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Review: Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition

27 Jul 2023

As someone who grew up with PC games in the mid-90s, I was quite familiar with…hang on, we just went through this didn’t we? Yes, the remaster of Rise of the Triad that we did a preview for last month has finally released, and I had the opportunity to experience the full game. So, let’s turn back the clock and give this another go exploring this classic FPS and how it holds up in the modern day.

Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition was developed by Nightdive Studios and Apogee Software and published by Apogee Entertainment and New Blood Interactive. It is set for release on July 31st, 2023, for PC via Steam.

Here We Go Again

Rise of the Triad follows the actions of HUNT, an elite UN covert task force investigating some disturbances on San Nicolas island, where it turns out a sinister cult has their sights on nuking LA. There was later an expansion to the game, Extreme Rise of the Triad, doubling its size with far harder levels, that picks up where the original left off with the cult turning back time and having you basically go through the game again… but this time they know you’re coming.

New to the Ludicrous Edition is an all new expansion, “The HUNT Continues,” where time has once again been reversed… but in an inversion of Extreme, it’s now the cult that finds themselves in an unfamiliar situation scrambling to prepare while the members of HUNT are already at their doorstep.

Now, some of what I said there might feel like spoilers, but this is basically what’s mentioned when you select each episode from the main menu so… blame them for spoilers I guess. It’s also about the only story you’re going to get. Rise of the Triad is a game from a simpler era, where not everything demanded an epic story with cutscenes to match. Indeed the only plot advancement is between episodes (with each episode being seven-to-nine levels) and even then most of these are single sentences like “The members of HUNT delved deeper into the castle.” In spite of this, the tone is part of what sets it apart from other games of its time, and that’s sort of story adjacent!

The tone has this pulp action feel, seemingly inspired by over-the-top action movies of the 70s and 80s where the hero always has a witty one-liner and there are massive explosions just because they’re cool. In the midst of gothic stonework and nazi-esque guards that are largely playing things straight, there are bounce pads flinging you through the air, wacky powerups like the awe inspiring God mode (and the more aww inspiring Dog Mode), and weapons that do not know the meaning of the word overkill. You even get a “ludicrous gibs!” congratulatory message for exploding a bunch of enemies at once, where the remaster gets its name from.

If it were more serious it would fall into being dark and gritty. If it were more comedic it would fall into parody. But instead it straddles that line and lives out the fantasy of being the kind of larger than life action hero who’ll be faced with impossible odds and simply laugh.

The Boomiest of Shooters

Rise of the Triad was originally going to be Wolfenstein 3D 2, and to anyone familiar with it, it shows. It’s a very classic first-person shooter, the level layouts are grid-based, there are secret walls you can push to move, plenty of collectables for score, and secret levels to find.

From there the similarities end. Rise of the Triad made many leaps forward from its predecessors, and was a bit of a trailblazer in many ways. Jump pads and floating platforms add a level of verticality not seen in FPSs of the time, you have multiple playable characters with different statistics, and while you have three relatively basic firearms, your fourth slot is dedicated to an array of overpowered explosives.

That said, what was groundbreaking in 1995 is either standard or retro these days. Still, even without its trailblazing legacy there’s still plenty to Rise of the Triad. For starters, the classic FPS design of having item pickups and secrets is old enough by now that it’s oddly fresh in a way these days. Even outside of what was standard back then, I feel the two largest things Rise of the Triad brings to the table would be the level design and immediacy.

Levels in Rise of the Triad are maze-like and filled with traps. Wall switches and floor plates will often move walls in previous parts of the level, and these are not just for secret areas. There were plenty of times where, just to get through a stage, I had to sit down, look at my map, and try and figure out what had changed so I had an idea of where to go next. Or perhaps there was a bounce pad close enough to a fence to get past, or a key I’d overlooked. All the while flame spitters, crushers, and other traps are all still active and need to be bypassed. It makes navigating the levels as much of an obstacle as the enemies, and completionists need to be careful since it’s all too easy to block off access to secrets.

