Rise of the Triad: Dark War
In 1996, English summers were six weeks of sunshine. A man could leisurely walk to the corner-shop with no fear of rain. Here, he could purchase goods such as penny sweets or a packet of Coolbits, small pieces of ice cream shaped like hands and feet. It was a time when you’d return home to free shareware allowing you to blow digitalised people apart.
Rise of the Triad was originally planned as a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D. Due to the imminent release of Doom, id software didn’t want the name using and ROTT (what an acronym!) was born. The uniform of the enemies and particular imagery remained from the original design. Rather than scrapping their work, Apogee injected a lot of absurdity and amusement into the game.
As one of the five members of H.U.N.T, you’re tasked with skirmishing through a hostile triad-infested island, stopping their evil schemes at the heart. The five available characters vary in sound effects, height, speed and vitality. Due to the difficult controls, it’s inadvisable to pick any of the female characters who move quicker. It’d be fantastic to run around as a Hong Kong babe taking out hundreds of triad with dual pistols like a female Chow Yun Fat, if it didn’t mean falling off platforms and level edges all the time.
Trouble is, the port to the iPhone is lazy. Everything from the original is here. The music is intact, all the weapons return, plus extra level packs are included and it plays well. Unfortunately it’s clearly been ported with minimal effort. The map is completely useless, and either moves at a snail’s pace or so fast it instantly shows the map in the smallest zoom. Descriptive text runs off the edge of the screen and the menu text is tiny and difficult to select. Thankfully, the original gameplay remains untouched.
ROTT was the first FPS to introduce a weapon limit. You carry two pistols on your hips, an MP40 over your shoulder and one heavy weapon on your back. Equipping a new heavy weapon replaces your current one. Discover the MP40 and you can no longer change back to the Hong Kong action film twin pistol combination. Why the ability to change between the two has been removed is unknown. Thankfully, the heavy weaponry is as crazy and wild as it was upon the games original release.
There is a wide range of weapons and power-ups to collect. The Flamewall fires out a rocket that creates a sweeping wall of incinerating flame upon impact, the Heat-Seeker does what it says on the tin and the sound of a Drunk-Missile separating and then whipping into its target sounds phenomenal. Additional power-ups, often hidden, includes a gas mask that covers the screen to protects your lungs, armour (Asbestos armour - oh it’s so itchy!), and more surreal items. Shrooms create flashing colours and a wobbling screen, Mercury Mode enables you to fly and Dog Mode turns you into an invincible dog.
When shot down, the triad may beg for their lives before you pop in the last round. Fire-missiles turn victims into burnt remains and a well-placed rocket causes limbs and eyeballs to burst out of the explosion, with ‘Ludicrous Gibs!’ at the top of the screen. Jump pads propel you into the air, breaking the flat-plane movement of FPS’ at the time and landing on a triad member from a great height will kill them. You’ll also suffer different deaths. Like fatalities, your screen can swirl in with a scream or the camera pans out to show your body exploding. All this carnage takes place to a brilliant midi-keyboard soundtrack. The score varies from the action film pulsing beat of the opening level, to the atmospheric score on Spiralling In.
The gibs aren’t the only thing ludicrous in this port of ROTT. There are four control schemes to pick from, two basic and two advanced. The basic methods are useless, offering little control and one requires you to swipe the screen to turn. The advanced methods place analogue sticks on the touchscreen. Using this is similar to moving from mouse and keyboard to console controllers for the first time. It feels unnatural and either over or under responsive. Unlike a controller, this control style simply does not provide the level of accuracy required to avoid frustration. Navigating through the traps on levels such as The Room becomes a logistical nightmare. One you’ll repeatedly have to relive. The touch-to-fire mechanic can also ‘jam’, causing the weapon to repeatedly fire. Not advisable when equiped with a giant rocket-launcher in a tight corridor.
Due to control issues, it’s recommended to select a difficultly level lower than usual. Later levels are made more complex by the limitations of the modified Wolf 3D engine. All the walls reach the ceiling, creating mazes that require a lot of backtracking. With the map completely useless this becomes infuriating. During the final level of the first episode I encountered a game breaking bug. In the main fight or on the victory screen the game would close itself down. There was no remedy, and I had to revert to an earlier saved game.
ROTT is a long forgotten fast-paced FPS that is exploding with style, let down by a lazy port. Take the time to master the control scheme though and you’ll find ROTT a lot of fun to play and jam-packed with innovative features.
Review based on version 1.60
Five out of ten
- An overlooked gem of the FPS genre
- Great weaponry and power-ups
- Two additional map packs
- Controls will alienate many players
- Technical limitations in level design
- No multiplayer support
- Experienced game crippling bug