Dinosaur Hunter, many gamer's wanted something more sophisticated. Even Turok: Dinosaur Hunter's creators admitted they had much bigger plan's for that game's music, but had to scale back to save cartridge space. Seeds of Evil arrives on a cartridge twice as large as its predecessor's. The developers maximized the increase in data space by creating an epic, symphonic score that often sounds as if it is being created by a real orchestra. Turok 2's music gets the blood pumping, amps up the suspense, and makes the game feel even more huge. The only flaw is the lack of dynamics when the player changes areas in a particular world. For instance, stage 2, Slaughter by the River of Souls, begins as a triumphant dinosaur ride, as Turok blasts his way through the city gates--the music is appropriately victorious. However, later on, the stage shifts to a Quake-like trek through haunted graveyards, and battles against the grotesque undead. A more horror-themed score would fit this portion of the level, but the score never changes. It's still the same rousing theme from Turok's Styracosaurus based adventure. This is a missed opportunity, especially considering Banjo Kazooie showed how effective dynamic music changes could be, and only months before Seeds of Evil's release. Turok 2''s sound effects miss no opportunity, though. Raptor's make unearthly noises, monsters unleash blood-curdling screams, and dying beasts loudly gurgle their own blood. Each gun sounds fittingly fearsome, and explosions rumble the walls. Finally, few things chill as much as coming to a halt and hearing the continuing sound of footsteps the player thought were their own. 

Turok 2's cutscenes feature full speech, as each world is explained in detail. This is a quality touch, and fills out the gaming experience nicely.

 photo Summer2014213_zps10d403fd.jpg
Gameplay: Turok 2 features the same control scheme as Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. In other words, the player will spend about ten minutes flailing around in frustration, and then spend the rest of the game forgetting they are even holding a controller. While Seeds of Evil features a few simple puzzles, the majority of the game is spent blasting bad guys. Thankfully, Turok 2 makes this a joyful task. Picking up and trying out new weapons, as well as running into new enemies is always a thrill, as is developing a strategy and picking the best weapons for knocking off each respective foe. Turok 2 features the usual pistols, shotguns, and rocket launchers, but these can have upgrades, and even alternate ammunition. For instance, the game's shotgun upgrades to a "Shredder," which concentrates fire, and causes it to bounce off of the walls. However, explosive ammunition is also available for the gun, essentially giving it four different functional uses. The game also includes less...conventional firearms. The incredibly disgusting "cerebral bore" fires a spinning drillbit that slowly digs its way into an enemy's skull, exploding upon brain contact. Turok 2's flamethrower blasts out gorgeous polygonal fire, and may be the most useful weapon of all. The "war blade," exactly what it sounds like, straps to Turok's wrist, and is one of the first first-person-shooter hand-to-hand weapons to actually rival the best projectile ones. The "razorwind" is basically a bladed boomerang (which comes back blood-soaked after enacting mayhem upon a room full of foes). As previously stated, this game is gruesome, as the price for all this weaponry is fountains of blood and flying limbs...and at times, again, as previously mentioned, Turok 2's framerate. 

