There were fewer things stranger to me in 1995 than the onset of puberty, and the strangest was without a doubt the original Rise of the Triad. It held no distinct theme other than the fleeting economy of rocket ammo backed by the always stable lead standard of small arms fire for the explicit purpose of being graphically explicit in its action. These aren’t distant memories, I played a lot of the original game, and the era it resided in is not one looked upon through rose tinted glasses and pangs of nostalgia: I am still an active player of Quake and Doom. For this remake to be a love letter to the past is strange to me, because those games aren’t in the past as they’ve yet to die. Rise of the Triad (henceforth referred to as ROTT) is not a novelty item or a blast from the past, it is another first person shooter for me.
Upon first launching ROTT, I had to chuckle at the message of ″Initializing PC Master Race″, but it is something I can appreciate as Interceptor Entertainment wisely forgoes any modicum of DRM, offering an entirely offline mode as well as multiplayer between Steam and GOG users. In addition, Interceptor Entertainment is also planning full mod support and free DLC. All of the options are nicely in depth with all manner of variables available as toggles or quality dropdowns, and through presets. If this rather robust level of granularity is still too broad for you, console support is included and INI files are unprotected allowing for you to tweak to your heart’s content.
ROTT has some of the best game music I’ve heard, and yes it is heavily based off of the original soundtrack, but it works so wonderfully with its live instrumentation and additional touches. Lee Jackson’s original upbeat brassy tones and pondering strings are complimented well with double bass kicks, excellent bass lines, and a flare for the heavier and more electronic side of music. It gels well with the gameplay, blending in during moderate action, accentuating heavy action, and entertaining without repetition during peaceful times.
You could say ROTT is a traditional first person shooter, though that would be a disservice to the original with the mechanics of infinite bullet ammo, the presence of numerous explosive weapons all vying for one slot, and of explosions cooking the food items to double their health bonus. In both releases, enemies dodge your attacks, shoot nets at you, steal guns from your hand, beg for their lives, and even feign their death to ambush you later. All of this while launching off bounce pads to collect floating coins for your score and make your mark on the leaderboards.
With time being as much a factor in your score as surviving, your character choice has an impact. Each character has six points to split between their health and speed allowing you to suit things more to your style. I spent some time with every character, but favored Taradino Cassat for his even balance on health and speed. Each character is voice acted, however I quickly got tired of their lines being so few in number but quick to call.
Any point of damage will trigger a comment about how they are hurting without regard to the amount of damage they have actually taken, and usually they are laced with expletives to give greater emphasis. This emphasis does in fact seem to be the name of the game in terms of characters, they certainly like to swear at every opportunity, and at times I felt like I was commanding an understudy for Duke Nukem. I like Duke, but he was Marcel Marceau next to the HUNT team.
The movement speed is fast by contemporary release shooters, though not particularly faster than what can still be had in the Quake or Doom communities. You run everywhere at top speed as you navigate reimaginings of the original levels. Unfortunately, the geometry suffers from issues of scale as the original had dwarfing structures that, despite the lack of visual fidelity, gave the sense of making your way into a gargantuan monastery. The remake feels more like navigating dwarven structures: rooms are a little too small for their eighteen year old counterparts and the speed doesn’t quite match up. Gone are the huge heights, bouncing off a jump pad over a long courtyard, soaring over spinning blades and guards.
Here we have modest heights and shorter distances with more discrete waves of enemies and gated segments, bringing the game world from one of abstraction to a roller coaster ride. Yes we once again have color coded doors with matching color coded keys, but they are practically paired together, turning them into a mini-game rather than a major section of the map. Levels are largely linear affairs only broken up by secrets and could be charted in terms of player decisions using a straight line with single node offshoots for secrets. More so the levels are almost devoid of moving walls and rearranging sections, a major characteristic of the original which made the environment lively. These are not levels found in the mid-90s, though they may be abstract and involve traps, secrets, and keys, you are largely along for the ride so long as you can survive it.
You may have noticed I spoke of the movement speed as being fast, but not the gameplay speed. The gameplay is specifically not fast, in fact it borders on the casual other than a few moments here and there. Enemies do not roam once awakened like in the original, at least not on the same scale, they may round a corner at times but they won’t fan out, even unintelligently. The result is the best tactic which is firing your infinite ammo at the corner as the guards walk into the stream of bullets, a tactic that served me through the entire game against all bullet vulnerable enemies. The gameplay rarely puts you in interesting situations, and lacks variety in difficulty. I played most of the game on Hard looking for a challenge but found myself either perfectly fine, or dead.
Quite simply the game was lacking in challenge, barring foolhardy decisions, except for when it hit you with a near or instant death trap I could do some harm to myself if I ran out into a group of enemies and circle strafed all day, but against a largely hitscan lineup (an attribute of the original I will admit) this quickly becomes dull. The only truly threatening enemies are bosses who bear little resemblance to those in the 1995 release beyond name, to the point of being obnoxious and uncharacteristic. Their difficulty lies more in endurance than skill as they have very high hitpoints resulting in a sense of work rather than combat when you encounter them.
