A fast paced first person shooter that serves as a fantastic throwback to an earlier time.
The early to mid 90's was a magical time indeed for PC gaming. One of the biggest names at the time was Apogee Software who was responsible for the original Duke Nukem side scrolling games among other things. One of their games Rise of the Triad from 1994 was a first person shooter that was originally intended to be a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D. One thing lead to another and the game took a life of it's own as an over the top arcade like shooter. After almost two decades Apogee has returned with the help of developer Interceptor to give us a remake of Rise of the Triad for the modern era. Has this old school shooter been given new life or is it just on life support?
As was the case with the original game, the story revolves around a special forces group known as the “High-risk United Nations Task-force” or H.U.N.T. as they infiltrate San Nicolas island to stop a militant cult known only as the Triad. When they're discovered their only ride off the island gets destroyed and the team must now fight through everything the Triad has to throw at them. The story is pretty minimal with only two cut scenes in the whole game including the intro and the ending in audio comic form. Honestly though you're not here for the story. You're here to shoot things and the game is totally aware of that. There's no plot twist, no splitting paths, no moral choices, if it moves then you need to shoot it. End of story.
Using the Unreal engine the graphics look very nice with a few not so noticeable flaws here and there. Like a lot of games using this engine there's a fair amount of texture popping upon loading initially. When they're not popping the textures look great and well defined. The first half of the game uses a lot of darker colors with familiar grays and browns while fighting in dank castles and fortresses but the later stages start to show off a brighter color pallet with stages that take place in broad day light with well lit temples complete with stained glass windows. The weapon models look nicely detailed from engravings on your 9mm pistols to all the moving parts you'll see in some of the bigger and more ridiculous weapons. The character models also have some nice detail despite some stiff looking animations. The models for your character's own hands don't look as well polished but you won't see much of those unless you're performing a melee attack or reloading. There were a few times where I had the frame rate chug a little when the action got more heavy blowing up small handfuls of bad guys with highly explosive rockets. Speaking of explosions it never gets old seeing bad guys turned into a mess or red gibs and mist after taking them out with a rocket. There were even a few cases when I was standing too close to an enemy as I used my rocket launcher on him only to have the screen splashed red complete with his own eye balls along with the words “Ludicrous Gibs!” across the screen.
Sound quality is top notch with a fast paced hard rocking sound track that puts in you in just the right mood for gunning down the hordes of evil cultist. The soundtrack will sound very familiar to those who played the original game as every single theme has been remastered for this remake. The voice acting is delightfully cheesy as each of the five heroes you play has their own set of one liners which you'll hear quite often but it never felt grating or tiresome. Gunfire packs a nice audible punch especially with the incredibly explosive rocket launchers. It's worth noting that you have the option of using the “Retro mode” replacing the modern sound effects, music, and voice acting with the original 1994 audio. Awesome!
The controls are exactly what you come to expect from a first person shooter using WASD and your trusty mouse. You can even make use of a game pad if you have one. Controls feel super tight and responsive as they should considering how fast this game moves. The only time I had any real issue is when having to negotiate the various floating platforms that are littered through out the game. The fast movement speed plus the small size of the platforms made it rather troublesome trying to keep on the darn things but I'll mention more of that later.
The game is incredibly fast paced compared to many other shooters on the market today. You move very fast even when aiming down the sights so you may want to think twice before you go turning up the look sensitivity. Since this a remake the game play is exactly the way it was with the original. Each level is fairly linear with a good amount of hidden secrets and your goal is to simply reach the level's exit. You start off with a 9mm pistol that you'll eventually be able to dual wield. You'll also make use of the classic MP40 German sub machine gun. Aside from these two stand by weapons you'll also make use of various explosive weapons such as the bazooka, the dual rocket launcher, and a fire grenade launcher just to name a few. Also from the original game are some more strange magical weapons like a staff that fires lightning and a glowing baseball bat called the “Excalibat” which packs a powerful melee attack and fires ethereal baseballs.
The pistols and sub machine gun give you infinite ammunition without the need of having to reload so the game encourages you to simply go nuts with these weapons. Despite the fact you can spray bullets without having to let off the trigger the game still has a reload button. The explosive and magic weapons can't be reloaded and simply go away when you run out of ammo. To me this felt like the game's way of saying “screw your reload button”. This is just one of the many ways Rise of the Triad gives a middle finger to the modern shooters of today and I love it. The first levels of the game pit you up against soldiers who look very similar to Nazis. Like the original game they're not very smart choosing to either stand in front of you or run right at you. Occasionally they'll use tactics such as dodge rolling, throwing nets at you, or even stealing your own weapons to use against you. As you progress you'll have contend with more varied enemies such as robots who can only be killed with explosives and cultist who attack with magic projectiles.
Aside from weapons you'll also make use of power ups that will grant you temporary abilities like the flying shoes, magic mushrooms, and even God Mode just to name a few. Every level has a good number of coins to collect which only exist for earning points. There is a built in leader board system allowing you to compare your stats and score against your friends and strangers alike. The game play feels pretty satisfying when taking out loads of enemies in spectacular over the top fashion.
As much as I love the throw back nature of this game there's one thing in particular that holds the experience back. Aside from shooting bad guys there's a good portion of the game dedicated to hopping around moving platforms, bounce pads, and avoiding traps. First person platforming has always been a pet peeve of mine and the level design shows a lot of glaring examples of how frustrating it can be. Earlier I had mentioned how easy it can be to fall off many of the small moving platforms since your character moves so damn fast. This is especially frustrating when trying to make your way over a pit of lava or to reach the top of an area in order to progress. The tedium really starts to set in when you're constantly having to replay the same check point over and over again because you missed one stupid little jump. This problem is only aggravated by the fact that just about every other level in the game features some cheap jumping death trap. One area in particular forces you to reach the top of a large room using nothing but these small platforms all while having wall mounted flame throwers shoot fire balls at you. There were a number of times I was close to reaching the top only to be knocked off in a single hit falling to the bottom to start over again. Few games have made me want to cover my face with a pillow and scream.
Aside from the single player there's your standard multiplayer modes. You have death match, team death match, and Capture the flag (which the original game is credited for introducing into the FPS genre). Like the single player it's kept about as simple and arcade like as can be. Given the fast movement speed the multiplayer is the very definition of twitch based. I didn't have any trouble finding a game and on top of that had no connection problems what so ever. The best way I could describe playing online is like a mad dash for as many power ups and weapons as you can get your hands on all while bouncing across the map at top speed. It felt incredibly reminiscent of early multiplayer shooters such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament which ironically were inspired by the original Rise of the Triad.
Despite my gripes with the level design the throwback nature of the whole experience felt like a breath of fresh air compared to all the modern military shooters that clutter the market today. With crazy power ups, weapons, and coins scattered around the levels combined with the ridiculous speed of your character movement made this feel like a video game in the most pure sense of the term. In fact during my play through of the game my ten year old nephew was watching me and asked me various things about what I was playing. Having only been exposed to modern FPS games he was curious why there were so many coins just floating around. My only response to him was “Because video games” and honestly there was no other way I could explain it.