As Rise of the Triad faded quietly into relative obscurity, the FPS genre would move onward. We’d go from the full 3D environments of Quake, to the more story-focused Half-Life. As console FPSes took hold, we would eventually end up going from Halo to the dark, gritty worlds of Call of Duty. And so it seemed that we were stuck there, with an uncountable number of FPSes imitating its style. Dark Staffs gave way to Desert Eagles, secrets were left to the wayside for scripted events, and guys with guns… well, ROTT had a lot of guys with guns, too. But in its defense, it had robots, too. Games like Serious Sam and Painkiller helped to fill the void, but they had their own style of gameplay entirely compared to the classic shooters of old.
And so, to the bewilderment of the PC gaming community, a remake was announced by a developer called Interceptor Entertainment, who apparently handled the entire development of the game without any of its employees physically meeting each other. The original plans were for a remake of Duke Nukem 3D, but due to Gearbox’s often, questionable ways of doing things, the project ended up getting shelved. And so, Interceptor moved on to remaking another FPS from Apogee’s library, one that never received quite as much love as Duke did. It’s obvious that the team were huge fans of the original ROTT, however, and it shows by just how faithful they were to the original concept. There’s definitely a more modern veneer to the whole thing, but it’s still goofy enough you can definitely see the original game under it.
ROTT 2013 follows fairly closely to the original game, with extra features thrown in to fit with more modern standards. You still have the choice of the original HUNT team, and they still have their own stats for speed and maximum health. This time around, however, they’re a lot more vocal, and they all have lines for things like picking up weapons and powerups. They don’t have quite as many lines as, say, Duke Nukem, but it helps diversify the cast a little bit. Loreli Ni is surprisingly foul mouthed, while Ian Paul Freely is now a British guy who says things like “Jolly good” unironically.
The game’s split into four episodes like the original game, although now every level gets an even total of five levels each. Four of these are regular levels, while the final level of each level is dedicated to a boss encounter. You go to each level trough a Donkey Kong Country-esque world map, which offers you the option of getting a mission briefing from your commander. Who, the first time you actually use this feature, exclaims disbelief that you actually wanted a briefing, and then tells you to just kill everything that moves. If only other shooters could be so honest. Each level is also further split into three checkpoints, where you can restore from if you load your game or die.
The gameplay itself is almost unchanged from the original ROTT, so if you’re familiar with the original game, you should know what to expect. No modern conveniences like regenerating health or cover to get in your way, this is as classic as a shooter gets. In fact, the few modern touches the game does offer feel like jokes from the developers. The MP40 now has iron sights, but they don’t seem to make your fire more accurate at all. And there’s even a reload button, which, given your bullet weapons still have unlimited ammo, isn’t all that useful except for being stylish. Not that throwing two pistols into the air, along with their clips, and them slamming said pistols so hard onto the clips they reload isn’t stylish. Given the game’s lightning quick speeds, especially if you’ve picked one of the faster characters, and the game’s general difficulty at points, it almost feels like a hybrid between the original ROTT and Duke Nukem 3D.
Much like the original game, your goal is to shoot your way through every enemy in your path, collect giant floating keys to open locked doors, and get better weapons to expedite the shooting through every enemy in your path. You will occasionally need to backtrack and explore, and you’ll sometimes even have to throw a switch or two. It’s not something you see so often in a modern FPS, and it’s pretty refreshing to see it make a return. There are a few times when you hit a checkpoint where the game will block off the way you came, but other than that, you’re free to take your time scouting for secrets.
All the weapons from the original game carry over nicely here, along with the original weapon selection system. You can hold three bullet weapons, and one special weapon at a time. The special weapons have been given makeovers to look more futuristic, like the heatseeker getting a nifty camera to show you where your missiles are hitting. A few weapons also get alternate fire modes, too. The bazooka gets a scope, and the Drunk Missile can fire a rapid-fire barrage of missiles, along other things. You even get the knife to start off with, and it’s no longer completely useless besides cutting nets, to boot. Special weapons are more common this time around, too, which means that you don’t have to ration your ammo quite as much for groups of enemies. Which is good, because it’s a lot more fun to blow people to bits with a bazooka than it is to plink them with a pistol.
