Cover is for losers
Rise of the Triad is an incredibly difficult game to review. It’s an incredibly faithful reboot of the 1990s game of the same name, so any complaints about the lack of modern niceties can be met with ‘well that wouldn’t be faithful’. It looks rough around the edges and severely lacks optimisation, but it was made as a labour of love by a tiny team. It’s pretty difficult in quite an irritating way, but that’s old school.
A first person shooter, Rise of the Triad follows a group of special agents as they infiltrate the island headquarters of the Triad, a terrorist organisation and all round nasty group of people. Originally created as a sequel to Wolfenstein, even though the Triad are ostensibly a cult, many of the members wear World War One German army uniforms. It’s hard to work out when the game is meant to be set as throughout the game you use a combination of WWI weapons, see videos of Kim Jong Il and a computer screen with Windows 3.1 running on it. At the start of the game you get to choose between five different characters, each with different attributes such as the ability to run or jump quicker, or possibly take more damage.
Gameplay involves running through levels and blowing everything you see to bits. By the end of the first level (fairly early on if you find a secret room) you get a rocket launcher which can easily take out a group of five or so enemies in a single shot, then you get a sense of what kind of game this is. Ammo for bullet-weapons is unlimited, rockets are plentiful and later on in the game you even find more powerful or at least weirder magical weapons. Enemies can do a fair amount of damage to you and once you start coming across rocket launcher wielding foes you can easily be taken out in a shot or two. The first boss is particularly brutal, with an attack that basically makes the entire room fill with fire and bombs; this isn’t an easy game. There’s no regenerative health either, you rely on an array of foodstuffs to heal you up, with the nice touch that if you fire a rocket at some food it ‘cooks’ it, giving you more health.
Level design is similarly old-school, meaning there’s coloured keys to find and endless corridors that you could get lost in. Each room is a little arena by itself and usually you have to kill all the enemies to progress. Occasionally there’ll be a nonsensical ‘trap room’ where you have to do some platforming or timed dashes through rotating spikes to get through, but the vast majority of the game is just strafing and shooting. The shooting itself isn’t very interesting. All of the weapons are dull to use, with the possible exception of the Flame Wall gun that fires a moving flame wall forwards, encouraging you to group enemies up for maximum damage. The pistols feel anaemic, the machine gun somehow does more damage per second than the rocket launcher does and enemies lack any AI except for the ability to dive from side to side making the abundance of rocket-based weapons more irritating than fun to use. Of course there are lots of throwbacks to days gone by, with the ability to rocket jump and a plethora of secrets to be found, and there are some genuinely fun little secrets to discover as you make your way through the levels, getting 100% is never easy.
The single player is split into four episodes, with about two hours of gameplay in each episode and then a boss at the end. Each episode has its own visual style, but you quickly realise each time you finish one you’re off to do the same thing with more and tougher enemies.
Graphically the game is a mess, with the Unreal Engine 3 being used in its most basic capacity, robbing the game of any kind of unique aesthetic, and instead presenting you with identikit corridors and buildings over and over again. Many of the objects in the game like vehicles look like they belong in a game from over ten years ago, and yet even on our rig with an i5, 8GB Ram and a 7870 we had to turn everything down to medium to get it to run at 1080p60. That’s not to say the game looks a lot better on high, it doesn’t, but it’ll consume system resources showing a distinct lack of optimisation. There’s nothing fancy going on with shaders or reflections that could cause such a drop, with the possible exception of the heat-seeking rocket launcher’s secondary ability that fires up a frame-rate murdering picture-in-picture display. It does nothing for gameplay but it does cut your FPS in half.
Multiplayer offers up all the usual modes, and at the time of review nearly every server was empty. I’m sure on release this will change, and fun could be had with the extreme speed and crazy physics. The maps are simple enough, with clear multiple paths from one side to the other and a number of irritating traps that are sure to catch you unaware.
While all of this may seem very negative, again this is a reboot of a cult classic (pun intended) and it has stayed very faithful to its roots. A lot more polish would have been welcomed, particularly graphically and in terms of AI, but this is a small team and they’re not asking much for the game. For $14.99 you get the game, a bunch of free DLC that they are working on including new multiplayer modes, full modding access, a DRM free copy of the game, leaderboards, the ability to play over LAN without needing to be connected to the internet, and a whole lot of nostalgia. It’s not a perfect reboot, and by many people’s modern standards it’s not even a very good game, but if you remember the original fondly, this is the way to play it, as you remember it rather than how it actually was. $15 isn’t a lot to ask and you’re getting quite a lot for the money, so surely that has to count for something?