Interceptor Software was given the go ahead by Apogee to bring their 1990's cult FPS classic, Rise of the Triad, back onto the scene with a new Unreal Engine based re-imagining. Released today via Steam, ROTT is as ludicrous as ever, but it's not without several caveats and it remains an acquired taste...kind of like Monk Meal.
I remember seeing the original ROTT on store shelves in '95 and it was the only game with a 4/4 Violence rating for "Wanton and Gratuitous Violence" that I had ever heard of. I think the box also said something about having a million square miles of virtualized area to play in. Anyways, as a budding FPS gamer at the time, I had to play it. And play it I did, for months on end, both in single player and in deathmatch against competitive buddies across our 56k connections. Other than picking up ROTT on GOG, just to "support" it again and dabbling a bit with it, I hadn't heard the roar of a firebomb or the intimidating whispers of the dark monks in years. That is, until last year, when it was announced that ROTT was making a return.
Interceptor Software has done a fine job paying tribute to the original ROTT. Other than the level design, almost everything else is faithfully preserved. From the opening Apogee logo to the humorous credit roll, there's a lot of fan service here for those that remember ROTT fondly as I do. And even though the level design is different, most, if not all, of the new level names are taken directly from the originals. New voice-overs and an amped-up soundtrack were also recorded. For the truly nostalgic, you can enable the original soundtrack within the options menu at anytime. I spent about a quarter of the game with the original soundtrack, but found myself enjoying the new tracks better.
Being so faithful to the original does put ROTT in a sort of niche position. You need not have played the '95 one to enjoy this one, but you will need to be willing to play with mid-90s FPS gameplay mechanics and design. Even within those parameters, ROTT is still a bit unique. I'm all for fan-service, but the new ROTT could have benefited from a little more modernization. Furthermore, there are some issues, including design choices, AI and level design bugs, and graphical glitches, that I would have liked to have seen addressed. Patches can do wonders, though, so some of these are likely to be addressed post-release. When I first started playing through ROTT just a few days ago, I noticed I was running version RC #2, or release candidate #2. A couple of nights ago large patch came out and my graphical performance nearly doubled, taking me from a paltry 1280x720 Medium detail to 1680x1050 Medium.
Anyway, I'll elaborate on my issues soon, but for now, I'll get back to the gameplay design and just some factual things about ROTT (old and new). All bullet weapons -- semi-auto pistol, dual wield pistols, and an MP40 -- have infinite ammo, and while there is a reload key, you don't need to use it. Once you have the MP40, you'll never arm you pistols again either. You'll fire more explosive projectiles in this game than any other, too. The Firebomb takes the cake for me as the most badass, but the DRUNK missile and Heatseeker remain favorites, and most of these, as well as the Dark Staff, have an alternate fire mode. There's a baseball bat with supernatural powers that can smash foes to pieces called the Excalibat. Power-ups include a Shrooms mode that makes the screen change colors and move around on its own, making walking, much less aiming, difficult. There is a God and Dog mode power-up too, as well as the Elasto one that causes you to literally bounce off of walls like a pinball. Jump-pads and hovering discs are used for a variety of jumping scenarios to navigate the often dangerous environment (spikes, fire pits, rotating blades on tracks, etc).
Level design is very linear, symmetrical, and largely dungeon-like. Many levels boil down to a central large open area with multiple doors to go through, usually in a certain order such that you can find the large gold, silver, or bronze keys. I don't think there is even a map to pull up, and there's certainly no objective marker to help guide you, because you simply won't get lost. The HUD puts a number on your health; health kits, in the form of food like Priest Porridge or Monk Meals and Monk Crystals (ok, these aren't food) are required to heal up. Fire and Bullet armor makes you invincible to those elements for a good amount of time. New to the 2013 ROTT is the Timer, Completion Percentage, and Score that are positioned at the top center of the HUD -- it's all about Leaderboards for some folks. Being able to hit Escape to view your progress as far as X/Y Secret areas found and X/Y enemies killed on that level is handy, though.
Moving on, the enemy AI, while never expected to be amazing, is ultimately a disappointment; it's about quantity and not quality on San Nicholas Island. Two or maybe three enemies actually will move when you fire at them, the rest stand firmly in place until you blow them away. I came across a good number, it felt like too many, enemies that didn't react to their comrades getting gibbed fairly close to them, and others that stood idle when I had expected them to have noticed me walking into the room. The score counter visual cues that pop up as you hit enemies makes hitting and killing them from a distance unbalanced, too. Once I started shooting my MP40, I couldn't even see some enemies, but thanks to the score counter, I knew I was making contact, and that didn't feel right. Boss fights, there are four, one for each episode, weren't all that impressive either, and I would say they were a step back from '95, except for the final battle with The Dark One himself (El Oscuro). Circle strafing just works too well for the bosses, at least in their secondary forms. That said, I liked how the original bosses -- General Darian, Krist, NME (Nasty Metallic Enforcer), and El Oscuro, are all back and, just like the standard enemies, are modeled and voiced after developers of the game (which I believe is what the '95 devs did as well). Their appearances and voices don't ring as intimidating or memorable as the new ones, but hearing Darian say "they'll bury you in a lunchbox" is still pretty sweet.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with ROTT is the use of pre-determined checkpoints as your only method of saving progress. These checkpoints have names that pop-up on screen as you cross into them, so you always know when a save was put in, and most levels have three or four checkpoints. But for a PC game, there's no reason the player shouldn't be able to quick save and load as they please. By using checkpoints, I felt like the game was being artificially extended to seem longer. Checkpoints are generally well placed at least, although sometimes their location is asinine, requiring you to go through a series of environmental hazards or jump-pad platforming all over again just to get back to where you were. Using these pre-determined checkpoints instead of giving the player quick save/load functionality also goes against the inherent pacing of the game, which is very rapid. When you suddenly die from enemy attack or because you misjudged a jump, the immediate death animation and unsolicited aural chime in from "headquarters" gets grating, especially when you know you just got set back five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes of playtime. I admit there were a few secret areas that I could see in dangerous places that I didn't attempt to go after because I knew if I fell into the abyss below, or otherwise died trying, I would respawn several minutes back and that just wasn't appealing to me.
