Thursday, 23 October 2014

Rise of the Triad: Dark War (MS-DOS)

Rise of the Triad: Dark War title screen logo
Here's a genuine classic first person shooter for you: Rise of the Triad: Dark War (probably no relation to Rise of the Robots). I have to stick that 'Dark War' bit on the end or else you might assume that I was talking about the 2013 remake with the same name, as that's the kind of thing that happens when two things are labelled the same.

This was the last game developed by Apogee before they switched to using the name '3D Realms' for their first person shooters with 1996's Duke Nukem 3D. In case you're wondering, the last title that 3D Realms finished creating themselves before letting the development team go in 2009 was apparently the original 1997 Shadow Warrior game. But in a strange case of serendipitous timing, the company was officially relaunched today by the new management, so chances are good that they'll be able to finish a third game under the name someday!

So Rise of the Triad is definitely old, but is it any good? I don't know, I've barely played it and can't remember, but I'll put it on for a bit and find out for you. One episode should be long enough to form an opinion I reckon... assuming that the game even has episodes. I know, I'll just keep shooting things until I hit a boss fight.

I must battle a master of... pyrotechnics? Well that doesn't sound good; you can really hurt yourself playing around with fireworks.

It's funny how the penalty for failure is apparently just a bit of torture rather than the painful death that every other first person shooter protagonist risks suffering. Somehow though I doubt anyone's really going to hold back when the shooting starts.

Hey, I get to pick which member of HUNT I want to play as, you don't see that in many first person shooters. In fact I wouldn't be surprised if this was the first to ever include the feature, not counting all the multi-character first person RPGs that'd come out by this point.

Designer Tom Hall was part of the team that made Doom, and it seems that he's brought a couple of his unused ideas over with him. Thi Barrett is straight from his original bible for Doom (external link) for instance, from back when it was going to have multiple protagonists, and Lorelei Ni is halfway to being Lorelei Chen as well. Not sure about the others, though Ian Paul Freeley sounds like he's from a Bart Simpson prank call.

I'll be picking Lorelei Ni, not that I'm sure it matters. If there's any difference to their stats, the game's keeping that info to itself.

Here's something else you don't see often: the game has three different sets of difficulty names and icons, with a set chosen at random when you start a new game. I'd be impressed if I wasn't so distracted by the identical dints and scratches showing up all over that background.

Fortunately for me they've given each difficulty setting a more precise title down at the bottom left, so I can make sure I'm playing on normal mode, like I do with every game. Wait, 'Easy', 'Medium', 'Hard' and... 'Crezzy Man'? Huh?

Hey, the game has an intro! No voices or animation though, just still pictures and text. Makes sense for a game that you'd most likely be installing from floppy disks I guess.

The game is set on San Nicolas Island, which is actually a real island off the coast of California used during the present day by the US Navy for weapon testing. But one year in the future it'll be home instead to a deadly cult that will have taken over an ancient monastery with plans to systematically destroy Los Angeles!

But all is not lost, as our five man team from H.U.N.T. have been sent over to the island by boat to investigate the cultists and then inform HQ of what's going on there. Though their boat just blew up, so now they've been forced to move on to Plan B instead: the Schwarzenegger Contingency. They're going to charge into the monastery on a high-octane thrill ride of mayhem and murder, and make sure that there's no one left alive to push the 'destroy LA' button.

The H.U.N.T. crew are a group of highly trained special forces operatives, so they understand that the most important part of working as a team is to keep as far away from the other team members as possible, as cooperation and planning are just what the enemy would expect. So my chosen hero is going to be marching into the heart of the cultist stronghold entirely alone; but they have at least dressed for the occasion:

Unfortunately that occasion is Christmas.

I couldn't resist setting my system clock to 25th December to get my man Taradino to stick his seasonal Santa hat on. Oh hang on, I'm actually playing as Lorelei Ni standing over on his left; damn no hat for me then.


No machine gun for me either it seems (or crosshair); plenty of Christmas music though. I'm going to have to remember to set my clock back at some point before this festive soundtrack drives me mad.

As was the tradition for first person shooters even back in 1995, I'm playing as a pair of floating hands with a goal of putting as many bullets as necessary into my opponents before they manage to perforate me. There's no regenerating health, I've got a Rainbow Islands-looking hit point meter instead, though my bullets on the other hand seem pretty much limitless. I don't even have to swap in fresh mags, which is good because I need to keep inflicting sustained hurt on these cultists to stun them and stop them from shooting me back.

Man, it's so weird to see old school spinning collectables all over a semi-realistic looking FPS level, complete with digitized enemies. Especially considering that the game came out two years after Doom. Actually the purple bounce pads and floating disc platforms are kind of strange too, now that I think about it.

