Turok, a decades old comic series, was introduced to a whole new generation when now defunct publisher Acclaim obtained the property when they purchased Valiant Comics. After giving it a ’90’-s makeover, Acclaim turned Turok into one of the most important exclusive third-party franchises on the Nintendo 64 where it helped usher in a new era of first-person action games on consoles. Over the past few years the Turok series has been kept relevant thanks to wonderful remasters of the first and second games from Nightdive Studios, but there hasn’t been a new entry since Disney of all people tried to give it a space marine update in 2008. After an over eleven year hiatus, Turok is back thanks to Universal Interactive and indie studio Pillow Pig Games’ Turok: Escape from Lost Valley, an isometric action game for Steam. While it’s nice to see a new Turok game after all these years, there’s very little enjoyment to be had in this short and frustrating adventure.
Turok has been starring in video games for over twenty two years, but Escape from Lost Valley is the first game that embraces the pulp origins of the series. There’s no cerebral bore here or portable nuke device, just Turok and his partner Andar surviving in the harsh Lost Valley with little more than a knife, a bow and arrow and their wits. Don’t expect to be the apex predator either, as you’re more hunted than hunter here. Savage cavemen, giant bears and “honkers”, essentially dinosaurs and sea creatures, are all dangerous threats not to be lightly in your fight for survival.
Undermining, but very much in a good way, the threats that Turok and Andar face is Escape from Lost Valley’s terrific art direction. This game is clearly taken inspiration from classic Turok lore, but the characters and enemies are drawn in a cute, chibi style that looks close to something from games developed by The Behemoth. Before a boss fight with a T-Rex, or “Killer Honker”, you’ll see a fighting game style versus screen that is supposed to get you pumped up for action, but instead you’ll just be lost in how adorable Turok and his foe are. One of the early enemies you fight is a giant bear and you’ll want to give him a big hug instead of pumping him full of arrows and stabs from your knife. If only that same care and attention went into the sound as music is repetitive when it’s there and large enemies will crash onto the ground to barely a thud.
The friendly art direction hides what is a brutally tough game though, and this isn’t a well designed challenge but rather one that stems from frustrating game design. Escape from Lost Valley uses a three-quarters, isometric perspective which has never been a good fit for action games and this game doesn’t make a case for it. It’s tough to judge where enemies are going to land, making it difficult to dodge accordingly, and lining up shots whether up close with your knife or from a distance with your bow and arrow is equally problematic. Hitting enemies with your bow is more trouble than its worth as it’s far too slow against faster enemies, and your knife has such limited range that you almost have to be on top of an enemy to hit them. You can charge up for a heavy attack with your knife, but as you can’t move while you’re doing this, you’ll only find use for it in the tutorial.
Turok can gain access to armor and items that augment his arrows, but it’s almost like the game doesn’t want you to have them. In the first stage, you’re told you can get armor if you get a bear pelt, but in order to get this, you have to fight a frustrating optional boss. In stage three, you’re introduced to berries that increase the damage of your arrows at the end of a difficult to navigate thorn maze. These help greatly when fighting the boss of the level, but if you exhaust them and die, you have to trudge all the way back through the maze to get more, suffering damage from the walls and obnoxious enemies trying to get them back. This helpful tease only continues in the next area where you have to use fire arrows to blind enemies in a cave who can otherwise kill you in one hit. Your reward at the end of the tunnel is an item that can refill your health, something you can only do at base camps, but, like your arrow power up, once it’s gone you have to venture back to get more.
What’s maddening about all of this is that among all the frustration you can see what developer Pillow Pig is going for. Like the comics, they’re trying to create a world where everything is dangerous, and this could very much work if the few abilities you have were tighter. Boss enemies are all about learning clear patterns, but the perspective doesn’t lend itself to that type of twitch action, making it tough to dodge roll away from an attack or jump over a long neck water honker that’s moving across your small play area.
Turok: Escape from Lost Valley’s deceptively family-friendly ascetic hides a game that’s challenging but for all the wrong reasons. This game isn’t terribly long, but even on easy, you’ll probably quit before you reach the end after wrestling with the poor camera perspective and lackluster combat. This game was born out of a game jam, and you can certainly tell as it feels more like a proof of concept than something that’s asking you to pay for it. There are things to like about Escape from Lost Valley from the character designs to a few clever boss battles, but that’s all wasted on a game that’s simply just not fun to play.
Turok: Escape from Lost Valley is available now for PC via Steam. This review is based on a copy purchased by the writer.