Rise of the Triad Review
ATI vs Nvidia. Intel vs AMD. Sega vs Nintendo. Quake vs Unreal Tournament.
Doom vs Rise of the Triad?
It sure felt like that back in 1994, when id Software had triumphantly released Doom with its high-end tech and then these guys at Apogee made use of id's older Wolfenstein to make something completely ridiculous as some kind of competition. The end result was Rise of the Triad which was originally intended to be a sequel to Wolfenstein, but when that fell through halfway through development, the creators went crazy, riffing on a genre that barely even existed at that point and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. They added floating pads in the sky that players could walk on because the engine couldn't support floors of varying height, and they piled on the enemies and content because they knew they couldn't beat games based on the newest tech with graphical beauty. (Admittedly, at this point, ROTT was still ahead of the curve when you look at all gaming; most gamers were still on consoles, where the charming but rudimentarily-rendered Starfox on SNES was the epitome of 3D graphics.)
It's clear that over time, we consider Doom to be the better game, the one that stood up to decades' worth of criticism over time. But that hasn't stopped Interceptor Entertainment, a group of people around the globe who said you don't really need to all be in the same building to make a game, from rebooting Rise of the Triad anyway inside the Unreal engine with wacky cheat codes, super speed, all-new high-res textures, and lots of graphical options. And while many reboots of twenty-year-old games are pretty terrible because of conflicting decisions on what parts of the gameplay to modernize and what to leave alone, Interceptor and the reborn Apogee Software, serving as publisher, decided to go with classic mechanics in nearly all circumstances.
Rise of the Triad serves as a coming-of-age tale where a young man becomes disillusioned with his country's reasons for going to war - oh, you know I'm just pulling your chain. There's a very basic story, but it doesn't matter and no one who's likely to enjoy this game will care. You play as one of five characters with differing amounts of speed and damage resistance, and you run around old-school FPS levels at super-speed, making a lot of Nazi-like Triad enemies explode with rocket launchers, fire bombs, explosive barrels, and if you really have to, some guns as well. It's a punishingly difficult game that lacks health regeneration, but hey, at least you have infinite ammo in your pistol(s) or submachine gun. Oh sure, you can reload your guns, but it's just for show. Other than that, you'll get lots of super-powered weapons with which you can destroy the game's rather boring and dull enemies who fire guns almost silently, come at you unnaturally, and use little more in the way of animation and variety than the 2D sprite-based enemies of the original.
And when I first started playing Rise of the Triad, I focused on this stuff pretty closely and was having a pretty terrible time. It wasn't until I started using the many rocket launchers sitting around in levels, looking for the game's many secrets, and making use of my amazing speed advantage compared to everything else that I started really having fun. The strange thing is, it's not like I haven't played an old-school shooter since high school or something - I've played hours of Doom just in the last couple of months, but there's something about ROTT that requires you to get even crazier. Aim is important, but movement is even more vital; well, that and memorization of the levels and a good eye for secrets so you can keep your health topped up, armor equipped, and a heavy weapon almost always in your hands.
But even once you've gotten into the groove of ROTT, you'll find that it's a very tough game, even on Normal difficulty. With the vast majority of games, it's necessary to compete them before reviewing them, but I'll say now that I didn't complete ROTT's single player mode before starting this review - and part of that is because I'd rather to continue to plug at the game on Normal difficulty rather than lower it just to say I've beaten it. In this case, I think it's OK because I've already gotten more value (especially considering the game's very reasonable $15 price) out of it than I expected to, although admittedly it's the multiplayer that put it over the top for me. Every awkward or frustrating thing about the single player mode becomes a carefully-constructed mechanic in multiplayer mode, where super-fast movement and high-flying action with massive weapons turns out to have been a good choice as an alternative to today's more tactical multiplayer games.
Still, I do have a couple of complaints. For one, the frame rate on mid-range PC hardware isn't exactly amazing, and it seems to be exasperated by the game's overall speed - you really need to get ROTT running at or near 60fps just to be able to move properly and see things coming. But beyond that, the developers still did a couple of things that are like modern FPS games: all manual saving (including quicksaves) has been replaced by a very sparse set of checkpoints within each level, and you can't carry every one of the game's huge, explosive weapons at once - there's just one heavy weapon slot and you have to chose between several types, each with very limited ammo. These departures from the age of classic FPS games add difficulty, which I'm not sure the game really needed more of, and they unfortunately also add a bit of frustration on top of that.
Despite a few iffy choices and some frame rate issues, this new, fresh version of an FPS semi-classic breathes new life into the classic shooter genre. Even if you didn't grow up playing these games in the early-mid 90s, I think you'll still value the kind of action that Rise of the Triad provides. With that in mind, you have to play this game the way the developers want in order to get the most out of it, and you'll likely find it futile to play ROTT the way most FPS games made today are played. So come in, start rocket jumping, search for those secrets, turn on the console and some cheat codes, and enjoy this $15 love letter to the formative years of gaming's most popular genre.
After all, who cares about a dog in camo in the next Call of Duty game when you can spend a quarter of the money and become an invincible dog that just bites everyone?