Apogee Software's Rise of the Triad: Dark War was an incredible first-person shooter in 1994. Lead designer Tom Hall and his team created a game that was both innovative and absurd.You could choose from different characters with different stats (height, endurance, and speed). There were the insane weapons, such as a rocket launcher that created a wall of fire that moved forward and incinerated everything in its path. Also, there was a power-up that could turn a character into a dog. Almost 20 years later, Interceptor Entertainment has remade Rise of the Triad, bringing back all of the weapons, enemies, bosses, and insane power-ups that made the original memorable. Unfortunately, this budget game's tedious single-player campaign is full of endless jumping puzzles, and an unforgiving checkpoint save system, poor optimization, and a dearth of multiplayer features hamstring the competent competitive action.
The new Rise of the Triad throws out the conventions of the modern first-person shooter in favor of a retro approach. Forget reloading, because ROTT's firearms have unlimited ammo. Health does not regenerate; instead, characters walk over food. (ProTip: "cooking" food with explosions equals more health.) There are no cinematic set pieces, but plenty of keys to hunt down. The one modern convention is that the MP 40 submachine gun and the pistol now have iron sights, but thanks to ROTT's high-capacity magazines, precision is rarely a concern. While ROTT's single-player is fairly linear, it at least offers several secret areas for you to uncover.
Then there is the game's sense of humor. ROTT is utterly ludicrous. Mission briefings usually consist of statements like, "We heard lava hurts people, so you probably shouldn't step in it." Power-ups do things like turn a character into a dog capable of killing enemies six feet away with a single bite. Conversely, there are power-downs, such as magic mushrooms that alter characters' perceptions and lead them to ruminate about how "everything is like music, man." The gore is comically over the top. For instance, shooting a man with a pistol can make him explode, and occasionally an enemy's eyeballs pop out of his head and hit the screen.
Unfortunately, the single-player campaign has some problems that can be a major buzz-kill. For starters, ROTT uses an unforgiving checkpoint save system. One particular sequence places you in a room dominated by a perpetually circling array of blade-covered blocks. Next is a room with a half-dozen rocket-launcher-toting goons, followed by a chamber with a bridge that rotates clockwise over an instant death pit. You must then make a harrowing leap across the pit while dodging a laser. One mistake sends you back to the blades and blocks room, screaming in impotent rage.
This is typical of the game, which features long checkpoint-free, soul-crushing segments of perilous jumps over lava pits, fireballs coming in from all directions, and false floors that dump you into spike pits. It's particularly galling when an insult-spewing narrator tells you to give up PC gaming and pick up a gamepad. There is nothing wrong with difficult games that inspire you to tough it out and get better. ROTT, unfortunately, is more likely to inspire you to quit. Thankfully, many of the original game's cheat codes work, so those interested in the fun stuff can muddle through such sequences.
Multiplayer feels a lot like Unreal Tournament: the levels are full of weapons and power-ups, and death comes quickly. Just like the single-player game, multiplayer includes various characters to choose from with different stats. In addition to the H.U.N.T. team members from the single-player game, there are new characters such as Leo "Lefty" Liebowitz, the lone Jewish member of the triad, and Bob the Skeleton, who was added because the developers "needed another player to even out the H.U.N.T. team roster and ran out of fresh ideas."
Currently, there are five multiplayer levels. Three support only deathmatch and team deathmatch modes, and feel too cramped for a full 16 players. These are Castle Grounds, Drop the Base, and Mercury Temple. The other two maps, A Bridge Too Near and The Triad-Drome, are capture-the-flag maps that are also available for deathmatch and team deathmatch. Castle Grounds appears to be the most popular map, and it's easy to see why. It is set around a multistory exterior of a castle where jump pads and weapons of mass destruction have been left around by whatever irresponsible noble once owned the place. Castle Grounds also includes an interior dungeon, complete with a nasty spike trap that you can activate, and the all important dog power-up.
Multiplayer has a lot of potential, but it suffers from a lack of content. Currently, Interceptor promises to release free downloadable content that will probably come in the form of additional maps for multiplayer (and hopefully a return of the crazy mode in which everyone plays as a dog). Overall, multiplayer is the best part of the game, but the lack of arena variety does not bode well for retaining players.
ROTT's production values are about what you would expect from a budget game. The visual style is an unsettling hybrid of 1994 and 2013. Most of the levels merge together in a gray concrete blur permeated by overwhelming bloom and lens flare effects. The enemies are an unattractive hodgepodge of monks, tracked robots, and troops wearing surplus WWII uniforms. However, there are some bright spots. For example, the soundtrack rocks and really sets the mood for fast-paced FPS action. Additionally, there are some attractive levels that ditch underground military facilities for settings like monasteries with vibrant gardens.
Alas, ROTT is marred by performance issues and bugs, like one that causes you to randomly fall through a level. It is difficult to find settings where ROTT looks attractive and runs well on a machine that blows the recommended system requirements out of the water. Strangely, the game seems to run worse after release than it did just a day or two prior. The Steam forums are full of optimization and bug complaints, but some users claim that the game is running perfectly for them. Caveat emptor.
Interceptor Entertainment's Rise of the Triad does manage to scratch the itch of any gamer feeling nostalgic for old-fashioned key hunting or those who just want an absurd, fast-paced shooter (where you can turn into a dog). While the $15 asking price makes ROTT's flaws more palatable, the sadistic single-player level design, the optimization problems and bugs, and the limited multiplayer content are major turnoffs.