Tag Archives: Rise Of The Triad

PROJECT WARLOCK Review

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Well I know I’m once again way behind schedule and probably hemorrhaging eyeballs faster than Ric Flair would bleed in his wrestling matches. Not that it is anyone’s problem other than my own. But when there’s a scare, you’re told you’re essential and said essential gig is the one that pays regularly, online endeavors have to take a back seat. Well, that or you quit. But that wouldn’t leave me with many prospects. So we have to count our blessings, prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.

All of that said, I pray for everyone affected by this pandemic and hope those who haven’t contracted it never do. Personally, I know a few people locally whose relatives were infected and it hasn’t been easy for them. It’s been said a billion times, but unless you’re completely out of food, don’t leave the house. And if you are, go to the store, buy two months worth of stuff and go directly home. It isn’t worth the risk. I had a customer complain they had to spend time with their kids. I couldn’t believe it. I told them to appreciate the time with them now rather than regret not having the time when they’re in their 90’s lamenting the fact they never spoke to one another.

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Anyway, I was fortunate enough to find some time to stream a couple of nights last week. So I managed to play through two games and I thank any of you who dropped in. Whether you chatted me up or just lurked. The first of these was today’s game. PROJECT WARLOCK. While the second was BLAZING CHROME which I will get to in a future review. PROJECT WARLOCK (Which demands an all-caps introduction. It really is a cool sounding name. Like something out of the B movie selection in the action movie section in the video store, we had back in 1993. But I’ve gone on a tangent.) is another in a line of games that pays homage to First-Person Shooters of yesteryear. But this one takes a little bit of a turn by going way back. Way, way, back to the earlier games put out by id Software and Apogee.

PROS: Great level design. Great characters. Great aesthetics. Customization!

CONS: Some people aren’t going to like having a lives system.

SURPRISE!: The game loves to throw a few curve balls from time to time.

Many games, of course, are inspired by DOOM, Quake, or Duke Nukem 3D. Some of these have even gone as far as run on those games’ classic engines. But this one goes back even further. Back to the days where every room was designed with cubes and 90-degree corners. Catacomb Abyss, Wolfenstein-3D, Blake Stone: Aliens Of Gold are the types of games this one takes much of its inspiration from. However, the game runs on Unity, and as such isn’t completely bolted down to those games’ limitations. However, it sticks to most of them while allowing for different ceiling and wall heights as well as elevators. Plus there are some nice skyboxes and interactive sprites and textures. The end result is something that feels like a combination of the aforementioned games and Rise Of The Triad. A classic that was born of a heavily modified Wolfenstein-3D engine.

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Unlike Rise Of The Triad, there aren’t any bizarre cultic terrorist organizations portrayed with digitized actors in the vein of Mortal Kombat. But you will be gunning down many, many enemies, collecting boatloads of treasure, and looking for many secrets. For those who have never played any of the First-Person Shooters prior to DOOM, this game may seem fairly restrictive at first. This hearkens back to a time when FPS games only had one set height for the floor. There were no stairs. There were no cliffs. It was rare to even see a puzzle involving switches. Secret areas were accessed by physically moving cubes of the environment back so many paces. In short, these were mazes like you would see in an early arcade game like Berzerk or in Muse Software’s Castle Wolfenstein (A game inspired by Berzerk that in turn inspired Wolfenstein-3D) but in the first person.

That meant hours of pushing on walls for those who wanted to find every conceivable secret in between blasting enemies. A lot of that experience has been recreated here. But it also has a couple of modern conveniences that make the experience a lot more interesting as well as enjoyable. For starters, this game has a contemporary control scheme. Back before Quake gave us this control scheme, most FPS games were controlled by using the arrow keys to move forward, backward, and to turn. You would fire by pressing CTRL, and if you needed to strafe you had to hold the ALT key while pressing left or right. The Spacebar opened doors. Even today, many people will download a source port when they buy a classic game like DOOM because going back to that setup feels archaic. Even to many veterans who are used to it.

