The games industry can sometimes be a truly turbulent place, and witnessing promising studios and franchises being pushed to the wayside in favor of projects that are known for a fact would sell well is commonplace. Over the years, many fan-beloved IPs have fallen to the ground for this reason alone, which includes Iguana Entertainment’s Turok. This first-person shooter involving dinosaurs and aliens was a formula ripe for success, and the team did a great job at realizing the potential with a handful of great entries in the franchise. Of course, there hasn’t been a new Turok game in quite a while which begs the question – what the hell actually happened to Turok?
As mentioned before, the games industry is an ever-changing place, and Turok’s evolution as a franchise had a lot to do with the scenario of the industry at that time. Ever since the first major first person shooter games started to hit the market in the early 90s, the genre simply blew up in a big way. Every developer wanted to put its own spin on the trend – which then spawned an extraneous number of shooters, including but not limited to Duke Nukem, Quake, among others.
Iguana Entertainment would go on to put its own spin on this formula by replacing your generic enemies with dinosaurs and introducing a world with equal parts emphasis on adrenaline-pumping action and lore. The result – Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was released in 1997. The innovative gameplay at the time along with a plethora of distinct environments to explore made Turok an instant hit among fans, although not to an extent as say, Goldeneye 007. Turok: Dinosaur Hunter currently stands at a Metacritic score of 85, which for its time was simply put amazing.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was the first third-party developed game for the Nintendo 64, which is quite interesting when you consider that Turok doesn’t shy away from violence in any way. Another fun fact about the original is that it reportedly sold for $80 in the US and $129 in Australia. Sales were naturally lower than contemporaries, but its reported 1.5 million sold units is a pretty respectable number given the markedly higher price tag.
However, the critical and commercial success of the original quickly called for a sequel – and Iguana Entertainment delivered it with Turok: Seeds of Evil in 1998. While the game did release just a year after Dinosaur Hunter, it received similar praise from critics and fans alike – establishing Turok’s reputation as one of the best in its class. Turok: Seeds of Evil also had a multiplayer mode for the N64, where players could compete against one another in deathmatches. Arguably not the center point of attraction for the game, but Turok: Seeds of Evil’s multiplayer is considered to be a great incentive to keep playing once players are done with the campaign.
With the first two games in the franchise being great hits, more eyes than ever were set on what Acclaim Studios was on to next. Acclaim Studios released Turok: Rage Wars in 1999, which took a radically different direction from the previous entries with a heavy focus on the multiplayer mode of the game. Of course, this might have rubbed many fans the wrong way since most unanimously wanted more single-player content that the franchise was best known for. The fact that Rage Wars was exclusive to the N64 also did the game no favors, since the console didn’t have internet connectivity features and nor did Turok. That being said, Rage Wars is a non-canon entry in the franchise, which does lessen the blow of its considerably lower rating of 72 on GameRankings.
Acclaim would return in 2000 with the third mainline entry in the franchise titled Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion. The game introduced two playable characters each with a set of skills and weapons, that allowed for some new gameplay avenues. Turok 3 didn’t garner the critical acclaim that Acclaim had hoped for, and most fans agree that Shadow of Obvilion kickstarted the downfall of the series. The turn of the century bought with itself games with a heavy focus on storytelling such as Perfect Dark releasing around the same time as Shadow of Oblivion. Of course, it also doesn’t help that Turok 3 was hopelessly outmatched in terms of scale and visuals when compared to the games of that time.
With two mostly unsuccessful entries in the franchise, Acclaim Studios Austin was in a hard place at the time. With publisher Acclaim Entertainment on the steep decline in terms of finances, it isn’t an overstatement to say that Turok: Evolution Hunter was a do-or-die situation for the studio. Releasing in 2002 as a multi-platform title for sixth gen machines, this prequel failed to impress critics and fans in a similar vein to Turok 3. Reviews of the time frequently compare the game to Halo: Combat Evolved, a game that inarguably revolutionized the first-person shooter genre a year prior to Evolution.
In 2004, publisher Turok IP Acclaim Entertainment filed for bankruptcy – thanks in large part to poor sales of its products. The Turok IP was sold off, along with a number of Acclaim’s internal studios being shut off and hundreds of employees being fired and left unpaid.
Despite this, Turok would return again in 2008. Developed by Propaganda Games, Turok is a reboot of the franchise and veers far away from its roots in terms of characters and storyline. On the gameplay front, Turok seems to be a natural evolution of the franchise – but in actuality, is trapped between conventional linear shooter design and its traditional arena shooter roots. This did spell disaster in terms of critical reception, which was mostly mediocre at the time. However, the sales figures were relatively strong – with over a million copies sold in the first 2 months of release. Propaganda Games was given another shot at the franchise with a Turok 2, which sadly didn’t make it to release due to massive layoffs and subsequent closing of the studio in 2011.
It isn’t easy to explain what ultimately caused Turok‘s downfall, and remains a difficult puzzle to crack given how the series has repeatedly performed well enough on a financial front. However, what can be pieced together from this narrative is that Turok suffered from a gradual downfall in quality with its third canon installment, which also came at a time when player interest veered towards more mature experiences. Turok also hit the scene at the tail-end of the golden era of first-person shooters, which didn’t do the franchise any favors. An attempt at revival was plagued with a lack of direction and focus, which ultimately led to the franchise’s death.
Of course, that’s not the complete end of the story – as NightDive Studios recently remastered Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Turok 2: Seeds of Evil for modern systems. While it’s not a full-fledged remake, both titles are a great way to relive these games. The studio is also currently working on a System Shock remake, which looks great – and with strong sales figures for Turok‘s remasters – it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine the studio developing a full-fledged remake in the near future.
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