Kicking off March 2018, developer Nightdive Studios, has been able to release remastered ports of classic shooters Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil on Xbox One. The studio originally released these remasters on Steam in 2015, and has had these console ports in the works since. The ports go to great lengths to make these N64-era titles, games that probably wouldn’t age well themselves, more palatable for gamers today. Not only are there the usual resolution options and visual improvements, but the studio also studied the game and made what it considered improvements to the level design in some spots. So with the face-lifting, appropriate pricing, and general quality of these games in the first place, Nightdive Studios is setting a good example of what games from this era can do on current hardware.
One of the most unfortunate truths of video games is that 90s 3D has not aged well. Games on the PC, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation we think back on as classics, well, don’t hold up visually. They can still be great fun of course, and those of us who grew up on them will be able to get past that just fine. But try telling your buddy who didn’t how great Turok 2 was and they might take a look at some screenshots and ask you if your old person brain is misremembering something else. The chunky polygons, bizarre textures, and oddly-compressed sounds can be a much bigger hurdle than sprite-based games, for example. So, with a few notable exceptions (particularly from Rare), there aren’t that many console ports outside of things like PSOne Classics.
If these Turok ports go over well, Nightdive Studios may have uncovered the secret sauce. Or the timing might be right – plenty of people my age grew up with a Nintendo 64, and Turok 2 was a highlight back then. It was this strange intersection of Mortal Kombat-like violence and bizarre, comic book-y science fiction. The weapons were all strange and fantastical, with arm blades, laser rifles, and strange, alien technology (shout out to the cerebral bore) being particular standouts. The level of gore, despite being crude, was cray for the time, with enemies exploding into meaty chunks, and bones protruding from the leftovers. As a kid at the time, I was pretty shook when I saw what the shotgun could do to one of the bipedal dinosaur mutants.
Aesthetically, I have to wonder if it’s getting more acceptable to play around with the low-poly style. Indie games are trying it a little, with some games coming out directly paying homage to the likes of Resident Evil and Parasite Eve. Higher-res ports of PlayStation games from companies like Square-Enix remind us that these games did have a level of artistry to them, and people do love being able to tinker with visual options – even if the Xbox One versions don’t have the full rundown the PC ports have.
Finally, it really is interesting how Nightdive Studios tinkered a bit with the level designs. In a Xbox Wire blog post paired with the launch announcement, Nightdive’s lead engine programmer Samuel Villarreal spoke about how he learned his trade in part by studying the guts of Turok and Turok 2. These were hugely ambitious games, with a lot of tricks used to circumvent hardware limitations and achieve the level of detail and scope the games accomplished. But he also said how some of these limitations caused problems with the level designs, including a problematic ratio of mazes and hallways. I definitely recall getting lost in some of the levels as a kid, so I’m intrigued by the prospect of getting the thrill of Turok without the bumbling between objectives.
Regardless of how well these do, it’s cool to see classic Turok back in the spotlight. It was a real shame to see the series sort of sputter to death, with a not so great couple of sequels on the N64 and Gamecube, followed by a Xbox 360 reboot that sold well but didn’t make a huge impact. The most recent developer no longer exists, and the rights appear to be floating around at DreamWorks somewhere. But in the meantime, Turok fans will be able to check out Nightdive Studios’ work on the originals for an affordable price, and relive the old days in high definition.