I’m back! Sort of. Where have I been? Everywhere and nowhere. Have some filler until I can come up with something worthwhile.
Rise of the Triad is back, or at least it will be real soon! This news is good. It might not be quite so good afterwards but I still hold onto hope that it’ll meet my (admittedly extremely low) expectations. Rise of the Triad, affectionately known as ROTT, holds a special place in my heart. It was the first game that I looked up cheat codes for on the Internet. It’s the game that I often play whenever I feel ill, because when I was a boy that’s exactly what I used to do. I remember one day I was sick with some sort of common cold that rips through schools like a plague, but I absolutely insisted that my mum take me out shopping with her because the house is boring. The local games retailer (an independent outfit called Metrosoft, this was pre-EB domination, who also tried to run their own ISP) had a copy of Rise of the Triad on CD for sale, only $20. I hassled my mum (and coughed over everything) to buy it for me. Ever since then I’ve always associated it with sickness and joy.
ROTT actually has a bit of an unusual past, but before we get into that it’s probably worth explaining the storyline for the final game. You play as one of many different characters with equally forgettable names (except for Iain Paul Freely – geddit, IP Freely? Oh you guys…) who have slightly different play styles. Some move fast, some have more health, you get the idea. You’re part of a secret UN group called HUNT (High-risk United Nations Task-force) infiltrating a cult which has set up shop in an old monastery on San Nicholas island. HUNT learns that the cult plans to destroy Los Angeles (hey, most people do). They then proceed to… well, shoot everything. And later things just get absurdly strange and the storyline really doesn’t even make a lick of sense. But that’s okay, because the entire point of ROTT is to blow everything up. Literally.
Before I mention the gameplay, I want to look at the development history. ROTT was originally being developed by Apogee as an expansion pack for Wolf
enstein 3D, and was supposed to follow on from that. The idea was that the corporations that form up the shadowy power behind Hitler kick things into overdrive and make another attempt at taking over the world, giving you another reason to run through blocky dungeons. Apogee added a lot to the base Wolf3D engine, but as time went on the project got away from its Wolfenstein roots, and turned into something separate. ROTT’s engine is a horrible bastard child of Wolf3D – it retains the 90 degree block walls, but adds in ceiling heights, vertical movement and aiming, and even some fairly interesting Z height stuff. They added in jump pads that tossed you high up into the sky, as well as moving platforms that you could stand on and that could float around, and platforms that you could both walk over and under. Also the pallet was greatly expanded too so it looked a bit more realistic. Problem – ROTT was released in 1994, so all of this was old hat because Doom came out in 1993, and Doom 2 (which was Doom but even more awesome) landed in 1994 too, so none of this was particularly impressive.
So why was ROTT so much fun? Probably because every weapon, bar three and a powerup, was basically a rocket launcher. There was a stock standard launcher. There was a heat seeking launcher. There was a drunk missile launcher that just sent rockets in all directions. There was a split missile launcher that fired two rockets that could go off at 45 degree angles. There was the Flamewall that fired a rocket that turned into a firewall that burned enemies to cinders. There was a baseball bat that could fire off a line of exploding baseballs. There was a magic staff that fired a big bolt of magic that was basically a sorcerer’s interpretation of a rocket launcher. The other weapons? A pistol, dual pistols, and an MP40. But who cared? To add to the carnage, ROTT made everything explode. Violently. It coined the phrase “Ludicrous gibs!” which displayed when enemies exploded into an even more gory mess than usual. It was fast, it was fun, and pretty much everything either exploded, caught fire, or killed you.
Then there were powerups. Some were mundane, like fireproof or bulletproof vests. Others were more interesting. The Pegasus wings would let you fly around the map. God mode turned you into god… literally, it turned you invincible, let you fire out a projectile that sought out enemies and disintegrated them, and also caused you to make ridiculous sounds like “Ooorrrooouuuggghhh!” for the hell of it. The most well-known is probably Dog mode, which turned you into a dog. You got shorter, you would bite people, you could jump up slightly to press switches, and you could also let out a bark attack that disintegrated enemies. And you were immortal too. Well hell, I’ll take Dog mode any day of the week over God mode. Then there were the “power downs” which just got in the god damned way. The first was the bouncy ball powerdown which caused you to bounce all over the map. The most infuriating was Shrooms Mode, which swung the camera around wildly, caused you to move in crazy directions, and made all the sprites turn into psychedelic, seizure-inducing strobe silhouettes.
The enemies were also fairly cool for the time. Apogee dressed themselves in costumes and scanned in photos of them posing as the guards, importing it into the game and retouching as necessary. Tom Hall as one of the main villains? That man scares me without being in costume, he’s positively terrifying dressed up in his monk robes. One enemy is what amounts to an old man in a motorised armoured wheelchair… so Apogee taped some cardboard boxes and staplers to an office chair and hey, we’ve got a new boss! Female guards were going to be included too but were cut due to memory constraints. The enemies themselves usually had something special about them. One of the guards would occasionally plead for their life, then feign death to come back and shoot you later. He could also steal your rocket launcher (come on, they’re so common, just get your own). Another one would happily fire a net at you, trapping you and forcing you to struggle free. Aside from guards there were environmental traps too, like spinning spear traps, spinning blade traps, these little pools of fire or lava or something, walls that burned when you touched them, or accidentally bouncing yourself off the map.
It’s clear that Apogee had a lot of fun developing the game. ROTT isn’t even remotely serious, nor does it expect you to take it seriously. There are quite a few easter eggs to be found in the game. One of my favourites is in a (usually inaccessible) map called THIS CAUSES AN ERROR. It’s called that because it does in fact cause an error. There are moveable walls called pushwalls that can form up parts of the map. If a pushwall exits the level boundaries, the game exits. Oh no wait, actually it throws up a picture of an ecstatic pushwall escaping the map, proudly proclaiming “I’m free!” It then displays an error confirming that a pushwall did indeed attempt to escape at the listed coordinates. Not to give too much away either, but the default “ending” (unless you’re careful) is basically a kick in the dick – defeating El Oscuro without destroying all his little larvae found in the final map results in you losing anyway. Thanks, guys! Arseholes.
ROTT also has a decent number of levels – 32 for the registered version. The shareware version, called The HUNT Begins, is actually a standalone game with 10 unique levels. Apogee also released a bunch of rejected levels, and a map editor, as well as an expansion pack called Extreme ROTT. There was also an extensive multiplayer mode as well, which not only offered deathmatch but also games like capture the triad or collecting triads, as opposed to just killing everyone. Some of the more creative modes were playing a game of tag, and a Hunter mode where one player was the prey with no weapons and had to evade the hunters.
While ROTT wasn’t necessarily the best game for 1994 and was technically dated when it appeared, it was still a hell of a lot of fun. It’s not sophisticated, it doesn’t really make much sense, and pretty much the first 10 minutes of play will show you everything you’re going to see from then out. The 90 degree angle walls means that maps can get a bit monotonous without much in the way of interesting geometry. But it’s still a remarkably fun game which had the misfortune to be released much later than it probably should have. Unfortunately, you wouldn’t have gotten ROTT in 1992, which is ideally when it should have come out (or maybe 93 at the latest). As it was, ROTT got stuck between Doom and Doom 2, which is like getting caught between two nukes with no refrigerator in sight. It’s still fondly regarded by fans even today though. Can the sequel bring back some of the charm? We’ll see.