Rise of the Triad review: Everything old is still old

Interceptor Entertainment's bang-up job of recreating Rise of the Triad for the modern era unavoidably highlights some of the original's flaws, and serves as a stark reminder that certain relics just can't live up to our warm, fuzzy memories.

Rise of the Triad starts off fabulously well. A stylized comic book opening introduces us to the five members of H.U.N.T. - the High-risk United Nations Task force - after which we're dropped into a top-down map of San Nicolas, an island that's been taken over by a mysterious organization known only as the Triad. The name of the game: Infiltrate, investigate and blast the holy hell out of everything that moves.%Gallery-176985% The action is fast, as befits a shooter of mid-1990s, but not always furious. You move at a blistering speed but your enemies tend to be lead-footed and dull-witted, and while razor-sharp AI is hardly a must-have feature in old-timey shooters like this one, they don't make up for their lack of smarts with overwhelming numbers. This relative dearth of things to shoot at is exacerbated by the comparatively huge, wide-open levels; I couldn't help but think that with so much space to work with, and unlimited ammunition in both the pistols and the submachine gun, the potential for mayhem and slaughter is much higher than what is provided.

The relatively small number of enemies is also frustrating because when the shooting starts, it can be difficult to tell where the bullets are coming from. Enemies at a distance are very small and tend to blend in with the backgrounds, and while the HUD indicates very roughly where the damage is coming from, I often found myself forced to stand still and eat lead while I struggled to get eyes on the shooter.

But when the blood starts to flow, it's really something to behold. "Ludicrous gibs" – a staple of the original – isn't just PR hype for this remake, which becomes clear the first time a pair of eyeballs gets blown onto the inside of your monitor. It's far from realistic – enemies can be dismembered with gunfire, bits of entrails fly hither and yon and the pink-hued blood doesn't spurt so much as spew, as if out of the end of a high-pressure garden hose, but the carnage is so cartoonishly over-the-top that it's hard not to laugh.

The constant flow of gore (and flatulence) is bolstered by a self-aware, and even clever, sense of humor. Each new level offers a short and amusingly useless audio briefing that exhorts you to kill everything, collect a small debt or bring back donuts. Your avatar will occasionally question the value of a power-up he's consumed. It's all tongue-in-cheek, and even though there are some pretty horrific scenes of sadism there's never any sense of actual horror.

It's all good fun until the shooting stops, at which point the new Rise of the Triad runs headlong into the same issues that plagued the old one: A jarring shift into first-person platforming. While blowing dudes into gooey chunks is entertaining, trying to leap between moving platforms suspended over great pits of lava, with instant doom waiting below, is not. Making matters worse, the game relies solely on checkpoint saves, and those checkpoints are spaced woefully far apart. Death can often undo lengthy segments of gameplay, and if you happen to die on the final jump of a torturous dance through a room filled with whirling, stabbing blades – sorry, sucker, back to the start. It's baffling that a studio would so faithfully recreate a 20-year-old shooter and then rely on checkpoint saves in the first place, but spacing them so unforgivingly is incomprehensible.

The antidote, I suppose, is to cheat, and Rise of the Triad boasts an appropriately full array of codes that will allow you to fly, walk through walls, enjoy infinite ammo and more. Cheating disables your score and achievements for the current level and may not do great things for your self-esteem, but unless more frequent checkpoints (or even better, a proper save system) are patched in, it's the best way to dodge the frustration bullet. That's possibly the only way for the dexterously challenged.

​While Rise of the Triad includes only Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag multiplayer modes, it definitely shines more brightly as an online experience. It's a frantic murder-fest with one simple rule: He who does not have a rocket launcher is paste. The focus on artillery has a tendency to turn online battles into a race for the "best" weapon, but with six – yes, six – different kinds of rocket launchers on tap, coming up with heavy firepower isn't usually a problem. That's not even including the deadly Dark Staff, a magical weapon that fires a stream of searing electricity, and the mysterious Excalibat, a melee slugger that can literally knock you out of the park.

And while this new Rise of the Triad is obviously a loving recreation of the original, there are nonetheless a few rough edges. Visually it's average at best, and enemies and objects will sometimes clip through walls and doors. Firing bullets into water leaves impact decals carved into the shimmering surface, and rockets pass through parked trucks and other objects like they're not even there. It's also easy to rocket-jump outside of the confines of the map, although that could be seen as a legitimate retro feature rather than a bug.

By wholeheartedly embracing virtually everything about the original game, Rise of the Triad blurs the line between old-school and just old. It's good, silly fun, and nails the experience of the original just about perfectly, but it's also a reminder that not everything from those early days of run-and-gun deserves to be celebrated.

This review is based on a PC download of Rise of the Triad, provided by Apogee.

Andy Chalk is a freelance writer who believes fervently in the superiority of the PC and never tires of talking about it on The Escapist, Gamezebo and anywhere else that will have him. Follow if you dare @AndyChalk.

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