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Project Warlock eschews that and retains the WASD, and a mouse control setup we’ve enjoyed since 1998. Be that as it may, this is still very much inspired by those pre-DOOM years so you won’t be jumping or crouching. But don’t worry, because these limitations actually forced the developers to get far more creative. Which is quite common when creating anything. Intentionally limiting yourself means inventing new ways to implement ideas you really believe in and Buckshot Software has done a phenomenal job with this game.

While the limitations may sound like a bad idea to some, they’re done very well here. Level designs are quite elaborate here and can get really deep. You may think you’ve hit a brick wall in finding the exit, then retrace all of your steps to find a door that was hiding in plain sight. Or you may think that secret you discovered was a monster closet because it was, but getting through it got you a weapon earlier than expected.

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The art design goes along with very well. They have done a fantastic job with all of this. Each of the game’s episodes has a completely different setting with a cast of enemies to go along with it. When you first start the game you’ll go through an initial stage that gets you acclimated with everything while being a surprisingly challenging stage. Frankly, it’s one of the toughest parts of the game. But you’ll want to press on and defeat it because things will become more manageable over time.

Eventually, you’ll find yourself in a small fortress stage that acts as a hub level where you’ll be able to level up your abilities, weapons, and choose missions. It feels a lot like the system in Bioshock, except you don’t have to choose to harvest Little Sisters and tick off Big Daddies. As you play through the game you can find stat building icons and you’ll also level up by mowing down hundreds of enemies. After so many stages you’ll find yourself back here, where you’ll be able to spend those upgrades on beefing up weapons, spells, and abilities.

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The game gives you two styles of assault. Traditional weapons you’d expect like guns or grenade launchers and Magical weapons like you would see in a game like Heretic. The magical weapons and spells use mana while the traditional weapons use their own ammunition.  Over time you’ll begin to make yourself bigger and better as you increase your health bars and add crazy enhancements to your arsenal. For instance, you can turn one weapon into a rail gun, or make a wimpy handgun go from a pea shooter to a hand cannon.

This actually means that earlier stages in many ways can seem more difficult to clear than some of the later ones. But this doesn’t make things feel insurmountable, rather it gives the game an RPG like affair in the sense that when earlier enemies that felt unkillable go down in a far more reasonable amount of time. Project Warlock also calls back to the old id/Apogee days by having episodes. Each episode has a few ranges of stages within them and culminates with a boss fight. Each episode also has its own particular look and feel. The first episode features a lot of horror and fantasy themed characters and settings. The episode after that goes for an icy tundra theme with winter stages, and enemies like abominable snowmen and creatures stuck in panes of ice. Other episodes have ancient Egyptian themes or industrial sci-fi themes. The final episode homogenizes all of these together.

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After a predetermined number of stages within each episode, things will take a break to send you back to the hub for more leveling up. Keep in mind the episodes have to be played through in sequential order. You can’t play them at your leisure the way you can in Wolfenstein 3D. At the end of each episode, the related aforementioned boss stage opens up and commences. Some Boss fights in this game do move beyond the typical “Shoot the Cyberdemon until it dies” meme battles you remember from games like DOOM. All of them are visually creative and have a number of things going on. One of the battles takes place against a giant Sphinx that goes in a different direction you might expect it to. Another boss implements a switch mechanic in its combat. Overall, these all come off as very memorable due to the combination of terrific character designs, sound effects, and attack patterns that really make them stand out.

In between episodes, the game takes some influence from DOOM by giving you a full-screen essay on what happens with your character’s following exploits. The game also does have a few really interesting options to go along with the entire package. One cool feature the game has is something that has also been done in other indie games. But usually, they’ve been completely different genres. That feature is the ability to put on different filters to emulate the look of older platforms. There are palates for the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad CPC, Nintendo Game Boy, and others. The game also has a CRT filter for those that want it. But rather than a simple on and off toggle, you can set a number of meters for the level of detail you want. You can also set variables for how pixelated you want the game to look.

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Admittedly, some of the retro settings can actually make some of the enemies harder to see, so in some cases, the game can become more difficult than it otherwise might be. You can also put on some more contemporary special effects like Ambient Occlusion. In short, the game does give you a lot of options if you’re into customizing the look and performance of your games.

