The '90s was a decade-long blitz of out-there marketing campaigns, lads mags, and PlayStation; rich experimentation with the polygon and a concerted effort to push the boundaries of bad taste. Rise of The Triad, based on a modified version of ID’s Wolfenstein engine, was initially pitched as a sequel before becoming a standalone PC title in 1995. Developed by Apogee Software (which became 3D Realms), this 'Ludicrous Edition' is handled by Nightdive Studios, who has a solid track record in remastering classic PC titles.
Rise of the Triad follows H.U.N.T, a crack UN covert team tasked with infiltrating San Nicolas Island to stop a strange, Nazi-esque cult from launching nukes at Los Angeles. While your team, a band of operatives with different properties in speed, firepower, and strength, are typically fashioned, the game itself is a bizarre, otherworldly romp through maze-like stages littered with the dark and bizarre, abstract and insane, peppered with occult motifs and oddly futuristic apparatus.
Bricked towers stand tall and ominous, craning toward black skies; pillars of flame burst from the ground and fireballs streak across courtyards; magical shifting columns threaten to crush anything in their path; spinning pylons bristling with spikes form chicanes to needle through; floating cylindrical platforms hang in the air, leading to bonuses, secrets, and high-powered weaponry. Health-replenishing food comes in the form of ‘priest porridge’ and ‘monk meal’, often found by destroying giant urns or candelabra.
And your enemy, a ‘cult’ boasting an impressive military arsenal, are essentially Nazis from a different time period, dressed in trench coats and SS uniforms. Their leader, a cloaked shaman known as El Oscuro, shouts "Eat your veggies" at you in Latin while flinging fireballs. And, should you find the Excalibat, you'll be privy to a green glowing baseball bat infused with Oscuro's own power.
This mayhem firmly belongs to the irreverent era in which it was born, one shared with the likes of Earthworm Jim and Sega's Cyber Razor Cuts. Marginally predating 3D Realms’ own Duke Nukem, Triad plays up the pulp and strides so boldly into the madcap that its tonal inconsistencies teeter on jarring. You can even, like, trip out on mushrooms, man.
Though tame by today's standards of freewheeling ultraviolence, Triad's Mortal Kombat-esque blood sprays were notable in the '90s, throwing out humourous “ludicrous gibs” messages when you use Drunk Missiles to explode groups of enemies. Should your foe marginally escape mortal wounding, too, they drop to their knees and beg for their lives.
Jump pads bounce you to lofty heights and across massive distances, and digging around various nooks reaps power-ups that bestow flight, allowing you to hit the extremity of the map’s ceiling while taking aim at assailants below. Elsewhere, God power grants you the ability to shoot a flurry of homing magic from your bare palm, causing Nazis to vaporise in a black void.
Perhaps the most infamous of transformations is Dog mode, obtained by collecting a magical bone. This turns you into an invincible canine that can either aggressively maul the hell out of enemies or fire the 'Barkblast': a chargeable shockwave that makes short work of anything caught in its path. Dog mode's brief 30-second window, though, can be used to reach otherwise inaccessible secret areas, making its usage more about discovery than attack, at least in one-player games.
And, speaking of secrets, Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition’s five different campaigns are absolutely littered with them. Hidden touchpad areas, moving walls, floor pressure points, and obstacles to leap are everywhere, usually rewarding you with high-powered weaponry that turns enemies to mush, should you take the time to seek them out.
What Rise of the Triad did for the FPS back in 1995 was, at the very least, highly creative. Its base weaponry, including twin pistols and machine guns, has unlimited ammo; and, while the larger firearms, bazookas, and missile launchers have a finite supply of shells, they’re still generously plentiful, as are the range of screen-clearing explosives. Triad leans into its carnage, making for an action-oriented affair where you rarely need to worry about conservation. As well as regular exchanges of gunfire, enemies can catch you in things like netting, requiring you to wiggle the controls to break free. It plays cleverly with the verticality of stages, utilising air and overhead areas to build intricate, if ultimately linear, maps, that present the key-collecting format in a new way.
This remaster includes absolutely everything Rise of the Triad ever had, collecting every pre-existing expansion and throwing in an entirely new episode by the original designers. This new addition feels even more inventive and tautly assembled than the classic maps, and on its own will be enough to justify a purchase for fans. There are also achievements to be had, adjustable difficulties across the board, and the options menu contains just about every tweak one could imagine, allowing you to revert things like item drop regularity and enemy health elements to their original states, or swap out one superb blistering soundtrack for another, including that of the 2013 re-release. Personally, we didn’t like the default gyroscope aiming in handheld mode, but it can easily be switched off.
Running at a smooth and unbroken 60fps in as high a definition as the Switch can muster, and absolutely crammed with content, it's clearly the definitive version of the game. It also features a huge online multiplayer aspect, with original maps and capture campaigns for up to 11 players. For many, this will be the package highlight.
So, wherein lies the rub? Well, despite its modern polish and host of trinkets, it remains undeniably dated. It moves almost too quickly, making navigating hovering platforms precarious and fiddly, and combat somewhat fraught. The difficulty varies wildly, too, with some stages being an absolute nightmare to get through, while others are a breeze. Discovering secret weaponry often remedies this, but not always, and certain campaigns have more of an unevenness than others.
Visually, too, it takes some adjustment, even in its high definition, with the labyrinthine nature of its layout occasionally confusing, requiring you to understand its vertical opportunities and what constitutes a door, a pressure pad, a tunnel, or a path. The combat reaches high points when there are tons of enemies on-screen and you’re packing something devastating with which to eviscerate them, but lest you crank the difficulty to something stupid it will take a while before you're barnstorming the stronghold in a blaze of glory. It also takes some time to adjust to the basic combat crosshair element, popping away at little distant sprites and hoping their invisible bullets don’t eat too much of your health.
Somehow, it's a game that, despite all of its creative flair, doesn't feel as fresh to play as Doom does today. That could be because of Apogee's design ethos, the more haphazard nature of their stage layouts, or simply that it was looking to emulate the feel of Wolfenstein, Doom's precursor. Regardless, for those committed to playing it well, there are plenty of adrenaline-fuelled highlights to be had — just be warned that an adjustment process precedes them.
Existing fans will feel so well served by this release that there needn’t be any hesitation in picking it up. Those dipping their toes for the first time should know that it operates in a way that has aged differently to other classic first-person shooters. Whereas Doom's combat and fluidity remain free and immediate, its axis of movement more realistic and its stage layouts more controlled, Rise of the Triad functions around its own, unique design parameters, where violence and abstraction reign supreme. Learn its maps, the versatility of its weaponry, and how to make best use of its playground elements, and there’s a game here with the capacity to enthrall.