Among the older gamer generation (which I count myself in) there’s a rather perverse train of thought that seems to permeate the gaming zeitgeist. Typically it centers around how the games of old were done so much better than the games of today. Not in terms of graphics of course, no one can win that argument, more around the game play mechanics that managed to do more with less and the big focus on the story and the single player experience. You only need to look at the bevy of retro games that have made their way onto the scene in the last couple years to see proof of this as it shows that much of the gaming populace, now with an average age approaching 40, yearns for titles from that time. Rise of the Triad was one such title that made quite the impression on the gamers from its time and I, being one of them, was very interested to see what direction they’d take this revamp in.
You’re part of a special unit called H.U.N.T (High-risk United Nations Task force) called in to investigate cult activity on the San Nicholas island. As your team descends on the island you discover that they’re operating from an old monastery. However before you can get much closer you’re spotted by the cult, who strangely look a lot like Nazis, and your boat, your only way of getting off the island, is destroyed in the resulting conflict. You’re left with only one choice then: stop the cult before it can achieve its plans of destroying Los Angeles using any means necessary.
Graphically ROTT does a pretty good job of evoking the feeling that it’s from the past as it looks quite dated when you compare it to any other titles. Indeed thinking about it more it reminds me a lot of Duke Nukem Forever which I said looked dated as well, 2 years ago. Now I’m sure there are those who will argue that this is part of its schtick, and I’m willing to let them have that point, but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it feels like its been released 5 years late. This does mean that it’ll probably run well on anything, my 2 year old machine could run it with everything turned up to ludicrous, which would seem to be a requirement as the game hinges on fast paced action.
You’re given the choice between 5 different characters each with their own unique set of attributes. Thing is the variation between them only extends to movement speed, accuracy and total damage they can take. This was pretty cool back in 1995 but when we’ve been given numerous games that provided unique game experiences with each different character class it feels kind of pointless to choose between them. You can then guess that I went for the average stat guy as it felt like anything else would just end up putting more of a limitation on me more than anything else.
The game itself is styled as a classic FPS, essentially being a direct port of the original ROTT into modern times. You start off with a single pistol with unlimited ammunition and are then sent off to make your way from one end of the level to the other. Along the way there will be various weapons, health packs and power ups scattered everywhere and it will be up to you to decide whether it will best to use them at that point in time or not. Of course in true old school FPS fashion there are also secret areas hidden everywhere with bonuses ranging from the mundane to the insane and at the end of it all you’ll be given a star rating so you can compare your scores with everyone else. It was this style of game that gave rise to the FPS of today so just how does it stack up against them?
Well for starters it definitely replicates that retro feeling by being quite buggy and suffering from several bad design decisions that can end up ruining your experience. The screenshot above is from one of the earlier sections where the level designers had obviously intended for you to throw a switch, which is outside this room, prior to be able to get into it. Now since this game encourages you to try and get into places that don’t seem accessible I, of course, found my way into it without throwing said switch. Thus the elevator pads you can see just below my gun weren’t active meaning there was no way for me to get out apart from restarting from the checkpoint. At the same time it’s obvious that much of this entire encounter was based off that switch and not throwing it actually made the whole thing a lot easier so I just did that and avoided falling in the pits.
Now I’m all for games that encourage exploration, indeed I quite enjoy most of them, however should you encourage this behavior you also have to expect where the player might end up. This particular one I felt was pretty obvious as it was literally 2 jumps to get to it and I’d discovered previous secret areas by doing almost exactly the same thing. However it’s clear that this one was unintended and I’m sure if I’d bothered to spend longer with the game I could find more examples of it.
This screenshot demonstrates yet another great bug that can only be fixed by reloading as when you get the god mode buff the game gets a little glitchy when it comes to clipping. So these spike pounder things, which kill you instantly if you don’t have god mode, will trap you inside them. Now it might look like you can get out through that crack but believe me, you can’t and since the god mode hand replaces your weapon you can’t even kill yourself afterwards. Considering how I couldn’t figure out how it happened the first couple times (since I was spamming god mode projectiles) it became rather frustrating to the point where I just stopped playing it.
There are some positives to ROTT as it really is a modern version of the classic style of FPS games so the fast paced action and ludicrous weaponry are quite fun when everything is going smoothly. The boss fight, the only one I could force myself to get to at least, was pretty interesting although it does lose points for using 1 hit kill mechanics which then punt you back to the beginning. Strangely enough the most effective weapon against him is your machine gun which is able to bring him down a lot faster than any of the other weapons hidden about the place. That’s about as far as it goes unfortunately as for every positive point I can come up with about ROTT I can think of many more negative ones that just ruined the whole experience.