The enemies you’ll use all this upgraded weaponry on have gotten a bit of an upgrade, as well. There’s not too much of an upgrade in the number of enemy types, although they’re a little smarter and little more aggressive. Lightning guards won’t just wait for you to get close before they snatch your weapon, now they’ll roll towards you and grab it, if they get the chance, making them a lot more dangerous. And a lot more fun to finish off once they start begging. They’re also more accurate, meaning they’re more dangerous. Even on the Normal difficulty, enemies can take a good bit of health off of you if you’re not careful, especially they come in a group. The enemies are a little vocal, too, yelling out that they need backup or that they need to reload. Given that you need neither of these, it doesn’t help them very much. You’ll also come across a few minibosses every so often, which are usually a regular enemy with a health bar. One of these guys, for whatever reason, taunts you to kill him in a speech that goes on for quite a while, in a horrendous Arnold impression.
The bosses have also had a lot of work put into them, which is nice, given how they were a little more fleshed out than most of the big bullet sponges of the era. They look a lot more menacing, especially since General Darian has gone from some tall guy with a bazooka to a cyborg with a shotgun arm. They also put up a lot more of a fight, too. Most of the bosses are fought through multiple phases, and they all have at least one attack that can kill you outright. Considering that dying to a boss means you’ll have to start from the beginning of the fight, this can get frustrating pretty quickly. Still, it’s a nice extra feature, since most FPSes don’t even put that much thought into their boss fights. And as a faithful remake demands, the NME is still a bastard to kill.
The level design’s also been giving a massive, and very much needed, overhaul. A lot of the levels also have sections that have been modified, expanded, or completely brand new, so you won’t get far relying on your knowledge of the original game alone. The new engine means there’s also a lot of vertical space to cover, with plenty of spring pads laying around the place for you to reach it with. Keeping with the original game’s roots, there’s plenty of switches to flip and secrets to find. There are even a few secret levels scattered throughout the game, and while most of them aren’t too long or difficult, the final one is nothing but an FPS jumping puzzle that could only have devised with a man who hates humanity with all his heart. You have been warned.
And there are still plenty of traps to avoid, including the traditional spinning pillars and flame jets. The tiny holes in the ground are gone, thankfully. All the powerups from the original game return, too, even the ones of questionable usefulness like Shrooms Mode. Yes, the dog mode returns, and yes, you can make people explode by howling at them. But only once, before you return to your human form. Some things were too good to last.
The game still keeps track of your score, but now it’s by a per-level basis. You earn points for killing enemies, getting high kill combos, finding secrets, and collecting the ankh coins scattered around the level. Your time, score, and percentage of level completion is graded on a five star rating when you finish a level, and there’s leaderboards for the best scores and times, if that’s your sort of thing. It adds a little bit of replay value, especially if you’re the sort of person who loves to find the best way to speedrun through levels, Quake-style. In a more modern touch, however, you’ve got unlimited lives. Your only punishment, besides being kicked back to your last checkpoint, is your commander making fun of you and your corpse. (“Using your body as armor! That’s just fucking brilliant.”)
You’ll be dying a lot, too. Even on Normal difficulty, there might be times when you reach the exit with literally zero percent health left. Part of this is that hitscan enemies can do a lot of damage if you stay in their sights, and their uniforms can blend in with the background. Part of this problem can be alleviated by messing with your brightness, but this can still get pretty annoying. There’s also quite a few jumping puzzles in the game, as well, which is something the FPS as a genre had a reason to move away from. When these involve spring pads, these aren’t too hard, because you’re expected to let go of the movement keys and let the springs just carry you to where you need to be. When you’re jumping from platform to platform, with instant death waiting below, that’s a little more annoying. And keep in mind that this game works through checkpoints, which can mean you’ll have to replay the last two to five minutes every time you die. Quicksaves are set to be added in a later patch, however, so hopefully this’ll alleviate a very frustrating issue. In the meantime, remember that you can and should heat all the food you can find to get the most health from it. Special weapons are common enough, for the most part, that you shouldn’t have to ration too much.
