When the lowly pistol, the mainstay and usually weakest weapon in most FPS releases is capable of splitting a man in half, showering the area with blood, you know you’re in for something messy, and that’s just what you get when you fire up Rise of the Triad.
This revival of the 1995 shooter is all about action, guts and mindless blasting, and by its very design, it’s not to be taken seriously. It laughs in the face of modern gaming conventions, ditching recharging health, ammo conservation and hefty dialogue, instead giving you a Nazi-style army to kill, bountiful supplies of guns, rockets and explosives, and a hero who can move faster than Usain Bolt on speed. This is pure, 90s throwback action, it revels in the ridiculous and the obscene, and it’s a total blast to play.
Leave your brain at the door
With no story of any substance (another nod to most 90s shooters), Rise of the Triad simply tasks you with making your way through enemy strongholds, killing everything that moves and getting to the goal. There are no stealthy approaches, side missions, and no need to find and talk to interactive NPCs. You just run, shoot, kill, pickup stuff and kill some more. You even find huge floating coins all over the place which serve no other purpose but to increase your score. Hidden areas can be found that reveal more coins and weapon pickups, and enemies show little signs of intelligence, other than to shoot at you until you’re dead.
The controls are equally retro. Your character is locked in run for your life speed, and can jump infeasibly large heights and distances. Action, jump and duck commands compliment a knife attack, and most weapons have a single and alternate fire. Reloading is included, but is of no actual use as your pistols and machine gun have infinite ammo and don’t actually need to be reloaded (the reload animation is purely aesthetic). More powerful weapons have limited clips which, once spent, are discarded until you find another weapon.
The core mechanic here is don’t stop moving and don’t stop shooting. Simple. Oh, and you’d better remember that circle-strafing ability you mastered long ago, as you’ll need it here. Console-only FPS players using a gamepad will find themselves quickly punished if they lack standard keyboard and mouse skills, as this is not an easy game.
The action is relentless, and it takes great pride in wasting little time giving you access to the good stuff. A couple of minutes into the game’s opening level and you’re flinging rockets around, gibbing guards left and right. You even find the ‘god mode’ power right away, and can vaporise foes with a hand gesture for a time. In fact, it takes longer to get a simple machine gun than it does explosive ordinance, another pointer to the crazy direction Rise wants to go.
Boom, splat, squelch
Over the top gore and destruction is key here, and enemies die in all sorts of ways, usually involving the loss of body parts and/or eyeballs, which splat against the screen and slide down as you run past the still blood-spraying corpses. It’s disgusting, it’s crude and it’s childish, but it’s also immensely refreshing and satisfying after sitting through so many modern, realistic FPS titles. Sometimes you need cheesy, mindless action, and these days it’s severely lacking, which is where Rise of the Triad succeeds. After all, everyone likes a nice steak, but sometimes you just crave that greasy burger, and this is a quadruple bacon and cheese burger with all the lethal trimmings.
Various rocket launchers, flame wall-creating grenades and even the ability to transform into a dog are complemented by possessed baseball bats and magic staffs. There’s no barrier realism casts here, and anything goes. Level design is just as random, and what first appears to be a traditional Nazi compound eventually includes hovering platforms and jump pads (a big feature of the original), and a bizarre range of medieval-style traps and pitfalls, often defending a high-tech computer centre or equally modern location. Again, don’t try to make sense of it, there’s none to be had, just accept it.
What you shouldn’t have to accept, however, are some of the games flaws. The game’s plentiful throwbacks to 90s game design are mostly welcome, but other elements aren’t, such as the glitchy collision, a myriad of irksome bugs and some truly annoying enemies.
Some foes randomly pop back to life in an instant, which can end in an annoying and untimely death, and others side roll after each hit in a ridiculous manner. Others, via a horrendously animated dive, lurch towards you in a flash, stealing your current weapon. Although this is supposed to offer variety and challenge, all it does is irritate, and shows off some of the game’s more shonky production.
The return of the platforming element, present in the original, is also unwelcome, and doesn’t fit with the rest of the high-speed shooting. Some jumping sections are horribly tricky thanks to the loose jumping controls, and having to repeat whole sections of the game due to a failed jump could be enough to send that mouse hurtling wallward.