ROTT really is a tribute to the old style of FPS games which unfortunately brings all the issues they suffered from along with it. Whilst the fast paced action and ludicrous combat might be enjoyable for some it won’t be long before they encounter a game breaking glitch or poor level design that necessitates reloading the last checkpoint. This is not to mention the larger game issues of it crashing and corrupting my save game at one point, a sure fire way to end up on my never-play-again list. It’s quite possible that these teething issues will be fixed in future patches but in its current state I really can’t recommend ROTT at all unless you really thought the game style of yore was truly better. Hopefully this could serve as your wake up call as the FPS genre has come a long way in the past 20 years and ROTT ignoring it all hasn’t resulted in a game experience I’d call good.
Rise of the Triad is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total game time was approximately 3 hours with 15% of the achievements unlocked.
The USA has always been wary of China’s ambitions in space and I believe it’s mostly for all the wrong reasons. Sure I can understand that the fact that China’s space division is basically a wing of its military might be cause for concern, but the same could be said for the fact that the USA’s Department of Defense’s budget for space exploration exceeds that of NASA’s. Indeed the USA is worried enough about China’s growing power in space and other industries that there’s already been speculation that it could spark another space race. Whilst this would be amazing for a space nut like myself I really wouldn’t wish that kind of tension on the world, especially when the USA is struggling as much as it is right now.
Of course that tension is enough to spark all sorts of other speculation, like for instance the true nature of the mysterious X-37B’s mission. It’s payload bay suggested that it was capable of satellite capture, an attribute shared by it’s bigger cousin the Shuttle, but its previous orbits didn’t put it near anything and it didn’t really have enough delta-v capability to be able to intersect with anything outside a few degrees of its own orbit. However since then there’s been a couple launches and one of them is smack bang in the X-37B’s territory.
The craft in question is none other than China’s Tiangong-1.
Yesterday the BBC ran an article that speculated that the USA was using the X-37B to spy on Tiangong-1. Now initially I dismissed this as pure speculation, there are far easier ways for the USA to spy on a satellite (like using one of their numerous other satellites or ground based dish arrays) than throwing their still experimental craft up in a chase orbit. However checking the orbital information for both Tiangong-1 and the X-37B shows that they do indeed share very similar orbits, varying by only 0.3 of a degree in inclination and having pretty similar apogees and perigees. Figuring this is the future and everything should be a few Google searches away from certainty I set about finding out just how far apart these two satellites actually are to see if there was some possibility of it being used to spy on China.
To do this I used 2 different tools, the first being n2yo.com a satellite tracking website. This site allows you to input the satellites you want to track and then displays them on a Google map. Once I have that I can then use another tool, this time from findpostcode.com.au which shows me the distance between two points (which thankfully also takes into account the fact the earth isn’t flat). So firstly here’s a picture of the two orbits overlapped:
So as you can see they do indeed share very similar orbits but there does seem to be an awful lot of distance between them. Just how much distance? Well the second picture tells the full story:
Just over 14,000KM which is greater than the diameter of the earth. What this means is that if the X-37B was being used to spy on Tiangong-1 it would have to peer through the earth in order to see it, something which I’m pretty sure it isn’t capable of. Also if you look at the first picture you’ll also notice that Tiangong-1 actually passes over the USA as part of its normal orbital rotation, putting it well within the purview of all the ground observations that they have control of. I’ll note that the distance between Tiangong-1 and the X-37B won’t remain constant, but they will spend a good portion of their lives apart. Enough so that I don’t believe it would be particularly useful for reconnaissance. Additionally unless the USA knew which orbit that Tiangong-1 was going to use (possible, but we’re getting deeper into conspiracy territory here) then technically Tiangong-1 launched onto the X-37B’s orbit and not the other way around (it has not changed its orbit since the second launch, unlike it did the first time).
Honestly the idea that the USA was using the X-37B was definitely an interesting prospect but in reality there’s really no justification apart from conspiracy theory-esque hand waving. The USA has far better tools at their disposal to spy on China’s fledgling space industry than a single run experimental craft that’s only on its second flight. The orbits also put them at a fair distance apart for a good chunk of the time (as far as I can tell, at least) as well making it even less likely that the X-37B is being used for spying. Still it was an interesting idea to investigate, as is most things to do with the ever mysterious X-37B.