This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Rise of the Triad.
Gaming culture has a curious relationship with its history. On the one hand you have console manufacturers saying: "Backwards Compatibility? What is that? A tendency to immediately cancel poorly received features? Cause that we've got! You don't want to play any of them 5 million provably good old games, grand-dad; all the cool kids exclusively play the five or six new games for the new consoles that have less gameplay features but prettier lighting! Check that shit out, I think I just came through my butthole because my cock was too busy pissing itself!" But on the other hand, if you go to Kickstarter and say the name of a popular game from the early to mid 90's followed by the word remake, money will be thrown at you with such force that you'll resemble a currency themed cousin to Pinhead from Hellraiser.
While life on the cutting edge has its stabby charms, there is a guaranteed audience for nostalgia, especially on something like Steam, where the pretty lighting and the pixel art live side by side in peaceful non-judgemental harmony. And this week's subject wears nostalgia like a douchebag wears a lampshade.
Rise of the Triad was an FPS from the mid-90's charitably classified as 2.5-D but more like 2.4 at best. And like a man with both hands trapped in a gumball machine...was absolutely fuck all to do with Triads. Instead, it was the result of someone saying: "Alright, just because it's the early to mid 90's and 3D graphics look like someone threw LEGO at a shithouse wall doesn't mean we can't have a nice serious shooter about a covert tactics unit assaulting a paramilitary organisation- OH FUCK IT I'M BORED." That's pretty much exactly how the design document went. So as well as the shooting, there's jump-pads and Mario coins and power-ups that turn you into a dog.
If you've never played the original Rise of the Triad...then fuck off! The new Rise of the Triad is a nostalgic in-joke-y exercise. Basically recreating the original with all new pretty lighting. So we can speed around shooting the baddies like a Starlight Express cast member going postal? "Yep." And we can fire cartoonishly powerful rocket launchers in mid-air? "Yep." And it's still fuck-all to do with Triads? "Yep, and we still have the power-up that turns you into a dog." (gasp) With the little doggy nose at the bottom of the screen?? "Yep." And the little adorable paw coming up when you press buttons? "Err... no, we forgot about that." ONE STAR.
It is admirable for a remake not to be a generic modern day shooter with a name attached, like a dog turd with a cocktail umbrella stuck in it. And it's also impressive how they managed to capture the slightly janky fun of 2.5D action in full 3D, with environments that no longer look like someone tried to recreate their favourite graph paper doodles with sheets of used toilet paper. And it's impressive - and baffling - the way they successfully animate 3D model enemies to shuffle unconvincingly about like 2D-sprite based enemies did. It took me a while to get back into the mindset, removing silly notions like "cover" from my mind with a bottle of mouthwash and a knife. But after that I was having a great time bunny-hopping about, firing missiles in mid-air and wiping eyeballs off my reading glasses.
Obviously they can't fully recreate the experience of 90's FPSs, because the resolution isn't so low that enemies more than 50 yards away appear to be camouflaged as Tetris blocks. So to evoke the same spirit, they just made the graphics really fucking murky so distant enemies blend into the background and locating the assholes turns into some kind of hardcore bullet-themed game of Marco Polo.
Rise of the Triad does a very naughty thing around the second act. "Bet you're enjoying all this fast paced violence, aren't you? But this isn't a perfect recreation of 90's retro shooters yet! We haven't had enough shitty first-person platforming challenges! Hope you like trying to accurately jump onto tiny platforms when your feet only exist hypothetically. Because if you don't do it perfect we're going to kill you. And then laugh. And then display your corpse at the museum of failure wearing a silly hat!" I suppose this is the problem with warts-and-all remakes. Some in the right places can certainly liven-up the evening, but there are other warts I'm quite glad eventually dropped off. This is like going to the Renaissance Fair and getting infected with bubonic plague while the King shags your wife.
But on the other hand it's not entirely the fault of retro-gaming. Because you know what the original Rise of the Triad had? Quicksave. Not autosaves, presided-over by a sloth reading a really interesting magazine. First person jumping challenges are a bit of a pisser, but an entire sequence of the things that you have to start all over again at the slightest failure is a 12-storey flying pisser circling the neighbourhood, contaminating all the swimming-pools.
But none of this made me stop playing the game. I'd slide of some janky geometry into lava, and the hilarious commander would insult me and I'd fantasize impaling the voice actor on an ocean liner piston butthole-first. But then I'd slam the reload button and furiously nod my head in time with the loading screen music and try again. You see, I get angry, but angry is not bored. Angry gets shit done. This is what truly separates casual from hardcore. Casual's all like, "Now when you're ready I want you to press this button. Okay, that was slightly to the left of the button, but keep trying, you're doing ever so well." And Hardcore is all like, "Oh, look at this wee man, thinks he can roll with us. Maybe if you ate this entire live crab right now. While I'm hitting you. With the crab." And either method has its appeal. It's just the games that try to have it both ways that piss me off. "Are you the kind of hurly-burly power-armour marine that can save the planet from the giant death crabs from space? Well prove it by pressing this button. Now when you feel up to it, shoot that monster that we've tied to a stake and put a giant glowing arrow over. You know what? Nevermind - I'll do it."
But while Rise of the Triad did get me to the right level of frustration that I was motivated to keep playing just to teach it a lesson, it ended on a bit of a squib. See, while it's getting you all worked up with its unfair traps and platforming, the actual combat fades in the background, as the more powerful weapons become more common and you can absent-mindedly disappear an entire legion while you're waiting for a chance to get on a ledge for some Mario coins.
The final boss fight is rather disappointingly-easy, because he has fewer stages than my electric toothbrush and the place is just strewn with powerful weapons like a Texan Christmas morning. So the game feels short because it builds up all this angry tension bubbling away in my gonads like a pair of hairy witch cauldrons, then didn't pay it off properly. I had to go piss it all out over the first car I could find with a personalized number plate. Maybe they'll put some new levels out. Maybe they will remember to put some fucking Triads in them this time.
Getting a bit too fond of the word "piss" : Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
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