Preview: Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition

7 Jun 2023

Growing up in the 90s, I was very familiar with Apogee thanks to their extensive shareware catalog. I spent many an afternoon playing the likes of Raptor and Dark Ages, but none stood out for me quite as much as Rise of the Triad. So of course I was excited to hear Nightdive Studios was doing a remaster of this classic.

For those unfamiliar with the 1995 original (and I’ll try to keep this brief to keep this from being a full-blown review of the original), Rise of the Triad began life as a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, and carries with it a lot of that DNA. A first-person-shooter with secret walls to push, plenty of items to collect, an episodic structure, and of course a rocking soundtrack. In those regards it was very much following the style at the time.

However, it improved on the formula in many ways. Enemy AI was adjusted to allow things like dodging or playing dead, and a vast array of over-the-top explosive weaponry and powerups made you a one-man army. Most memorable of all was the level design. Elements like bounce pads and levitating platforms added a degree of verticality that was missing from other FPSs of the time, and navigating your way past fireball shooters and spike traps was as much a part of getting through the stage as shooting your enemies. These are all mostly standard nowadays, but back when Rise of the Triad was released back in 1995 it was a bit of a trailblazer pushing where the genre could go.

While the plot doesn’t get much attention outside of the intro and ending to each episode (basically setting up that you’re a special task force infiltrating a cult’s island stronghold), that’s not to say the writing doesn’t shine through. There’s a certain levity to the tone, with alliteration and the occasional joke in things like item names, system messages, and levels. It’s not to the extent that it takes over the game, but combined with the inherent hijinx of bounce pads and explosives, it makes for a lighter and wackier game.

But enough talk about a game that’s nearly 30 years old, how about that upcoming remaster! So, upon booting it up my first thought was “Wow, did they just add WASD controls and call it a day? This feels just like I remember.” Of course, as ever, nostalgia makes fools of us all. Booting up the original for a comparison I found the usual remaster touches. In addition to modernized controls and controller support, the sprites and textures have been touched up, and the game is now running natively in Windows instead of emulated through DOSBox.

On top of these, a number of other quality of life features have been added as well. All three versions of Rise of the Triad (The shareware episode, the main Dark War series of episodes, and the additional “extreme” episode) are now selectable from the main menu instead of being accessed through the launcher. There’s now also built-in support for custom campaigns, and while I was unable to properly test this in the demo, it does integrate with your Steam profile which should mean using that for netplay rather than messing around with IP addresses and port forwarding.

Most surprising of all however, is the addition of a new 4th chapter, “The Hunt Continues.” Sadly I was only able to experience a single level from it in the demo, but the level design felt right at home with its more classic contemporaries. The plot also appears to continue where the previous episode left off, with the villain revived in a new stronghold to find the heroes already at the doorstep.

All in all, the rough edges may have been smoothed out a little, but the soul of the game has been untouched. Everything I loved about the original is still here, polished up and more accessible than ever. For those who already have the original, there’s even easier multiplayer (and hopefully an influx of people to play with) and a brand new episode to boot. I’m looking forward to when the full game releases later this summer.

Preview copy provided by Apogee Entertainment for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of Apogee Entertainment.