Even in an age where first-person shooters already didn't take themselves altogether seriously, the original Rise of the Triad was a chaotic rampage that consistently favored ridiculousness and fun over realism.
Tasking players with not only shooting their way through hordes of enemies, but also contending with the effects of magic mushrooms, occasionally turning into a dog and/or God as well as handling some of the most gloriously overpowered heavy weaponry ever seen in gaming, Rise of the Triad provided fast action at an even more frantic pace than many of its rivals at the time.
It's an aspect of first-person shooters that has been all but forgotten in 2013, since it's rare to see the words "first-person shooter" without either the words "military" or "sci-fi" (or sometimes both) attached these days, and while neither of those descriptors precludes a game from being silly or humorous, most developers of this type of game these days seem intent on taking themselves very, very seriously.
The 2013 remake of Rise of the Triad, thankfully, maintains its predecessor's love of the absurd rather than attempting to be a gritty re-telling of the earlier game's practically non-existent story. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that this is one of the most faithful yet noticeably improved re-imaginings of a past game I think I've ever seen.
Both versions of Rise of the Triad cast players in the role of a member of HUNT -- the High-Risk United Nations Task Force. HUNT is on an island -- the reasons they're there aren't really important save for the fact that there is a Bad Guy at the end of all the levels, and a whole horde of enemies attempting to stop them getting there. Each member of HUNT has their own characteristics -- some are faster, while others can take more damage. Unlike the original version, where all characters were mute save for an occasional victory callout at the end of a level, the new Rise of the Triad infuses each of them with a distinctive personality, with Duke Nukem-style one-liners coming thick and fast as they splatter enemies, collect pickups and generally cause chaos. Pleasingly, all the characters, both male and female, are as obnoxious, foul-mouthed and flatulent as each other -- while it may be juvenile to chuckle at your character letting rip with a thunderous fart shortly after restoring her hit points with a bowl of porridge that just happened to be lying around in the level, Rise of the Triad is not, at any point, pretending to be a particularly "mature" game. And this in itself is refreshing.
In fact, the whole design of the game is refreshing. Although it makes use of Unreal Engine 3 and actually looks very good -- not to mention moving faster than any shooter I've played since Quake III -- its levels are pulled straight from the 1990s, with branching paths, locked doors that require keys, plenty of opportunities to get lost, secret areas, hidden powerups, devious traps and all manner of other goodness. If you've been growing tired of the "kill corridors" offered by titles like Call of Duty in recent years, this game is an excellent antidote to that sense of fatigue.
Alongside this, the fact that you're not required to do anything besides survive and make it to the end of the level is also pleasantly invigorating. There are no in-engine cutscenes, no unfolding plot, no NPCs getting to do all the cool stuff while you stand behind them and wait -- just straight-up, flat-out action occasionally punctuated by boss fights. You can storm through the levels at a rapid pace if you so desire, or you can slow down and try for 100% completion by collecting all the hidden coins, finding all the secret areas and killing all the enemies. In a further nod to old-school sensibilities, you have a score for each level, too, with more and more points being scored the more enemies you kill in rapid succession, and at the end of each level your score is uploaded to the leaderboards and given a "star" rating in comparison to the rest of the world's performance. This encourages you to replay levels a number of times rather than simply racing to the finish, and gives the game a much longer tail than purely narrative-centric single-player campaigns in modern shooters.
Online play is also a reminder of the good old days. At present, there are just three different modes: free-for-all deathmatch, team deathmatch and capture the flag. There's no progression system, no perks, no weapon upgrades -- just, again, pure action that you can pick up and play for a quick session or easily lose a few hours to if you find yourself on a roll. While it's a little disappointing that the new game doesn't incorporate all nine different modes the original Rise of the Triad offered in multiplayer -- some of which didn't involve shooting at all -- its digitally-distributed nature means that these can always be patched in at a later time. In the meantime, you'll need plenty of practice to adjust to the high speed and powerful weaponry you'll find in the standard multiplayer modes. A balance patch is also in the works -- the game's online mode certainly isn't unplayable at present, but certain powerups such as God Mode are, the developer admits, a little overpowered right now.
One aspect of the game as a whole that some may find it tough to adjust to is the strong challenge factor, both on and offline. Single-player is hard, even on lower difficulty settings, and newbies can often be utterly dominated by more skilled players online. While this is in keeping with the '90s way of doing things, it's easy to feel overwhelmed and frustrated when you find yourself in a situation that seems impossible to escape from, particularly given that the initial release of the game lacks a traditional save system and instead relies on checkpoints -- a matter addressed by game director Frederik Schreiber over at the game's official Steam discussion board. Short version: implementing traditional save games in the game's current form is a challenge for the developer, but after a swathe of community feedback following launch, the team at Interceptor is keen to find a solution.
The game has a few flaws at present, then -- pretty much all of which the developer openly acknowledges and is keen to work on -- but none of them are sufficient to spoil the enjoyment of the game in its current state. Right now, Rise of the Triad is a thrilling, fast-paced return to the sensibilities of '90s shooters, and is well worth dropping 15 bucks on; in the future, with new content, mod support and rebalanced online play patched in, it has the potential to be even better, and it bodes well for future remake projects Interceptor has its eye on.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Good-looking Unreal Engine 3-powered visuals zoom by at a pace we haven't seen since Quake 3, though character models are a bit simple. Easter eggs abound in wall textures.
- Music: You can choose either between the original (excellent) soundtrack or the new guitar-heavy "metal-ized" remixes. Both are wonderfully energetic accompaniments to the on-screen action.
- Interface: The game uses a proprietary account to manage its online mechanics, allowing Steam and non-Steam users to play together. Menus are easy to navigate, and the in-game control scheme will be immediately familiar to anyone who's played a shooter before.
- Lasting Appeal: If the challenge factor doesn't put you off, there's potential for a lot of fun here. High-score chasing is addictive, as is shooting for 100% completion on all levels -- and then the multiplayer, while simple, will remain addictive and enjoyable for months to come, particularly once the modders get to work.