486/DOS Game Reviews, Volume 2: Rise of the Triad

This game is intentionally “wacky”, which is normally cringe fuel except all the gimmicks go a long way to make the gameplay interesting despite a primitive 3D engine and it’s all played with a totally straight face. Hold onto your butts, I’m Johnny Knoxville and this is Rise of the Triad.

If it’s one whole year in the future how come I don’t see any flying cars in the sky? Checkmate atheists, 1 like equals 1 prayer

MMmmmm, get a load of that gorgeous 256 color 1990s DOS pixel art. I am a strange man with strange needs.

The art more or less depicts nazis with the symbology removed because this was going to be a sequel to wolfenstein 3D originally.

More pseudo-nazis. Not-nazis. Which guys in this picture are Nazis? Not zees! I’m not sorry.

OH NO our boat has become EXPLOSIONS :0 Oh well only me, a hot redhead and a hot asian on this big ‘ol island, far from civilization. Truly the worst hell.

Here is the plot, summarized. We’re looking at the shakespeare of our times. Truly this is a tale the depth and complexity of which has rarely been seen outside of a JRPG.

During the development of Rise of the Triad, Doom came out and the engine technology dramatically outclassed it. Back then ROTT was little more than Wolfenstein 3D with floor and ceiling textures, new guns, new levels, new textures and new enemies.

In order to keep the game relevant, the devs knew they would have to take drastic action. Which they did. They had the choice of moving the game over to a then-embryonic BUILD engine, but it just wasn’t ready. Instead, they pushed the Wolfenstein engine as far as it could go, and a little further.

The first difference you may notice, besides ground and sky textures, is that there are floating platforms. These sprites you could walk on were called GADs: Gravitational Anomaly Discs. They added the ability to have floors above other floors in an engine which couldn’t even have different floor/ceiling heights within a level.

You could make stairs out of them. You could make floors, you could have them move around to serve as elevators or train-like transportation. There were also flat maskwalls which could be used to form floors higher than the main one, as seen above.

This nearly perverse stretching of the already obsolete Wolfenstein 3D engine far, far beyond its intended limits made possible such creativity and variation in game design that it almost held up to Doom. Almost. You could still only have 90 degree corners.

But you could have bounce pads, flame traps, pits, rolling boulders, gas chambers (which you needed a gas mask item to survive). You could become God, 11 feet tall and smiting opponents with ball lightning fired from your outstretched hand. You could become a literal dog, tearing enemies apart Cujo style.

You could get high on mushrooms, view bobbing helplessly around as enemies flash every color of the rainbow. You could fly around with the Icarus powerup to reach high places. You could use the elasto mode powerup which eliminates friction and makes you bounce off surfaces.

It was a relentlessly goofy game. But it came out of it all the better for it, with loads of charm. Being basically tile based, it had a lot of potential for creative interaction between different tile types in levels. Much the same as the 2D Mario games, or Minecraft.

This made possible all sorts of absurd scenarios, like rolling boulders falling from chutes and proceeding to roll up staircases made of GADs. Or a touchplate triggering walls of spinning blades mowing down and shredding baddies you’d otherwise have needed to fight.

Besides the stellar singleplayer campaign with a hidden alternate ending(!), there was also an unprecedented variety of multiplayer modes including the first CTF in any fps game, the first king of the hill mode and more. It was a trendsetter for multiplayer fps features in many, many ways.

This was sold optionally in sets of 12 licenses so you could reasonably cheaply set up every PC in a lan party with its own legal copy and get to fragging. Pressing the appropriate button would sound a “remote ridicule”, the grandpappy of modern taunts, wherein the player would audibly spout some quip to make fun of the other players.

It’s hard to fault Rise of the Triad for anything except technology. They really did as much as humanly possible with the engine they had paid for the rights to use, and made something truly special that I doubt they would’ve if they didn’t have something to prove.

That said, I can’t give it a 10/10 just because no game is totally perfect. The technical shortcomings in the modern day aren’t important to anybody who still plays these old games but they were a big point against the game at the time of release. So I’m going to give it a 9/10, with much love and wishing I could give it a 10.

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