The AI is one of the biggest issues Rise has, though, and even a game that’s trying to be an old-style shooter really needs to do better. Enemies often pay you no attention, and easily get stuck on scenery, shooting solid walls. It’s clumsy, and detracts from the enjoyment. The special foes, such as the aforementioned divers and thieves, are still as mindless, executing their actions in a predictable manner. They can even dive off platforms, and into traps, such is their stupidity.
However, aside from a lack of polish, some iffy design and dodgy AI, there’s nothing but dumb, if occasionally bothersome fun to be found here, and you’ll struggle to find another game that has this amount of varied weaponry and bonkers power ups (yes, you really can turn into a dog).
I mentioned the difficulty earlier, and that’s one area of Rise that players should be aware of. Just as it emulates 90s gameplay and aesthetics, it also revives old school difficulty. There’s no hand holding here, and no training mission or pop-up tips to show you the ropes. Enemies won’t give you a second to relax, and they constantly spawn and enter the battle from all directions, pelting you with bullets and rockets with gusto.
In fact, some sections elevate the difficulty so suddenly, that you can often hit a challenge wall. With plenty of patience and retries, all can be overcome, but occasionally the flow of the game is interupted thanks to this spike in difficulty.
The first boss, for example, is at first glace a horrible experience. It’s a three stage circus of death as the boss, the floor, the walls and even doorways try to kill you. You’ll probably die time and time again trying to take him on, that is until you realise you can cheese him into the next life.
Simply hiding in one of the side rooms, which are fortunately adorned with plentiful rockets and health items, and attacking him from cover removes almost all difficulty from the fight. Yes, it’s a cheap tactic, but you’ll be thankful it’s a possibility.
Indeed, as the game can be very difficult and glitchy, you’ll often need to resort to underhanded tactics of cheesing the game’s dodgy AI. This isn’t technically cheating a lot of the time as the game allows it via its own incompetence, and it can be a valid survival tactic. It may not be cricket, and better production would make it unnecessary, but you need to take any advantage you can.
This can certainly be a very tricky game, intentionally or otherwise (What’s that, your weapons won’t fire? Well, it must be the Triad’s control glitch attack, deal with it!) and if you’re expecting any form of slower-paced tactical play, or a game that likes to give you a break now and then, forget it. It’s hardcore blasting all the way, and this continues from the single player campaign into multiplayer.
The original Rise of the Triad was one of the very first competitive online FPS titles released, and was the first time the staple FPS game mode of capture the flag was featured. This revival certainly stays true to its roots, and online play is every bit as important. And, it’s even more chaotic than the single player.
The action online is simply eye-melting, and matches play out at a fast pace. The variety of overpowered weapons and great level design ensure that things simply never let up, and even in this more contemporary setting, with so many modern games focusing on online play, Rise still feels retro in its approach, in a good way. It’s perhaps one of the purest forms of online deathmatch you’ll find outside of Quake.
Online matches are all about player skill, reactions and kill counts, and memorising weapon locations and the layout of the arena is going to become essential for anyone wanting to be the best. Even think about playing Rise online with a gamepad, and you’ll probably be killed by a mouse and keyboard user just for contemplating it.
Old, but still gold?
Playing Rise of the Triad is a strange experience really. On the one hand, it looks pretty good and has many hallmarks of modern shooters, but then you play it and it takes you back to the good old, just run around and shoot people in the face, mentality the genre once lived by. It’s very enjoyable, but it does tend to leave you a little wanting at times, and is best in short doses.
As a long-time gamer, I once played FPS after FPS just like this blissfully unaware that there were any other possibilities. Then a game called Deus Ex came along and shattered my perceptions. From then on, the simple run and gun mechanic grew stale, and I quickly looked for more complex, cerebral experiences. The game industry did the same, and we now have deep, complex story-driven games that you can even complete without killing a single foe. This is great, and is where many of us want to be, but somewhere, deep down, there’s still that need to just shoot things without moral dilemmas, and here is where Rise of the Triad should slot into your game collection.
Rise of the Triad is a wonderfully brutish and vulgar homage to the 90s FPS, and if taken for what it is, it’s a great title, especially for a mere $14.99. If you’re impossibly smitten with modern gaming conventions, though, need something a little more involved, and dislike putting up with occasional glitches, then this won’t be your cuppa.
Rise of the Triad can be purchased for PC via Steam, or by visiting Good Old Games.
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