Few genres inspire the same sense of bitter nostalgia that first-person shooters engender. While by no means the very first FPS, Doom set the standard for what the genre would be for many years: intense, fast-paced, every level a fight for your very survival while you scramble to find keys and health packs amidst hordes of fast-moving and lethally clever enemies that you must gun down with inventive and lethal weaponry. For better or for worse, somewhere along the way it transitioned to the endlessly lucrative Call of Duty model where the levels relied more on cinematic setpieces to guide the player along, and the challenge was greatly reduced by regenerating health and generous ammo drops. In recent years, some shooters have aimed to buck this trend by offering more old-school gameplay, such as Bulletstorm and Serious Sam. Joining the ranks of these illustrious throwbacks is Interceptor Entertainment’s Rise of the Triad and it has what it takes to stand among the best in classic FPS titles.
Rise of the Triad is the debut title from newly-minted indie studio Interceptor Entertainment, a team consisting of 30 people from all over the world working out of their homes (a business model that could stand to take off, now that it’s proven to work) and published by shareware-era DOS heroes, Apogee Software (which now exists as some kind of sister company to 3D Realms, which it changed its name to in the first place, so whatever) exclusively on Good Old Games and Steam. As its title may hint to you, the game is a loving remake of 90’s cult favorite shooter…Rise of the Triad, created by Doom co-creator Tom Hall and originally intended as a sequel to Wolfenstein. It revels in many tropes of the time, as well as more specific designs from the original title, such as health kits, an arsenal consisting mostly of rocket launchers, five selectable characters (all different enough to be appreciable), and over-the-top violence.
Gameplay typically consists, just like in the good old days, of dashing about endlessly, collecting keys, and warding off several armies’ worth of neo-Nazi cultist goons. The enemies retain their personalities from the original game; some try to steal your weapons, others can duck and roll away from your gunfire, and all of them want nothing more than to see you dead. Just like before, the arsenal consists of three different infinite ammo bullet-based weaponry, and a multitude of different rocket launchers, all with alt-fire. Some drop destructive walls of flame, some explode in a cross shape, and some follow enemies around. The ridiculous power ups from the original game return as well; both God Mode and Dog Mode (just like it sounds) make a comeback, as well as the more ludicrous weapons like the Excalibat and the Dark Staff. A higher emphasis is placed on score and time in this one, as well. Each connected attack results in a small points display being shown over your enemies’ heads much like the damage markers in an RPG and the game ranks your total performance at the end of each map. There’s a multiplayer mode as well and it works just like you’d expect – a Quake 3 style race for the best guns and armor, with little regard to realism (or even fairness).
The presentation is top-notch and often hilarious. An inFamous-style ‘motion comic’ cutscene opens the game to explain what threadbare plot exists (it’s good to see that your team still carries the improbable H.U.N.T. acronym for their name – likely the inspiration for F.E.A.R.) and a sarcastic mission briefing unhelpfully sets up each level. The same sardonic announcer chides poor performance over your radio whenever you die, and the enemy chatter manages to be both charmingly under- and over-acted, all at once. The environments aren’t quite as labyrinthine as the previous game, but they still allow for far more exploration than most modern shooters, and manage to not be quite so purple this time. Character models match their older equivalents perfectly, and anyone familiar with the original game will know immediately the behaviors of the various enemies, as they all match up very well. You can select either the original soundtrack from the first game, or new remixes of all your old favorites done in an endearingly bone-headed buttrock style – the old tunes hold up very well, and it’s pretty exhilarating to hear “Goin’ Down the Fastway” on a real guitar. There’s even an achievement for playing the game with the old soundtrack on
As fun as the gameplay is, a few technical issues mar the experience, although it’s nothing irreparable. Strange and often humorous glitches pop up from time to time, such as your weapon mysteriously turning invisible until you switch to another and back again. A few of them are a little more frustrating, such as the game suddenly taking away all of your guns except for your starter PPK pistol when reloading a checkpoint, and it once (and only once) crashed to desktop for me due to some mysterious “out of video memory” issue (and not to toot my own horn, but this is a system that ran Dishonored and Rage on high, so it shouldn’t be my computer). Still, the core gameplay is awesome enough to make me want to soldier on despite these problems, and they’ll probably get patched out soon – even still, let’s give poor Interceptor a break, it’s their first game and most of them have probably never met in person.
So, is Rise of the Triad for everyone? Not in the slightest. Casual/modern FPS fans (and anyone born after the year 1995 or so) will likely find it anachronistic and difficult; health is sparse, the enemies are nearly endless, and why are you carrying so many guns that’s just not realistic! But if you’re like myself or the fine folks at Interceptor and Apogee who miss the days of silly, unrealistic FPSes where the goal was just to be funny and entertaining without being worried about a deep plot or ‘gritty military realism’, this game is your best bet for scratching that itch, especially now between Serious Sam games and with Doom 4 set for some distant point on the horizon. The game’s appeal isn’t vastly different from that of Demon’s Souls – appealing primarily to hardcore fans of the genre who don’t mind a challenge, but that doesn’t mean curious onlookers shouldn’t give it a shot. As I said to a coworker of mine: its $15 dollars, you have no reason not to buy it if you’re thinking about it.
Damn good first effort, Interceptor. Now, for your next trick, how about we bring back Blood?