As for immediacy, what I mean by that is you’re heavily encouraged to use whatever you get NOW. While you have three basic guns of varying speeds with infinite ammo on you at all times (Ok, once you get them, but you’ll have all three before the first level is over), the levels are absolutely peppered with various missile weapons that have limited ammo. More importantly, you can only have one and will swap it out if you find a new one. You can’t stockpile anything, and “saving ammo” doesn’t mean a thing when you’re going to find a fully loaded new one in about a minute. More directly, all the other powerups you can find, including armor, are simply based on time. Once you get it, you’re encouraged to get out there and put it to use while you still have it.

Now, I’d be lying if I said these two elements always mesh together well. There’s plenty of moments where I found a sweet powerup, only to need to hunt down a wall switch all while watching my god powers uselessly trickle away. Also, while it can be a fun and frantic romp at times, there were plenty of moments where I found myself just pumping endless machinegun ammo into enemies that were no threat (they were locked in place by the barrage of bullets), yet had far too much HP so I was just holding down the mouse button until they were gone. Still, for the most part it created an ebb and flow of tearing through the obvious path followed by more methodical searching once the bulk of the forces had been annihilated.

That’s all concerning JUST the original game, but what about the new stuff? For starters, there have been a few minor tweaks here and there like increasing the drop rate for one of the weapons or decreasing the health of certain enemies, but these are all optional adjustments you can toggle from the menu. Another new adjustment is an alternate style of map that makes it a lot easier to make out individual rooms… but it also makes it incredibly easy to spot secret areas, and is also an optional toggle. The level editor and support for custom campaigns has been rolled into the main menu for easier creation of fanmade content, and multiplayer now uses a more modern lobby system so it’s easier than ever to play with your friends.

More notably, there is a whole new expansion, just as long as the base game… and it holds up surprisingly well! The newer levels have the same classic vibe as the old ones, but they feel a LOT more polished. There’s nothing new added gameplay-wise; it’s still the same engine, mechanics, and assets as the older expansions, but they’re used in new ways to add a lot more flavor and personality.

Also, despite the story implying this would be the easiest adventure of them all, with the cult being caught on the back foot and all, the difficulty felt about in-between for me. It definitely ramps up to more difficult enemies faster than the base game, but it’s not “hard for hard’s sake” like Extreme. Honestly, if you were a fan of the original and were skeptical about picking this up just because you already have it? The new expansion is probably worth the price of admission on its own.

Ludicrously Good Jams

Rise of the Triad has an interesting aesthetic. It’s a sprite-based 3D game like so many others of its time, but it aims for more realistic (for the time) graphics. Notably, all the characters are portrayed by actors much like what was done in Mortal Kombat. The remaster ups the quality and resolution without changing them too much. As mentioned in my preview I had to boot up the old game to recognize the change, despite how significant it was, because the new game matched how I’d remembered the old game looking like.

As for the soundtrack, it’s phenomenal. It’s a heart-pumping OST full of hummable tracks, and for those who are feeling nostalgic you can listen to it in the original quality, or even swap it out for the soundtrack from the 2013 Rise of the Triad game. It’s always appreciated when a remaster includes little touches like this because, even if the new tracks are objectively higher quality, sometimes our heart yearns for what we had in our youth.

Truly Definitive

If you’ve enjoyed classic FPSs like Doom or Wolfenstein 3D and haven’t yet experienced Rise of the Triad (understandable, it is a bit of a cult classic if you’ll pardon the pun) you owe it to yourself to pick this up. Even for folks who’ve already played through the original, there is still a brand new campaign as large as the base game. They’ve even thrown in Return of the Triad (a Doom mod from 2011) along with it. I didn’t really cover it since not part of the game, strictly speaking, but hey! More game!

Now, I’m not saying this game will be for everyone. There’s quite a few rough edges that are just part of the classic FPS genre, but this is still a sterling example of how to do a remaster. Everything from the original has been kept, made easier to access, and optional new content has been added. What’s not to love?

~ Final Score: 9/10 ~

Review copy provided by New Blood Interactive for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.