Can't think about it too much though, as folks are trying to shoot me and I need to keep moving. I can't imagine how this would even be possible without a mouse, as it's taking all the strafing I've got to avoid being cut up by all these bullets coming my way. It is not a slow game.

I figured I was doing pretty well though, until I looked down and noticed I'd lost most of my health somehow. The game doesn't do a great job of letting me know that I'm being hit; there's not much visual or audio feedback. Plus even when I do notice, it takes me a while to figure out which direction they're shooting me from.

The level designer has brought out the fireballs and spinning blade posts for this hallway, but to be honest I'm still more concerned about being shot by a fuzzy mess of grey pixels in the distance. In fact I'm even more concerned about being possibly shot by a fuzzy mess of grey pixels behind me that I've ran past without realising. The cultists may be brainless, but they've have got plenty of places to spring out from, and they know how to point a gun.

Oh. It turns out that I probably should've been more concerned about the fireballs after all.

The game actually has lives, kicking you back to the start of the level with every failure, and I just threw them all away on the same fireball obstacle. Seems like a good opportunity to try a different character I reckon.


Look at these guys on their jump pads, they're hilarious. Kind of awkward how they keep dragging my view up when I point my guns at them though.

Well I've made it past the fireballs, blade barriers and hordes of cultists (the timed body armour pick-up I found helped), and now I've finally found my way to the end of this hallway.

And it's a dead end!

I got poor Lorelei Ni killed off three times in a row for this? A glowing hand in a jar? Though I've apparently triggered a touchplate as well, so maybe that's opened up a new path for me somewhere. Or, more likely, a secret alcove full of cultists eager to shoot me in the back.

Oh shit, I like glowing hand power! For a limited time only I can race through the level obliterating anything in my path with glowing balls of instant death, while making 'mwaaaaaaaaaar' noises! The character I mean, not me. It's really starting to remind me of the powered up gravity gun at the end of Half-Life 2 actually.

Glowing hand power is definitely more effective at killing fools than the two Walther PPs I was stuck with before; no headshots in this one, so I really have to wear enemies down before they die.

Hey, the power (pretty much) got me all the way to the level exit before wearing off! Thanks glowing hand in a jar! At least I hope this tiny arch is a level exit.

Secret walls 8/42? Damn man, this game doesn't screw around when it comes to secrets.

I turned Christmas off by the way, in case you're wondering where his Santa hat's gone. Turns out that the regular level music is far more bearable. Reminds me a little of Doom actually.


Though the music on this second stage has gone full Doom. Here you can listen to it yourself on youtube while I complain about having to shoot folks through this fence.

It's not just that they're hard to see, so I can't even tell if I'm actually hitting anything while strafing left and right like a maniac, what's really bothering me is that I'm being shot in the back while I'm doing this! And if I turn around to shoot the other guys, then these gentlemen will then have a clear shot at my ass instead. I can't just drop back, lure them out, and shoot them from a more comfortable position, and running ahead is likely suicide.

I'm loving this gun though. Most enemies don't drop weapons, but one finally left behind this MP40 and suddenly enemies have begun to fall over in a timely fashion. Sure it sounds about as fearsome as a BB gun with a silencer, but like the pistols it's got infinite ammo and no need to ever hit a reload key.

Fuck the MP40 though, I just found myself a FIREBOMB! There's no ammo pick-ups in the game so I only get a few shots before I have to throw it away, but who needs more than one shot when the gun fills the screen with fire?

Oh hang on, I've just stumbled across an unforeseen negative consequence to the weapon's immense area of effect: I've just blown myself up with my own explosion. Back to the start of the stage then... armed with just a pistol.


Man, every time I'm finished with the menu and I want to get back to the game, I always instinctively hit escape, which then brings up the 'do you want to quit' screen instead of taking me back to my first person shooting.

Why can't you just be like every other PC game, huh? Why you gotta be different?

No I don't want to activate the guillotine, pull the plug, or signal the firing squad, I don't want to hear my hero's tragic demise, I just want the menu to go away so I can get back to accidentally blowing myself up! Seriously, I've done that twice now, I never learn anything.

Though I have learned that the game lets me save anywhere at any time, just like every other DOS first person shooter. It seems obvious (especially as there's a bloody menu option for it), but the lives counter threw me off. Seems that there's no real reason to ever let myself lose a life and restart the level armed with a pistol, unless I want the extra challenge.


I got a Dogmode power up! Now I'm tiny, invulnerable, and I can leap at people and rip their throats out! Sooooo cute.

Aww, he even uses his paw to open the gates! Too adorable!

Also it's a small touch, but I like how the doors in this have interlocking bits sticking out top and bottom, they're not just smooth and boring. They're also about half a micrometer thick, but it's not like I ever get to see them side on, so whatever.