This is also another game that has a fantastic soundtrack. Jerry Leha and Luke Wilson have put together a list of songs that fit the world of the game perfectly with a mix of Heavy Metal, New Wave, Industrial Electronica, as well as some orchestral elements blended into each of them. It’s a great game!

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Not everything in the game is as good as it could be. As I said, the optional filters can sometimes make things hard to see. The other thing some might not like is that the game retains a lives system from the days of Wolfenstein 3D. So, unfortunately, you won’t be able to press a button to quicksave the way you’ve been doing since the days of Quake. If you die, you’ll have to redo everything you have in that stage up to that point. Fortunately, there are ways to find extra lives, and updating your arsenal will definitely mitigate that.  Still, these won’t be considered transgressions by everyone. Especially for those that might point out how a quicksave feature could be abused by constantly pressing it after killing each and every enemy.

Ultimately though, this is worth picking up. It’s a great blend of Pre-DOOM conventions and modern conveniences of the genre. One that you really have to see to believe. A number of games today take inspiration from DOOM, it’s less common to see them take it from Wolfenstein 3D. The fact that this one does and does it well makes it really stand out. With it putting in current things like a WASD and mouselook control scheme it makes it still feel like a contemporary game when playing it. It’s got awesome art design, great characters, imposing bosses, and a solid leveling system. But be aware it does have a couple of early conventions you may not be used to if you weren’t around for the glory days of early id Software and Apogee.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

 

Rise Of The Triad Review

The reboot of the late 90’s many shooter fans have prayed for is out now. It delivers the fast paced carnage, and exploration of the original game. But along the way are a few caveats.

PROS: Wonderful retelling of the original 1995 2.5D First Person Shooter.

CONS: Bugs, micro stuttering, and a lack of optimization.

WOW! THEY PULLED A DOOM II:  Four super secret retro stages!

To say there is a new Rise Of The Triad is nothing short of a miracle. Only a handful of people thought there could ever be another one. Especially seeing how Apogee/3DRealms was barely on life support after losing millions on Duke Nukem Forever, and then selling the rights to Gearbox who merely got it functional enough to sell to the unsuspecting public.  Many of us, if not all of us, figured Apogee was all but gone, and their backlog lost to history.

Enter Interceptor Entertainment, who managed to get Apogee’s blessing to reboot one of their more obscure releases. I’ve reviewed the original game so I won’t go gravely into it again here. But Rise Of The Triad was a really good game that did a lot with dated technology. So much so, that for awhile it actually hung with the big boys of the time.

Born of an abandoned sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, it brought jump pads, destructable environments,  and multiplayer staples like CTF to the table. It did a lot of amazing things with a then five year old engine. Things some newer releases hadn’t done. In short it was awesome. It grew a devoted cult following over the years. Ironic, seeing how ROTT’s villians are helmed by a murderous cult.

Interceptor is a small team spread out over the globe. The creation of the reboot is an interesting one because it is such an unorthodox one. Developers created the game through nearly two years of internet conferencing, uploading, assets, and involving community feedback. It’s something you rarely see in the creation of any sort of ambitious project by such a small team.

Overall, this did work to their advantage. Rise Of The Triad is crafted with love for the IP, and it shows. Stages are built with the spirit of the original in mind at every turn. But entirely on an Unreal 3 engine. No longer restricted to 90 degree tile set design, the developers built stages with more of a building block approach. The stages are almost entirely open to you. With the exception of searching for keys for certain areas, and stage outskirts you can pretty much go anywhere.

With the advent of the popularity of Half-Life, Call Of Duty, and other contemporary big games, campaigns became more of a linear, cinematic experience. One of going on rail like segments where you can see things happening, but can’t explore them. ROTT throws this out the window,  embracing it’s 1995 era fully.

Exploration is one of the best things about the game too, because it will lead to a lot of power ups, secrets, and in four cases, retro levels themed on the 1995 original’s graphics. You will want these power ups too because ROTT is challenging. Even on lower difficulty settings, you will find yourself realizing the odds are against you. Gone are the regenerating health bars of modern design, and returning are the bowls of priest porridge  from the old game.

