Developer: Interceptor Entertainment / Publisher: Apogee Software / Played On: PC / Price: $14.99 / ESRB: Mature [Animated Blood and Gore]
I’ll file this under “things that I never expected to say after 1996” but Rise of the Triad is the most faithful remake I’ve ever played. If you’re a fan of the original, that makes the rest of this review moot – go play it right now and feel the rocket-y love. If you missed your chance back in the day or if you were just DNA in 1994, you’ll want to keep reading to see if Rise of the Triad is your style.
In the campaign you play as a member of H.U.N.T. (High-risk United Nations Task-force) dispatched to a mysterious island to investigate a cult. Shortly thereafter, the cult (who are totally not Nazis) blow up your boat and the only option is to shoot them all: All the not-Nazis. They’re really not (seriously).
What made the original so memorable is reproduced expertly here – Rise of the Triad is ridiculously absurd, to the tune of having a gattling rocket launcher called the D.R.U.N.K. (the acronym does stand for something but I’ll leave that for your own discovery). The game is all about having pure, dumb fun, meaning you will appreciate its spirit if you enjoyed Saints Row or Serious Sam.
You shoot through levels packed with secret rooms, loads of enemies, and acrobatic bounce pads that feel vaguely similar to Portal. The gameplay formula is as successful now as it’s ever been. It’s genuine fun to plant a rocket in a not-Nazi’s face to have him explode into a shower of gibs. Similarly, poking an oddly colored section of a wall only to have it reveal a trove of inexplicably floating coins unlocks a burst of endorphins every time. In that regard, ROTT lives up to not only the original but also games like Wolfenstein and Doom that carried the standard for that sort of gameplay.
Of course, ROTT also reminds us that some old-school trappings weren’t such a good idea in the first place and have been rightly left behind in the last twenty years. ROTT incorporates a few trap-dodging sequences in which you must navigate through hallways of spinning blades or jump on moving platforms over lava. It gives the game a unique flavor against other old-school shooters like Painkiller, but getting smacked from the side by a fireball you just didn’t see isn’t very fun. Especially when that fireball knocks you into a pit of lava and you’re bounced all the way back to the last checkpoint.
There are other notable points of friction in the campaign, the most ubiquitous of which is how really hard it is to see the not-Nazi enemies. This hindrance gets better as the game goes on – eventually there’s rocket-shooting mechs and robe-wearing cultists that are easier to spot; still, I spent most of the early levels getting shot over and over while I desperately hunted for the source. Numerous other rough spots will rub you raw unless you’re a very forgiving gamer: enemies turn temporarily invincible, guns turn invisible, map vertices turn visible through walls… the list goes on.
Of course all of this can be excused by saying “it’s retro, man!’ and that’s not totally invalid. Some of my fondest memories of old games come from butting heads with their idiosyncrasies and ROTT treads that line. This is one of those very strange situations where a game’s flaws actually contribute to its character, which is further augmented by ROTT’s charm and personality.
Levels are brimming with awesome little touches: like looking down a manhole to see a random face staring back at me (probably one of the devs), or a random post-it on the wall that reads, “If you’re stopping to read this, your score must not be very high.” Even the loading screens provide the name of the map designer and set dresser for any level. ROTT hearkens a day when I felt like I got to know the creators of a game by playing it – a connection that has since been traded away for bug-free gameplay and million dollar cutscenes.
In fact, ROTT’s presentation is great on scales large and small. Though the Unreal Engine’s telltale texture pop-in is noticeable, the game looks great and the controls are snappy as a crab (though the lack of quick saves sucks). The soundtrack is incredible. It mixes the typical speed metal you’d expect from a mid-90s shooter with the jazzy horns of the original’s soundtrack. I’m the guy that carried around the Quake 2 CD in high school so I could listen to it on the bus, so ROTT’s soundtrack gave me all kind of warm fuzzies.
Those fuzzies are reinforced by ROTT’s multiplayer, which echoes the game’s retro fashion through and through. Three modes and five maps may sound anemic, but just like the campaign, it’s about pure, dumb fun. You don’t level up and customize your loadout, but you can turn into a flying dog and howl so fiercely you kill everyone around you.
Go back and re-read that sentence if you need to.
One word of caution; ROTT isn’t Quake. Don’t expect a balanced multiplayer game that you can ride all the way to MLG. Instead, expect a few hours of ridiculous fun. Special props go to the “taunt” button that plays a low-quality voiced jeer over everyone’s speaker. The first time you hear it you’ll wonder what the hell is going on, making it the perfect troll button.
Rise of the Triad is a wonderful old-school experience that carries with it all the classic grit that newer players may not expect. Fans of the original rejoice; it’s everything you’d want in a resurrection. Newcomers should exercise more caution. ROTT is a fantastic game with unrestrained charm, but it comes with a little more fire than modern games will have prepared you to expect.