October 8, 2013 Leave a comment
Rise of the Triad: Dark War was outlandish when it came out in 1994 as a piece of shareware developed from a heavily modified Wolfenstein 3D engine. The cheekiness of the game reflected the cheekiness of the game’s developers, who would refer to themselves as “The Developers of Incredible Power.” When a Kickstarter to reboot the series in a title simply called Rise of the Triad was funded, the folks at Interceptor Entertainment were setting out to fill some mighty big shoes. On merit of atmosphere alone, they have succeeded in a way few could have expected. Dark War is every bit as 90s as a game developed in 2013 could hope to be, rising well above the failure of Duke Nukem Forever, and demonstrating a firm grasp on design philosophies of yore. In regards to developing a game on par with today’s standards, they have come up short. It’s a complicated give and take.
All of what made the original great has been recreated with stunning accuracy. The game is still very much an arena shooter, meaning that the level designs are far less stream lined than modern shooters. Game design today focuses on corridors that lead the players very deliberately towards objectives, whereas Rise of the Triad places a character in the map knowing that they have the freedom explore, plan routes and get lost. This decision translates well to the speed-course feel of this fast paced, combo-building shooter. Every single set has replay value as interested players can fine-tune their runs to compete for high scores; a deliberate nod to 90s shooters.
The story in RoTT is about as uninspired as they come. In the game, players take control of one of five distinct members of the H.U.N.T (High-risk United Nations Task-force) who have been sent to San Nicolas Island to investigate terrorist activity. They discover that a group known as The Triad wants to do bad things to Los Angeles, and it becomes the H.U.N.T.’s goal to stop them. The story is conveyed almost entirely through short, on-screen, graphic novel segments and is as superfluous now as it was in ’94, which makes sense, considering that it’s the exact same story. It’s certainly not an epic, but at least it gives some context.
Part of what made the ’94 release popular were the H.U.N.T members themselves, or more aptly, what they could do. Players can choose between five different characters, all unique in physical appearance and stats. Some are faster with almost no endurance, while others, like Doug Wendt, are slower, bruiser types. As of launch, Doug, Taradino,Lorelei, and Ian are the only available character options. Whether or not this will change in future DLC is unclear. Given the prevalence of Kim Jong-Un in the game’s levels, maybe we should start crossing our fingers now to have him released as a playable character in the future. Just a thought.
As these characters navigate through the game’s various arenas, they will enjoy a plethora of bizarre weapons, most of which are explosive. In fact, some of the explosives shoot explosives on top of other explosives in a manner that is so quintessentially “80s action movie,” that it actually seems cool instead of obnoxious. Also at the player’s disposal are basic infantry equipment; ancient, magic imbued staves and a weapon that launches walls of flame. It’s ridiculous, but that’s always been the point.
The frustration felt at the loss of progress due to the maps’ extremely unforgiving checkpoint system harkens back to an era gone by, as well. Whether or not that was the intent is unclear, but it is abundantly certain why the mechanic has disappeared from modern design; it’s not fun for most people. On the other side of the spectrum, you’ll have the gamers that will appreciate that one can’t simply bash their head against the game’s obstacles until they progress. In this way, the game forces you to plan ahead, for better or for worse.Unfortunately, the maps are riddled with jumping puzzles and environmental hazards that require such precision to clear that it stifles the entire experience.
Also noteworthy is the game’s health mechanic. Every bit of damage you take matters, again, for better or for worse. Your health won’t simply regenerate, so every encounter you have with the enemy must be optimized to ensure that you don’t see your survival chances severely diminished for the next group of enemies.
Of course, depletion of health isn’t an ailment entirely without remedy. The locals have a variety of foodstuffs scattered about to give a boost to the player’s health bar. The effects of food, like Priest Porridge or Monk Meal, can be increased if you “cook” them through the resourceful employ of a Rocket Launcher. You know, just like Mom used to do.
