Review: Rise of the Triad

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There are a lot of ways to remake a game, but in my mind the goal is to produce a modernized version of the concepts that made the original worthwhile. Titles like the most recent DOOM do exactly that, preserving the manic, high-speed action of classic DOOM within an expanded structure. I get the impression that Interceptor Entertainment intended to do that with Rise of the Triad, and they definitely succeeded in making something faithful to the original. The only problem is that they didn’t improve the design’s weakness where they really needed to.

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Something unseemly is happening on the island of San Nicolas, where the half-cult half-fascist Triad have set up shop. The High-Risk United Nations Taskforce has been dispatched to end their machinations, but as the opening motion comic reveals, that plan goes to hell in a hurry. With their means of retreat cut off, the only way out is in so they set about blasting through the Triad’s many bases and labs and bunkers in search of the madman in charge of it all. Along the way they’ll navigate brutal dungeons, perplexing puzzle rooms, arenas of death, and armories filled with some of the wildest explosives and artifacts imaginable.

The original Rise of the Triad sat somewhere between Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM, a high-speed FPS with completely flat floors but floating platforms to scamper around, no keys but switches to flip, and few permanent weapons but all manner of rocket launchers to tote. The remake stays faithful to most of these, filling more complex, 3D levels with odd little flying platforms and bounce pads to negotiate along with crazy rocket launchers to collect. Seriously, you’ve got ones that project walls of flame, ones that fire multiple warheads, ones that blow up entire rooms, and so on. They’ve added a giant shotgun and a flamethrower to the list, but all of these awesome armaments only last as long as the ammo does and you can only carry one. The rest of the time you’ll be blasting away with your infinite-ammo machine gun, or pistols if you somehow tire of full auto gunning.

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That right there is the start of Rise’s problems, their slavish devotion to the designs of the original. The best parts of the game are when you can rampage with rocket launchers, but them always being temporary engagements limits the fun. You’re also launching rockets at an extremely limited cast of enemies, pretty much just several flavors of not-Nazi officers, dogs, war robots, and wizards. Spread across 20 levels that’ll take you several hours to work through, that’s not a lot of variety even before you realize the lineup is heavily tilted towards the not-Nazis. Combat is going to be mostly the same throughout the entire game, leaning hard on your insanely-accurate machine gun to do pretty much all the heavy lifting until those blessed moments where you have a launcher in hand.

The levels are more varied, but this is in no way a good thing given how they’re designed. They’re divided into four thematic episodes, with the first being far and away the best (much like how old shareware games were designed, how funny). Set in a variety of military compounds, these feature basic shootouts with soldiers and plenty of secret hunting, probably the two best parts of the game. The second episode goes hard on jumping puzzles and death traps, which kills the pace and enjoyment of the game stone dead. Many are built around bounce pads which are infuriatingly finicky and will absolutely launch you to your death unless you jump on them just right. The third episode introduces meaty robots and deadly factories which can be similarly annoying, and the final episode gets close to the high points of the first with some medieval-ish maps but blows it all on an absolutely awful final boss.

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If Interceptor wanted to update Rise of the Triad for the modern era, they definitely succeeded. But Rise always had its own problems, and this version if anything only makes them worse. The confusing, frustrating levels, the limited, uninteresting enemies, and the oddly restrictive weapon system feel pulled right from some ill-advised shooter from the 90s, which is exactly what they are. So many shooters and even remakes have innovated on past designs that this sort of reverence isn’t really wanted or needed. I think you can make a fun, kooky game out of Rise of the Triad and this one tries, but it definitely left out the fun part.

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