As the soon-to-be-release Saints Row IV is promising to prove, good things can come out of content that was initially envisioned as an expansion pack for a preceding title. Those versed in old-school gaming trivia may be aware that the original Rise of the Triad was originally intended as an expansion pack for the granddaddy of the beloved first-person-shooter genre: Wolfenstein 3D. As it expanded in scope, it became a sequel to Wolfenstein, and eventually evolved into its own IP.
The Wolfenstein mark still remained, though, as evidenced by the presence of Wehrmacht weaponry and uniforms that were eerily Nazi. Fast-forward almost 20 years, and all the important elements you remember (or may not remember because it was so long ago) from Rise of the Triad are now available in an Unreal Engine 3-remastered version. There are elements that are pretty, but it feels like a facelift more than an entirely new visual beast, with moments of illogical frame-rate stutters that aren’t justified by the visual fidelity. Still, given the modest size of the Interceptor Entertainment team, this can be easily overlooked.
What Rise of the Triad does is leave all of the advances in first-person-shooter traditions and expectations have, for better or worse, at the door. There’s no emphasis on narrative beyond gunning down everyone in your way between point A and B. BioShock Infinite this is not. But nor is it trying to be. This is all about fast-paced gameplay, and it’s fantastic when you get into a flow.
Rise of the Triad stands as a testament to how far games have come since their humble beginnings. After you’ve made your selection from one of five characters and four difficulty levels, you’ll essentially be repeating the same formula to sprint, jump and gib your way from mission to mission. Forget your fancy headshot skills or worrying about any other form of locational damage, for that matter. Rise of the Triad seeks to arm you with explosive weapons as frequently as possible to remind you that whether a rocket hits limb, torso or face, it has the same result: splattered foes.
Get close enough, and you’ll be covered in your dismembered enemies’ gore, but it’s infinitely more satisfying to dust off old Quake skills and score those incredible leading rocket kills from afar. You can switch to bullet-spewing weapons, which seemingly never need to be reloaded even though there is a reload button, but these weapons are really only useful for enticing guards to play possum or beg for their lives.
As far as AI goes, it’s mostly a miss. Cultists will occasionally disarm you if you get too close, and certain enemy types are incredibly apt at rolling beneath bullets or well-aimed rockets, but you’ll notice them standing around a lot just waiting to die. This is why Rise of the Triad is a game best played on higher difficulties: it greatly increases the challenge of combat encounters and offers the most bang for your buck in the way it’s meant to be played.
That being said, it does get incredibly repetitive very quickly. Even certain missions will struggle to keep your attention from start to finish, as you fall into the routine of letting your snap-to reflexes take over as rockets blast a path from beginning to end. You may even face-palm as you come across dreaded jumping puzzles. There is incentive for replayability, particularly in the form of a lot of secret areas and a running tally of points and time indicators that goad you to best your previous scores/times.
Multiplayer has a lot of promise, despite a limited selection of maps and only three play modes currently on offer, but finding a populated server is a challenge greater than mastering maps and weapon proficiency. The few instances I got to play in populated servers were plagued with latency issues, where my ping wasn’t indicative of my choppy experience, but these have been improved in subsequent patches and have made international smoother. All of the potential of fast-paced old-school multiplayer is there, with incredibly tight map design, but nobody really seems to be playing, even though players have the option of hosting their own servers or creating their own dedicated servers (there’s even full offline support for LAN mode). It’s a shame, really.
Even though Rise of the Triad is a buggy experience that’s slowly getting fixed with each subsequent patch, it still stands as one of the best examples of a classic title being given a facelift for the modern age.