ROTT contains a lot of secret areas, most of which I completely missed on my way through its twenty levels. These secrets are marked, upon discovery, as either small, medium, or large and include the gamut of power-ups, coins, weapons, and health items. Given that you can replay any level after you unlock it, and that most levels are designed such that you can pop right into them and at least pick up an MP40 very quickly, going back to try and find the remaining secrets may add more play time to what is a rougly ten hour campaign already. Completionists will find it necessary to locate all the secrets and their coins within to increase their overall score. Whether or not gamers will find it worthwhile to replay the game as the other four members of the HUNT remains to be seen. Each character has a certain Speed and Endurance level as well as some unique recorded dialogue (not much, though).
The campaign alone is a lot of fun and worth the time, but multiplayer is also available across the internet, direct IP, and via LAN. A quick account setup is required to connect to the multiplayer service which allows people who bought the game on Steam or GOG or wherever to play together. There are three multiplayer modes, including Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture The Flag. Currently, there are just five maps, with more coming as free DLC and eventually Community/User maps will be supported too. You can choose from sixteen different characters to play as, including all five members of the HUNT and most of the enemies from the game. Obviously thus far there aren't a ton of people online given that the game just released to the public today. The multiplayer games that I did hop into and play, including against reps from Interceptor, played very smoothly. The maps are tightly knit and bullet weapons are practically useless as the mad grab for the big guns is really the only way to go. Even with those, expect to die a lot. There's no delay to being able to respawn, but you'll commonly respawn near another player. It's a fast-paced gibfest to be sure. Jump-pads and power-ups are key, and some much needed dimension to the gameplay which is otherwise running, strafing, and launching rockets. Multiplayer is fun in spurts, but I didn't find it very fulfilling. Challenging, yes, but fulfilling? Ehh, not so much yet, but it'll be interesting to see what free DLC and UGC are released.
Let's conclude with a look at the presentation which I have mentioned only in brief thus far. First, there are a ton of graphics options that you can tweak from the pre-launch window. Preset configs are available at the click of a button, although documentation suggests that the Ludicrous settings will make even high end gaming rigs cry. Individual options include a wide variety of specific detail settings, such as for the environment, enemies, shadows, etc. Other tweaks or toggles include Bloom, Field of View, and so on. Ultimately, I was content running my admittedly outdated gaming rig (E8400 @3Ghz, 8GB, 4850 1GB) at 1680x1050 on Medium detail with Field of View, Bloom, and Lens Flare disabled. Some of the very open areas or when I gibbed multiple baddies in a small area saw frame rate sags, but for the most part it ran silky smooth. That's not to say there weren't technical issues though, including miscellaneous clipping and textures being stretched "to infinity," like when enemies would explode, sometimes their blood spray would stretch out into the horizon for a few seconds. Also, I'm not sure if it's a big with the graphics engine or what, but a few times I literally got stuck to a wall and had to restart my checkpoint. You can imagine how irritating this was, especially when it happened while I was fighting Krist and had been very careful in doing so for at least ten minutes.
Other than those technical quirks, most of the art and textures used are faithful to the original ROTT, and generally agreeable. Wall textures, the variety of traps, the bluish glow of the hover discs, the flow of blood in some of the castle levels, all good stuff. However one really obvious and key area where the art direction disappointed was in the blood and gore, a staple of ROTT. It looks cheap, like a bad anime, and it doesn't have the grisly "weight" of the original. Instead, it's just a few basic models, with a generic spine poking out of a torso. Blood spray is similarly disagreeable; it just looks "off" as soon as you see it, if you know what I mean. It's not that there's too much, this is a game focused on this type of thing afterall, but it just seems 'flimsy,' to go back to that "weight" analogy. As for the sounds, the new soundtrack is definitely worth using. Voiceovers are functional, but not as good as the old ROTT. The monks and even the soldiers just sounded more intimidating in the '95 version, and that aided the game's darker tone. Your playable character isn't short for words, but if they're going to talk even this much, more lines of dialogue would have been a plus.
On to the summary...