The majority of your deaths will come from pitfalls and lava as you struggle to steer your player through first person platforming with a bad mouse feel, awkward player friction, and an air control akin to a brick with retrorockets. Simultaneously you are dealing with frames dropped during the high speed moments that come from successive jump pads, and typically through an obstacle course of spinning blades, flame jets who do damage before they actually appear, fireballs, and lightning arcs. The kicker is that you will respawn far from where you last died in most cases, causing a repetition of actions you have already demonstrated capability with simply for the opportunity to pull off that one jump, a feat that the game engine is not exactly suited for.
You will get very specific rooms down to a fine art as you replay them to reach the same spot that keeps killing you, regardless of difficulty because the game only offers checkpoints. It has been stated that this is due to the complexity of the game, but as rooms seal off behind you, scripts are sparse and the AI doesn’t roam, I suspect it has more to do with the Unreal Engine’s lack of a distinct save function as we know it from other engines. This could be acceptable, but Interceptor Entertainment has crafted a game that would distinctly benefit from manual saves. What could be hiccups or complications in gameplay progress turn into brick walls that make you resent every moment leading up to them as you resume the checkpoint once again.
You don’t always resume at a checkpoint because of a trap however, it can also happen because you got physically stuck. Walking along a room, I peeked into a corner and found I couldn’t move. The corner was no different than the rest of the room by any visible means, but I had no method with which to extricate myself. Later on I jumped down a hole, the actual route of progress, and landed in a horizontal pipe fitting large enough for my player to slide into, but not through, and without the ability to move out of.
Playing on Easy I was crushed by a wall trap which did damage for each moment it moved, but due to the difficulty I didn’t receive sufficient damage to die. Once while crouching along a path trying to find my way into a secret, I decided to edge along a wall only to discover it wasn’t solid. I went out of the world and immediately died. The game even ended on a bug, as I found the boss incapable of movement but also unable to harm me, he was brought down by my holding of the left mouse button. Frankly, this game is so buggy that I have a hard time keeping track of all the issues I’ve ran into. I am happy if I go through a whole checkpoint without being impacted by one.
Naturally these are factors typically exclusive to the single player, but there is a multiplayer component to the game which similarly suffers. Containing only five maps, deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag it pales next to the source material’s host of options, modes, and levels. The support for privately hosted dedicated servers over corporate or a matchmaking service is highly commendable, but the multiplayer element feels more like a proof of code concept than an actual component to the game. Life spans are short and players move fast, but the gameplay itself is stuttering in rhythm and lacks any real momentum. Spawns appear haphazard and he who controls the Firebomb and Asbestos Armor with a firm eye on the God Mode reigns supreme.
With mocking death commentary from the game that runs out of lines so quickly it becomes grating even when winning. Often you die under a second after your spawn because the game placed you in front of a flamewall or inside of an ongoing firebomb explosion. The fun to be had in ROTT’s multiplayer is the same fun had in picking on someone much smaller than you. This is not old school deathmatch, this is just chaos yet without unpredictability.
ROTT is touted as an old school game in modern tech, but I did not find it to be ″old school″. It has movement speed akin to a shooter from the mid-90s, health management, and armor pick-ups, but it lacks interesting movement, meaningful verticality, combat variety, dynamic scenarios, and the holy grail of that era: level design. If we are to accept ROTT in 2013 as an example of old school design with modern technology, then shooter fans will be drinking salt water. It will slake our thirst for the time being, but it will come at the cost of our own appreciation of shooters. For so long we have thirsted for another great shooter with the combat variety, levels, and freedom of movement. ROTT has many of the attributes, but not the core, and if we accept its warts and flaws, many of which it shares with contemporary games, they will be attributed to the design of the game it is attempting to honor, and the era it originates from. This will dissuade others from pursuing those design values, and we will thirst all the more.
Is It Worth The Money?
When ROTT gets something right, it gets it magnificently right, but it holds numerous technical and design failings both unique to it and endemic to the past decade of game design. The price point is very low at $14.99, and perhaps with some extensive patching and consideration external to the context of mid-90s design it seeks to emulate, it may be worth the money. I, however, will remain playing the titles of that time as they still deliver the best experience.
- Time Played—13 Hours
- Widescreen Support—Yes
- Resolution Played—1680×1050, Full Screen
- Windowed Mode—Yes
- FOV Slider—Yes, default of 90
- 5.1 Audio Support—Yes
- Control Scheme—Keyboard+Mouse, Gamepad
- DRM— None if purchased through GOG.
- System Specs—Phenom II X6 3.2ghz, 8GB RAM, Radeon 6850
- Game Acquisition Method—Review Copy
- Availability—Steam, GOG
- Saved Game Location: \Steam\steamapps\common\Rise of the Triad\ROTTGame\SaveData
- Bugs/Crashes Encountered—No crashes; numerous major to minor bugs on every level, player can become stuck in and on geometry, AI is often unresponsive, lots of little functional bugs that hinder common activities.