Despite the issues, the single player is still pretty fun. The developers had a very clear idea on how classic FPSes moved, flowed, and generally worked, possibly even more than Croteam or People Can Fly’s work. For one thing, you’re rarely, if ever, put into a closed arena, meaning you’re free to run, and move, and blow things away at your own pace. Given just how fast ROTT was back in the day, even compared to Doom, that’s just the way things should be. The whole appeal is just how faithful the entire game feels to the original game, so if you can handle the difficulty of games like Doom and Duke, you should be able to handle yourself here just fine.
Once you clear the single player mode, there’s also the multiplayer mode to enjoy, as well. This is about as classic as classic deathmatch gets, and if you’re used to games like Quake 3 or Unreal Tournament, you should be home right here. No killstreaks, no loadouts, just you and a bunch of other people running around like madmen and shooting rockets all over the place. Much like in UT or Quake, the bullet weapons aren’t worth much in a firefight, so you’ll need a good special weapon to get your frags in. Sadly, however, the variety of modes is pretty weak compared to the original game, so there’s only options for Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag. There’s not much in the way of customizability, either, aside from setting point and time limits. Still, the mode itself is a lot of fun, if bunny-hopping, bounce pads, and bazookas are the way you like to deathmatch.
Given that the game runs off Unreal Engine 3, it looks pretty good. The character models aren’t so great, but considering you’re more likely to look at what’s left of the models after you blow them up, it’s not much of an issue. Keeping in spriit with the original game, while the characters are no longer digitzed, they’re still modeled after Inceptor employees, which is a nice touch. The blood also returns in full force, especially where the special weapons come in. Even the bullet weapons have a chance of cutting arms and limbs clear off of enemies, leaving nothing but a big, cartoony bone stump behind. It’s kind of goofy, sure, but you could probably imagine it’s the sort of the thing the original team would do, given the technology. And there’s still plenty of chances for Ludicrous Gibs, which seem to be more common when you fire an explosive weapon at a certain range. When this happens, you not only get the message popping up, but you get a pair of eyeballs hitting your screen to celebrate the occasion.
All the levels have received a massive visual overhaul, and it helps the game feel a lot more real. San Nicholas is no longer a series of stone and metal corridors, and there’s no prisons, barracks, robot factories, and lava caves to shoot through, for starters. . There are points where you can almost see the original layout peeking out from the massive visual enhancements, but given the changes, these points are pretty rare. Despite all the new realism, the game never lets the levels get in the way of flow or fun. So yes, there will be points where you’ll see things like a flame jet over the door to the communication room where people are expected to, you know, work. The Triad also seem to have a strange obsession with Kim Jong-un, which various “sexy” pictures of him scattered throughout the game. Well, they ARE an evil doomsday cult, so…
The music’s also been given an overhaul, going from MIDI tunes to songs with real instruments, and it all sounds great. Most of the songs are hard rock and metal, which go great with the general mood and feel of the game. Or, if you prefer, you can switch to the original MIDI soundtrack at any time from the options menu. Sadly, however, the boss music seems to be gone entirely, for whatever reason. The voice acting’s as cheesy as it should be, although it can get annoying that your characters tend to spout off one-liners almost every time they take damage. You can only hear “That moppet got lucky!” so many times before you welcome death. At least you would if your commander wouldn’t laugh at you about it.
Overall, it’s easy to tell ROTT 2013 is a labor of love, and one supported so we can see more work from Interceptor. It’s a cheesy, and overall kind of dumb game, really, but that’s what anybody would want and expect from a remake of Rise of the Triad. It is, also, a pretty faithful remake, all told, and while it could do with a few more patches to help make it even better, it’s definitely worth playing as it is.