With all that said, Seeds of Evil lives and dies by its levels. Here is a breakdown of all six, and how fun they actually are to play.
1. The Port of Adia -- Begins as the standard first level of a game, giving the player plenty of time to learn the controls, as it very slowly unveils new enemies. The stage is set in a seaside city full of shipyards and medieval architecture, including an abandoned archery range where the player can hone their aiming skills. Adia appears to have been broken by a siege, with the streets full of fire and corpses. It also introduces gamers to the Seeds of Evil's enormous length. Hours may pass before the player comes across Adia's first savepoint, even longer before the next. Turok 2 success requires immense patience from the player. To build up enough lives to make it through the game's later, difficult bosses, gamers will have to blast through rooms until health and ammo are low, then backtrack to an ammo and health regeneration area, stock back up, then think about their next move. Sometimes stealth is key. While this certainly adds a bit of realism, it also adds quite a bit of inconvenience to the player who doesn't have three or four hours to kill at a time.
2. Slaughter by the River of Souls -- River of Souls sums up both everything that is excellent and frustrating about Turok 2. The level starts out with perhaps the most thrilling moment of the game--a ride on a Styracosaurus that is fully armed with mounted rocket launchers and cannons, loaded with infinite ammo. Turok and his steed must fight their way through the gates of a city full of of temples and Byzantine-styled architecture. The trouble begins when Turok hops off the Styracosaurs' back. The rest of the level is enormous, full of backtracking, and labyrinthine, confusing tunnels. Unfortunately, River of Souls has as few save points as The Port of Adia, but because of Souls' size, they are even further apart. This results in an exercise of equal parts exhilaration and frustration. The player must find several haunted, Quake-style graveyards in order to destroy a certain amount of soul gates, witches, and the living dead. This is extremely cool, except for the fact that finding these graveyards is insanely tedious and confusing. Controllers will be thrown. This leads to a Turok 2 player's best friend: a Prima strategy guide. While some players may feel like assistance of any sort is taboo, an exception can be easily made
for Turok 2. This is because Seeds of Evil's in-game map is awful, and most players without a complete photographic memory will otherwise have to resort to drawing their own map in order to not get terribly lost. The strategy guide is highly recommended for this reason, and Prima's in particular, as the drawing of its maps are the most detailed and accurate. Using it will save the player countless hours of frustration, especially during a particularly hazardous journey through underwater tunnels later in the game. That said, Slaughter by the River of Souls has broken many a player who chose to go in without one.
3. The Death Marshes -- This stage should have set the tone for the entire game. It is not short, but it is fast-paced, action-packed, atmospheric, and laid out clearly. The player may die at the fist of one of the Marshes' immense beasts, but it won't be because they are lost, and backtracking through the same area again and again. The level also takes place at night, effectively eliminating the game's fog issues, and heightening suspense. Best of all, the dread-enhancing symphonic intensity of The Death Marshes' score is not only a game highlight, but a benchmark among all of the Nintendo 64's musical moments.
4. The Lair of the Blind Ones -- Rivals the River of Souls as Turok 2's most frustrating level. This is a shame, as The Lair of the Blind Ones is the game's most visually resplendent stage. Seemingly sprung from the imagination of J.R.R. Tolkien himself, The Lair is a massive system of caves featuring towering waterfalls, dark pools, plentiful mushrooms, ancient bones, glittering tunnels, oversized spiders, and horrifying monsters. Unfortunately, it is also full of numerous confusing, twisting passages, perilous to the player, and far from any save point. The Lair does feature the game's first boss, though, a huge beast that underlines the EPIC in Turok 2's description.
5. The Hive of the Mantids -- A very cool stage that forces Turok to descend from the more technologically-enhanced levels of the titular Mantids' hive down to the putrid bowls of its nests. The first portions of the stage are brightly, almost garishly colored, and become trippier and trippier as Turok progresses. Eventually, as he nears the bottom of the Hive, colors get earthier, and the surroundings get nastier, with eggs, larva, and revolting queens around every corner. Thankfully, the layout is manageable, and the stage is great fun throughout, even as it raises the game's level of challenge. The Hive also features a boss who one-ups the Lair of the Blind One's final foe.
6. The Primagen's Lightship -- Turok 2's final, and most difficult stage, featuring deathly traps, and more intricate problem-solving than previous stages. Beautiful lighting and cool architecture will often lure the layer into a laser pit. The Lightship features "Mother" as the stage's final boss, before the player returns to the game's Hub to meet Primagen, Turok 2's overall final boss. No other detail of description is needed for "Mother." With a title like that, the player is sure to be in for one disgustingly difficult treat.
The Hub -- Floating among stars and nebulae, the Hub features gates to all of Turok 2's stages. The player must pick up keys throughout each level in order to open the gates for the next ones. As a lovely bit of detail, the developers placed little visual clues around each level portal to keep the player from being confused and re-entering the wrong stage--there's a gate for Adia, a dome for River of Souls, a Death Flag for the Death Marshes, mushrooms for Lair of the Blind Ones, and appropriately technologically advanced ones for Turok 2's final two stages. The sentimental player might notice the fungi sprouting around Lair of the Blind Ones entrance portal, then reminisce about the time they threw those Sunfire Pods to the cavern floor and burnt all those cavedwellers' skins off. The center of the Hub houses the Primagen, Turok 2's final boss. As the developers surely realized the game they were making was insanely difficult, they made sure Turok 2's final boss was no different. The player is advised to max out their lives before visiting the Primagen. They are going to need them.
Finally, Turok 2 also includes a surprisingly enjoyable deathmatch mode. While not as deep or fun as Goldeneye's (the standard-bearer for all multiplayer deathmatch modes), the developers managed to pack in some pretty fun elements. Perhaps the most different and...hilarious option is the Frag Tag, otherwise known as "Monkey Tag." This mode is known as "Monkey Tag" because one player is chosen to be a defenseless monkey, ruthlessly hunted down by the other players, until the monkey player is able to find a tag pad, and pass the duty of monkey onto another player. The regular deathmatch modes are also fun, but again, just can't touch Goldeneye's. Beside the fact that it features fewer options, Turok 2's deathmatch's most egregious offense is a lack of a radar screen. Once one has put in a few hours with Goldeneye, and gotten used to the radar screen's intuitive convenience, it is hard to go back.

 photo e863b72f-0ecf-466d-b378-44bd2a2d8278_zpsaef9d6b1.jpg
Lasting Value: After beating Turok 2, the final screen might say 21 or 22 hours played...but the player knows the truth. After dying countless times, and turning off the Nintendo 64 in frustration, the number is most likely closer to 30, and for some players, 40. Acclaim gives a pretty great reward for all this challenge, though. If the player begins a new game after beating Turok 2, they are given the option to play with every weapon in the game, unlimited ammunition, invincibility, and the ability to warp to any level at will. This feels like a well-earned privilege, and allows the player to go back to the game's deepest pits of torment, where they can say, "This is where the bad thing happened to me," before then screaming, "But they'll never hurt me again," and burning down everything in reach with unlimited flamethrower. The multiplayer modes will keep the player and their friends busy for a while before finally tiring of it and going back to Goldeneye. Overall, the player certainly gets their money's worth with this one. It may not have lived up to its "Greatest Game Ever!!!" hype, but only one game truly can. Turok 2: Seeds of Evil is still a very special, memorable game, and one with a place of honor in the Nintendo 64 Museum. 

Beautiful, dynamically lit, highly detailed environments and enemies, marred slightly by distance fog and a sometimes glitchy framerate.
Music and Sound
Cinema-worthy soundtrack, window-rattling weapons and explosions, blood-chilling enemy shrieks, and full speech make for one gorgeous auditory package.
A single-player campaign that can be jaw-droppingly incredible, but sometimes incredibly frustrating, and a very solid deathmatch multiplayer mode.
Lasting Value
25-35 hour single-player mission, though few will want to relive the trauma without cheats. Multi-player can also consume quite a bit of time.