Whoa, a net? Have I actually found a different enemy type on this stage? The guy looks like a U-Boat captain just like the rest of them and mostly wants to shoot me with his pistol, so I guess I'll stick to standard tactics: fire at him to stun him, continue firing to kill him, then keep firing some more because I have infinite ammo and I might as well. The game has really transformed for me since I've gotten this MP40, as I'm able to get some proper momentum going now.

Worst thing that'll happen if I go overboard with the gunfire is that I'll shoot a few of those spinny silver ankhs into pieces, but I haven't been going out my way to collect them anyway. If this was a Mario game or something, the collectables would mostly be found along the path I'd want to be travelling anyway, but this game loves to make me screw around going back and forth on jump pads if I want to grab them all, and it's slowing me down.


Crap, is this another dead end? I've got a Godmode power up so I can stroll right through all these spike traps, but it doesn't go anywhere. I was about to praise the game for being surprisingly straightforward, but this map has turned out to be a bloody maze.

Well it's nice that the game includes a map, but this isn't really helping all that much. It's really obvious looking at it from top view like this though that there are no diagonals in this game, at all.

The game is built on a heavily modified version of the Wolfenstein 3-D engine, and shares a lot of the limitations. That's why all the walls are the same height and there's no steps or slopes. The floating discs everywhere are actually a cunning technique used to bypass these restrictions and add a third dimension to the game using sprites.

At one point the game was actually intended to be an expansion pack to Wolfenstein 3-D, which likely explains why we're all using Walther PPs and MP40s in a game set one year in the future (which would have been 1996 when this came out).

You know, if I'm going to keep throwing out all these names and dates out I might as well put a little effort in and draw up a timeline so you can see how the games of the time all fit together:

There's the early years of the first person shooter for you, 1992-1996 (at least as far as id and Apogee are concerned). I missed out a few games to keep it readable, but it shows where Rise of the Triad sits in the great scheme of things and it's pretty much where you'd expect. The game isn't quite on Doom II's level visually, but with Duke 3D and Quake still a year away it probably didn't appear all that dated at the time either.


Oh and now the next level's introducing colour coded locked doors! Mazes are enough of a pain, but I was hoping I'd at least be spared from having to backtrack through levels trying to remember where the key doors are.

And look at this asshole playing dead! That ain't right man.

Hey, that wasn't so hard to find, it was just spinning on its table just a room or two away. Oh damn, I just noticed that snake up there; that's some creepy metalwork.

Oh this gives me a good excuse to talk about that bowl of red porridge over on the left. Those things are my medikits in this game, and they're terrible at it, only giving me back around two hitpoint bars. The smaller monk meal bowls are even worse, healing me by a single bar! You can heat them up to increase their life-restoring potential by heating them up with a rocket launcher blast, but this really doesn't seem like the kind of game you want to risk blowing yourself up in.


See what I mean! The game's so stingy with the healing, and it's going to take a lot of monk meal to get me back to full health. I'm not sure I'm going to be able to last long enough to even find one single bowl considering that everyone else out there has guns and just single stray shot could take me out right now.

I'm going to have to take a chance on the magic mushroom. I don't know what it does, it could turn me big like Super Mario or it just make me think I'm Super Mario, but right now it can't really make anything worse.

I was wrong, I was so wrong! The camera's swinging all over the place and the enemies are flashing pretty colours and I don't think I want to be in Shrooms Mode anymore.

And then I got shot. But on my next attempt I found another Dogmode power up near the end of the level and managed to keep hold of it all the way to the exit gate this time, mauling everyone in my path; this tune was my reward: youtube link.

I feel like a winner.


Another level, another maze and even more enemies hiding behind fences. Man, there's going to be no ankh coins left in there by the time I'm done spraying bullets around.

I do have to give the game credit though for making the enemies pretty visible for the rest of the time. I gave the remake a brief try, and man it was a real effort to spot anyone against the background; which is a bit awkward in a game where I'm meant to be running around, not hiding in a corner trying to figure out where the bullets are coming from. The 1995 original definitely wins this round.

Okay I give up, what the fuck am I supposed to do here? I've spent almost a minute trying to figure out how I'm meant to get the key from behind that fence on the right, going around to activate every wall and stepping on every floor tile, but nothing's working.

I'd bounce out and double check the rest of the level again, but I've already done enough laps of this place looking for exits and secrets. I really do not get what I'm expected to... oh fuck, there's a bounce pad isn't there? I could launch myself airborne and then steer myself to land inside the central area where there's a second bounce pad. Now I know how to get all the ankh tokens hidden in the inaccessible side areas all around the room too!

Alright, I've got the key! Now what? There's no jump pad here to get back out and no switches to open a wall. Seriously, check the clock, I've been looking for a while now.