The enemies themselves are a hodgepodge of absurd clichés. We’re talking about uncharacteristically hostile monks, robotic baddies and Nazis. They don’t outright say they’re Nazis but they’re definitely Nazis, complete with WWII surplus gear. The Nazi presence isn’t too surprising, though, considering that the original Rise of the Triad was intended to be a Wolfenstein expansion.
Across all difficulties, the AI fails to show any consistency in behavior. Some bots just seem much smarter than others; or at the very least, a lot less dumb. Some will dodge roll about near nonstop, even if it means rolling off of platforms and continuing to roll through the air on the way down. Others will surrender, beg for their life, and feign death. Still others may not even know you’re there. The most obnoxious of enemies, alas, will always know where you are, and they’ll time their rockets with their allies. It makes for a chaotic and varied experience.
Another standout feature of the original were the power-ups and, to a greater extent, the power-downs. While power-ups will make game play considerably easier —the lethal, one-hit-kill dog that leaps from incredible distances transformation (a power up that, in the original campaign, was eventually turned into an entire skirmish mode – keep your fingers crossed for that DLC) comes to mind. The power-downs will conceivably inhibit the character’s abilities. The game’s manifestation as a “’shroom” item that bends reality and makes the character say stoner-esque things doesn’t make the already thorny game any easier; it’s hard to mind the pretty colors and off-kilter sense of humor as your poorly aimed rockets explode at your feet.
Again, being egregious is sort of the point, and that will work for some. For people looking for a bit of narrative substance to your entertainment: there are probably better places to look than a 90s revival game.
The game uses the Unreal 3 engine but already looks dated, bearing graphic resemblance to an early Xbox 360 game. The levels are dull, mostly set in prisons where a lot of grey blends into more grey; an art decision that resulted in my overlooking some enemies, and worse, some doors. Rise of the Triad is also one of the most poorly optimized titles to date, and it will be noticeable on practically any rig you could use.
Fortunately, the developers plan to support the title with mods and free DLC for a while yet, and have gone so far as to lay out their plans for content and regularly address the consumers with a transparency rarely seen in studios today. It’s comforting and takes a little of the frustration off, allowing one to enjoy the “Gibs.”
“Gibs,” for those who don’t know, are essentially the meat chunks and pillars of gushing blood that every enemy inevitably becomes. At one point, early in the game, I knifed an enemy who tore apart as though he had been carelessly stitched together and just went everywhere. No joke, the enemies in this game are more full of blood than they should realistically be able to hold. But, who cares about realism anyway? If you’re particularly lucky, an onscreen message will display the words “Ludicrous Gibs!” as eyeballs and brain gunk slide down your monitor as though it were a windshield. It was actually a selling point for the original.
But the main selling point of the original was, of course, the multiplayer. Containing almost every feature from the campaign itself, the arena matches can get nothing short of anarchic. Jump pads, while also presenting a unique challenge in that they can’t be relied upon and sometimes cause unnecessary damage due to their width and frequent movement, ensure that the action will be very vertical (think Quake)and respawning power weapons will keep players scrambling around the map. Spawn kills will be more prominent and annoying than ever, seeing as how spawn weapons tend to be useless in the matches. The competitive element is derived from quick, precise navigation of the maps and reflexes keener than most shooters will ask of players today; the characters are just that fast.
With a cheesy metal soundtrack that absolutely shreds, a nonsensical selection of weapons and baddies, and the unmistakable high-speed gliding feel to character movement, Rise of the Triad truly brings the 90s back for a visit. I just fear that the experience may be overly dependent on nostalgia-tinted goggles and may not be well received by a younger crowd. For better, or for worse, Rise of the Triad has brought the defining characteristics of a decade past to the present, and didn’t bother to filter out a lot of the poor mechanics that have since disappeared for a reason.
We’ll have to wait and see if that changes with future content releases. In the meanwhile, please enjoy these complimentary gibs.
For a mere $14.99, you can relive a part of the 90s. That’s the decade that sported the debut of Seinfeld, the suicide of Kurt Cobain, Transformers Beast Wars and the Blowjobbing of the President. How’s that for context?