Managing health, and ammo is a staple of arcade shooters. There is little difference here. Although the bullet weapons like the handgun or MP40 supply unlimited ammuntion, going up against tougher enemies proves that they’re not ideal. ROTT’s meatier weapons are all variants on the rocket launcher. On top of the stock one, classic favorites return like the Flame Wall, Split Missile, Drunk Missile,and Firebomb. Each has a secondary function now to put another spin on the classic gameplay.

These weapons are a must against bosses, or heavy enemies. Also returning to help you out, are the powerups. There’s the wings to allow you to fly for a short time, dog mode which helps you find certain secrets, bite bad guys, and barkblast an entire room of badguys into paste. Also returning is the classic  god powerup giving you the familiar yawning sound, invulnerability, and force lightning balls of the original.

Interceptor also brought back the joke powerups. Shroom mode impedes your movement, and Ball mode makes you ricochet off walls. Finally, the excalibat, an enchanted baseball bat that shoots baseballs, and the magic wand that shoots force lighning.

ROTT’s story is told through comic book panels at the beginning of the game, and through radio chatter between levels. The game is broken up into 5 levels across 4 episodes. At the end of each episode you’ll face a reimagined version of a boss from ROTT 1995. Most of these will be multipart affairs with multiple forms. It’s another way the game attempts to bridge the gap between old, and new conventions.

Multiplayer is also a very fun return to form for the arena shooter. Not since Unreal Tournament 3 has there been a deathmatch focused arcade style game where twitch skills are key. Of course there is some luck involved as the stock pistols don’t get you far, and starting near a pickup is ideal. But at the end of the match it’s those with the best hand, and eye cooirdination who can claim success. That is if they can stave off anyone who picked up god or wing powerups. This is Rise Of The Triad after all.

ROTT also includes an editor which is great news for those who wistfully remember making their own stages to share with friends, and other fans in this era of paid DLC maps, and micro transactions.

The original game was also heralded for it’s over the top, goofy violence. ROTT also doles this out in spades. Enemies spin around in flames. Enemies lose limbs or heads. In many cases they’ll explode. When this happens you’ll find the developers were so devoted to recreating gibs that they modelled individual organs. It never gets to the clown shoes level of Mortal Kombat 3’s fatalities. But it will certainly wow anybody who has fond memories of the original game.

Fond memories of the original’s soundtrack can be found with most of the fandom. This was another thing that was celebrated in the reboot. All of Lee Jackson’s classic chiptunes have been painstakingly covered in heavy metal. But the game also gives players the option to hear the original Jackson soundtrack instead. To their credit, the covers are awesome. Any hard rock fan who plays the game will find themselves jamming to the tunes inbetween waves of Triad soldiers. But those who aren’t big on loud guitar work will love turning on the original tunes.

ROTT isn’t a visual powerhouse, but it does have a lot of special effects, and graphics options for players to tweak. It goes out of it’s way to allow you to setup all of the various settings you’re accustomed to, and then some. Unfortunately it’s here where some of the game’s problems begin to come through.

As fun, exciting, and all around awesome as Rise Of The Triad is, the lack of optimization is disheartening. If you are on anything other than mid tier or higher intel, or nVidia hardware, expect to run into some micro stuttering. Setting the graphics options lower, honestly doesn’t help much unless your computer is honestly that old or running onboard video rather than a discrete card.

To it’s credit, Interceptor has been much better about fixing these issues than even many AAA developers. Since launch they have been working with community feedback on patching the game starting with it’s editor for mod makers. They’ve committed to releasing a stream of small patches, and updates to get the game working right for their customers.

But with that said, ROTT is still a product, and as such customers expect a game to work when they get it home, or get it installed on their computer.  Even if it is only $15.  If you are a die hard ROTT fan who still doesn’t have this game, you will probably be able to grin while bearing the periodic performance hitches. For those curious or on the fence, while the game is nowhere near as glitch filled or broken as something like Brink was in it’s launch you still may want to wait for a patch or two.

One can only hope the hitches are hashed out soon because the multiplayer has the potential to bring back UT or Quake style arena shooting to a new generation. The campaign is a fun, engaging affair that is one part Quake II, and two parts Return To Castle Wolfenstein.

Final Score: 7 out of 10 (When the problems are solved make it a 9)