During the mid ’90s, following the first-person shooter craze started by Doom and the rise of the multimedia PC, the race was on among developers to produce ever more impressive first-person games. Rise of the Triad: Dark War showed up squarely in the middle of this interesting era, and it stood out for a long time as one of the most unique shooters available.
In those times, the very most important thing about any FPS, to gamers, was its graphics. In that respect, Rise of the Triad was exceptional. The photographic sprites used for the guns and enemies really gave the game a realistic look. You can also look up and down in addition to just turning around – which was only starting to become a common thing at the time the game was released. Of course, visuals like these took their toll on PCs back then, and you needed at least a mid-range 486 to play it properly. In fact, in old FPS games, you could reduce the screen size to make the game run better, and in RotT, if you reduce the screen to the smallest size, you’ll see a little message reading “Buy a 486! :)”, which was just one of the many nuggets of humour hidden in the game.
Gameplay-wise, RotT isn’t special so much as unique. You run around the stages, killing enemies and looking for keys to open doors to get to the next stage to do more of the same. At the start of the game, you have only a pistol, but you can find and wield another one, and then eventually a machine gun. The cool thing is that any weapon which requires bullets has infinite ammo. The majority of the other weapons in the game were rocket launchers of various kinds: homing rockets, cluster rockets, firewall rockets, rockets which caused area affect explosions, and so on. There are one or two creative weapons besides rocket launchers, like the monk staff, which fires lightning balls, and the infamous Excalibat, a baseball bat which fires explosive baseballs and can also be used as a melee weapon.
Other oddities in the game include the weird powerups you can find, such as one which turns you into a dog for a brief while, and another which puts your character on a magic mushroom high, unable to walk straight but seeing everything in multi-coloured disco-vision. There is also the gameplay reliance on trampolines. In every stage, you’ll find a plethora of trampolines, some of which were required to get around, but it seems odd that this would be standard equipment in a Triad stronghold. The game also features tons and tons of ankhs, little symbols which you can collect – once you have 100 of them, you receive an extra life. An extra life in a first person shooter?
Rise of the Triad is definitely an interesting FPS, both for its impressive visuals and its oddness. If you fancy playing it again, or giving it a try for the first time, Good Old Games has a great version which installs itself and configures the DOSbox settings automatically. All you have to do is click on the shortcut and enjoy.