The original Rise of the Triad was a game that should never have come out after Doom. The enemies were all people who looked roughly the same, and the levels were flat floors with walls at 90 degree angles, due to running on a modified Wolfenstein engine. It did some clever things with jump pads and being able to walk across the tops of sprites, but the game was still running on outdated tech that was best suited to give the player motion sickness and a splitting headache. It was also great fun due to the over the top nature of the violence and all the crazy weapons and secrets. The new Rise of the Triad has no problem on the tech or motion sickness front, but otherwise, for better or worse, it’s a proper sequel to its 19 year old forebear.
The barely-there plot is of a team of H.U.N.T. Operatives sent to investigate an island off the coast of California. There’s a short comic book-styled intro in which their ride home gets destroyed, and then you choose one of the five members to play as. The difference between characters is the balance between speed and durability, and the voice you’ll hear a just little too much during gameplay. With all that quickly dealt with, it’s time to start killing mountains of Triad soldiers.
Like the original, the Triad is comprised of guys who all look roughly the same. Their uniforms differ but, barring a few heavy gunners and a couple of robots later in the campaign, they’re all average human size and shape. They also have a distressing ability to blend into the environment, making it hard to pick out who’s shooting at you and from where in the larger areas. Once you get used to finding them, gunning the enemies down at the high speeds RotT expects you to be moving at, the lackluster enemy design gets forgotten as the sensations of run jump shoot dodge, Ooh secret! take over. Rise of the Triad is a game of reactions, not thought, and once the brain stops thinking about it too closely the fun kicks in.
There’s a little room for brainpower in finding secrets, though. This is a ’90s FPS through and through, and that means there’s hidden goodies everywhere. Small rooms with a couple of spinning coin pickups, larger areas with health and weapons, and even the rare bonus level are all tucked away out of sight, waiting to be discovered, or even out in the open, requiring a rocket jump to access. Secrets turn up often enough so that it’s always nice to slow down and take in the scenery, just in case there’s something interesting buried in there.
The heart of the game is running and shooting, however, and while that’s always good fun it’s also pretty basic. You start with a single pistol, find a second for dual-wield action, quickly get a machine gun and never touch the pistols again, and supplement that with a steady supply of a wide variety of rocket launchers. Despite there being a reload button you can shoot forever without needing to use it, and the only limitations on firing are due to the finite ammo of the rockets. There’s also a knife strike, which is a dash-and-stab move that’s pretty handy in close quarters, and the Excalibat, for when you want a little variety in the melee style.
Most of the shooting is divided between the ever-reliable machine gun and a variety of different kinds of rockets. The rocket launchers are limited in ammo but there’s plenty of them scattered throughout the environment in several different types. Standard dumb-fire is always useful, and homing is a nice upgrade, but after that things start getting creative. The flamethrower causes a large firey explosion when it hits, or sends a wall of advancing flame down the battlefield if the shell’s arc doesn’t land on an enemy. The small missiles take a few seconds to start firing as the launcher spins up to speed but pumps them out fast once it does, or you can alt-fire 10 at a time and watch them spiral crazily through the air. There’s a rocket type for every occasion, and part of the fun is adapting tactics on the fly as your loadout constantly changes. It’s a simple but effective way to keep the shooting from becoming too repetitive.
For such a simple game, though, Rise of the Triad is buggier than it really should be, even taking into account its budget-gaming nature. Enemy AI can go strange, and it’s easy to get caught on scenery and have to reset to the last checkpoint to escape. It can be incredibly frustrating to work through a tricky area and have to reset because you decided to go exploring and got trapped between the wall and a piece of furniture. All saving is done by checkpoints, and sometimes they’re farther apart than comfortable, especially if you like to experiment searching off the beaten path. It’s never fun to lose several minutes of progress multiple times in a row simply because you can’t resist a jump-pad puzzle that will cause instant death on failure.
Despite the occasional hiccup in progression, though, Rise of the Triad is good enough that it’s worth bulling through the weak points to get back to the arcade shooting fun. Blasting through hallways and giant rooms at full speed, doing a quick scan for possible secrets, grabbing a few goodies and moving on to the next section is consistently entertaining. There’s a nice balance between straightforward run and gun and trickier jumping areas, and while the scenery tends towards industrial, it changes often enough to avoid being too repetitious. Rise of the Triad will never be confused for a great FPS, but it’s pure popcorn fun from beginning to end.