I gave in and checked a walkthrough in the end, and it turns out that I was supposed to bounce up to this switch first inside the fenced off area to open up the wall. Then I just walk around and grab the key, no further bouncing required.

What kind of deranged sociopath creates a room containing two bonus areas that I have to bounce across to reach, and then punishes me with an inescapable trap if I try the same trick to grab the key I need?


The game sure does like making me run through narrow passageways across the tops of fences. Kind of hard to get a good screenshot of that though, so this is the best I've managed so far.

Alright I think I've gotten past the worst of this level now. I'm collecting keys at a good rate and building up momentum now. I think I even remember where I saw the door to go with this key.


Crap, he finally got me in his net. Now I have to figure out how to get out of it, as wiggling left and right doesn't seem to be working. Ah, shaking my head did it! Now I have to look around in my bag of guns to see if I've got anything special in there to shoot him with in return.

Along with my pistols and MP40, I can only carry one extra bonus weapon in this at a time. I ain't ever going to have a reason to use those piece of crap pistols again though, so even with a full set of weapons my choices are always limited to either machine gunning dudes down or blowing them up.

Okay, that's a lot of priest porridge. It's unnerving when games are nice to me, it means something bad's about to happen, and with this many health kits lined up it has to be something really bad.

Okay I am now officially worried. There's more bazookas on screen right now than I've seen in the rest of the levels put together, and these things aren't single shot weapons. I keep expecting a wall to drop down and enemies to pour through, but nope.

Oh, I've finally found a boss to fight! I hate these things.

Though with all these weapons, armour power ups and bowls of porridge lying around I don't really see how I can lose this fight. My strategy so far is to half-heartedly side step out of the way when I see a rocket coming, while unloading every heat-seeker missile I've got in his direction.

Wow, he really was a total pushover!

R.I.P. "General" John Darian. You were a bit rubbish but you had a cool hat.

And so out heroes ventured forth into the main keep. Though when it says 'the HUNT', it really means just me, on my lonesome, as usual.


Hey, I've reached a place with a low ceiling for once! Also people have started throwing grenades at me. Though the spoon looks like it's still locked in place, so I'm going to assume they forgot to pull the pin out.

Nope that definitely just blew up in my face, kicking me back to the load screen. But I've completed an episode, fought a boss, and seen all I really wanted to see of the game, so I was just looking for an excuse to quit to be honest. This works for me!

But wait, there's more! I'm not going to play any of these other battles modes, I've shown too many screenshots already, but there's a decent amount here to choose from. You can even play them in single player, though without other players I can't imagine there's much point. Sadly it doesn't seem like you can play the main game in co-op.


Rise of the Triad and I didn't really get along at first. It seemed unfairly difficult even on the lower difficulties and I didn't find it all that satisfying to slowly chip away at clones with my rubbish handguns while my health steadily trickled away due to enemies I couldn't even see. But then I got hold of that MP40 and it all suddenly started to click with me; I finally was able to deal out damage in a timely manner and get some momentum going. Learning that I could save the game helped too, but I found I didn't really need to all that often once I got the hang of sharing my infinite ammo around to keep groups stunned rather than trying to make each bullet count.

It's funny that a lot of the level design was done by the guy who left id because he wanted to make Doom more story-based and realistic, as this is one of the most arcadey first person shooters I've ever played. It even has a high score table and you can collect 100 tokens to get an extra life. And how come an ancient monastery off the coast of California inhabited by Triad cultists ended up being filled with ankhs anyway?

It's like a weird cousin of Doom actually, with the same kind of frantic run and gun gameplay, but it's different enough to feel like a separate game in its own right. It definitely stands further apart than something like Heretic, which really could be labelled a Doom clone. I wouldn't say that I like it as much as those two, but right now I think we're getting on just fine.

Might as well give it a shiny star of adequate quality then I suppose.

Want to share your opinion on Rise of the Triad, discuss my website, or just make a guess at what the next game's going to be? The comment box below is eager to assist you.


  1. The Schwarzenegger Contingency would be a brilliant title for a C-grade political thriller of the sort one finds in airport bookshops. Or a pretentious electronic band.

  2. I'm so gonna remember about the term "Schwarzenegger Contingency" so that I can resume that type of narrative in just two words, whenever it presents itself.

    I've noticed you've become far more giving with the gold stars!
    Anyway, how'd you manage to pick up an Apogee game just when they announced their return after years? r u a wizard?

    Next game looks like Rocket Knight Adventures....?

  3. Actually, there is at least one other FPS that had a character selection before Rise of the Triad: Zero Tolerance, an FPS exclusive to the Mega Drive (of all things). Character selection actually doubled as a lives system in that one. You or mecha-neko should Play it some time. It's not Bad for its time, especially considering it was made for a 16bit console. Developers Technopop even released the Rom for it for free on their Website many years ago.


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