Rise of the Triad has always been an interesting game. Originally developed as a sequel to Wolfenstein 3D, the branding was swapped to an original IP and it came out a year after Doom. The issue was that RotT was made with the Wolfenstein 3D engine, leaving the game visually and mechanically dated by the time its shareware episode launched in late 1994. The game received a remaster a decade ago, but now Nightdive has done a remake of their own, restoring cut content, including uncapped framerates, and adding a couple dozen brand new levels (some of which were designed by the developer of Dusk.) Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition won’t mean much to most folks who didn’t experience the game in the 90s, but this is still a surprisingly enjoyable, intriguing little version that offers a better way to play the game.
Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition lets you pick from several options when starting a new game, including the aforementioned shareware episode (a bundle of levels that were made available as a free demo of sorts ahead of the game’s full launch,) the entire game proper, and the Extreme expansion. Then, there are the new levels and the surprising inclusion of Return of the Triad, a total conversion mod for Doom, created by the folks that went on to develop Amid Evil. It’s a bit bizarre playing them both back to back, as the mod looks and feels much better overall. There are over 100 levels included here, making this a seriously robust package. There’s even mouse look, even if utilising it distorts the geometry and can prove to be disorienting.
Taking one look at Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition might elicit a sort of derision from anyone who hasn’t played it before. Due to running on the Wolfenstein 3D engine, the game’s visuals are barebones and almost exclusively built around cubes and low-resolution sprites. It’s no secret that the original Doom completely blows it out of the water in terms of visuals, gameplay, and action. With that being said, there’s a type of ingenuity on display here that Doom never had. The gameplay is as basic as it gets. Personally, I would have really liked to see certain facets of it upgraded for this remaster, namely how players can only have a single non-pistol or SMG weapon on their person at any given time. Grabbing a new one will leave the old one in its place.
The pistols and SMGs have infinite ammo, so you can fire them to your heart’s content. The enemy variety is similarly severely lacking, as you’ll almost exclusively be fighting nearly interchangeable human enemies most of the time. The sprites can be charming, but they look really rough. It would have been great to see both them and the game’s textures get a boost in definition, but Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition is an extremely faithful remaster. The point of RotT was never simply shooting at things, of course. Instead, the fun in the game comes from the levels themselves. They’re highly varied and oftentimes clever and fun to figure out. They’re of the “find the keys to unlock doors and get to the exit” variety, but you need to pay attention to your surroundings in a puzzle-like way to get to that point.
You’ll enter a level and will immediately need to be on the lookout for switches and pressure plates. These move blocks around, which means the levels tend to transform around you as you play. Despite how long it has been, these levels are still quite engaging. There are also an enormous amount of traps, including spinning blades, walls that launch fireballs, flames shooting up from the floor, and spikes functioning similarly. The game’s map has an enormous amount of detail as you fill it in, including what walls have been moved by switches or plates, making it much easier to ascertain where to go. Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition is honestly still a very unique first-person shooter, as the developers very much went all-out on the level design, instead of trying to focus on competing with Doom‘s action and enemy variety.
Due to that, the shooting is on the weaker side. You see an enemy, then you stun it with bullets until it dies, for the most part. But I find it hard to care too much about that as I’m collecting ankh tokens by launching off of jump pads and riding floating platforms around. You can’t jump without using a jump pad, but the level designs are so zany and videogamey that this isn’t much of a bother. There are even powerups that turn you into an invincible dog or a literal god, among others. The easiest way to describe the game is that, while it has a lot of the limitations Wolfenstein 3D had, the game’s level design is far more inspired by DOS platformers than anything else, which few FPS games attempted to this degree. If you can’t get past how deeply archaic the technology is, Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition is very much worth it.
A little further
On the other hand, it’s hard to get too excited about the game’s PC-centric options, as Nightdive didn’t introduce much of anything to make things better. Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition pales in comparison to what’s offered by, say, GZDoom, which grants players a ton of control over how they wish to experience the game. The only things here are tied to lighting. There are some accessibility options, such as one that lets players turn off muzzle flashes, but this only removes the explosion-esque muzzle animation and doesn’t actually remove the flashing at all. The SMG fires quickly enough that the game will likely not be playable by those who are photosensitive.
I get a lot of enjoyment out of Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition and I’m glad to have so much content in one place, in addition to the fun new levels. The game is a classic for good reason, but I do wish Nightdive had gone the extra mile to make the game easier on the eyes and a bit less archaic all around. Regardless, flipping switches to move blocks and stunlocking enemies to death with a baseball bat is as fun as it ever was, provided that you find it charming how much the original devs accomplished with the engine.
Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition: Rise of the Triad: Ludicrous Edition doesn't do as much as one might like in regards to features, but this is the best way to experience an enjoyable game. – Andrew Farrell