Rise of the Triad: Dark War is a port of a PC game from that special time in the life of first-person shooters when the simple act of looking up and down was considered a cool new feature. It was 1995, two years after Doom defined the genre and a year before Duke Nukem 3D would make those alien bastards pay for shooting up his ride. In the iPhone version of RotT, what you get is an imperfect port of a pixely 3D shooter that never latched onto the popular imagination the way those other franchises did. As you might expect, there’s a reason for that.
Over four episodes and 32 levels, this game tells the tale of an evil cult that has taken up residence on a secluded island with plans to unleash devastation on the world. The story won’t win a Pulitzer, but it’s standard videogame stuff and gives you a reason to commit mass murder, which is really all we ask. This is a solo mission, so you select your character, and you’re on your own against an entire army. Anyone who grew up on ’80s action movies will like those odds.
You have the prettiest eye.
The gameplay is very similar to Doom and Wolfenstein 3D in that you center the enemies on the screen and tap away until they fall in a heap of gore. The default control scheme is modeled after games like N.O.V.A. and Eliminate Pro, with a D-pad on the left, a fire button on the right, and the rest of the screen to drag around and aim. In this game, however, aiming is a choppy, unresponsive mess. The only control scheme we were even remotely able to use is the one cryptically labeled “Advanced Scheme 1.” It’s a dual-stick setup, with tap-anywhere shooting, and even it leaves much to be desired.
Also lacking is the menu system, which seems not to have been optimized for the touch screen at all. The font is tiny, and the choices are too close together for convenient finger-tapping. Plus, many of the options are vague and poorly defined. For instance, what’s the toggle switch for “Floor and Ceiling” do?
The HUD isn’t any clearer. It took us a while to realize that the number of lives you have is hidden between the portrait of your character and some other seemingly random number. And your health bar is placed below the movement stick, directly under your thumb, so to see how close you are to being killed, you have to let go of the controls. That’s just bad design.
Great vengeance and furious anger.
However, the biggest problem is that this game is unforgivingly difficult. There are no checkpoints, but you can save anywhere you’d like. We recommend that you do this as often as often as possible, because the levels are huge and full of bad guys. Even when playing on the easy difficulty it’s not uncommon to stumble on a group of enemies who will open fire and kill you before you have time to retreat. If they had tossed in some automatic checkpoints, it would have saved us lots of headaches.
On the plus side, the game is not without personality. Some enemies will play dead, only to spring to their feet and shoot at you as you walk away. Lots of fun weapons are scattered around, some of them secreted in cubbyholes you must flip switches to reveal. The powerups include a jet pack that’s fun to use and a God Mode that lets you shoot heat-seeking balls of energy that vaporize cult members on contact. And an always-appreciated fountain of gore (or “gibs”) goes flying every time you hit bad guys with explosives.
Ultimately, what kills Rise of the Triad is that it feels shoehorned in on the iPhone. If they had taken the time to refresh the menus, smooth out the controls, and add automatic checkpoints to ease the pain, then playing through the challenging levels would have been much more palatable. If you never played this game in its heyday, we recommend you pick up a better FPS like Doom, N.O.V.A. or Brothers in Arms 2: Global Front.