Today I'm playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein, third in id Software's Wolfenstein franchise, though it was developed by Gray Matter and Nerve. This was actually Grey Matter's only game before they were absorbed by CODBlops devs Treyarch, though they'd made games like Redneck Rampage and Kingpin: Life of Crime in their previous life as Xatrix Entertainment. Perhaps not a very interesting fact, but I just wanted an excuse to type CODBlops.
Here's another potentially underwhelming fact: I've played and finished this game before, so I'm not coming into it even slightly unaware of what to expect. Though I'll make every effort to pretend to be surprised.
(Click the gameplay pictures to expand them into exciting new resolutions.)
This gentleman is called Heinrich and apparently he's been carrying out a reign of terror of late. This move hasn't pleased everyone though and a number of soldiers have stepped up to raise their objections, only to get sliced up effortlessly by Henry's big-ass axe. But a single wizard strides through the battlefield undeterred, intending to take him down alone.
"You fool, you know as well as I that I cannot be destroyed!" Heinrich responds to the wizard, sounding a lot more like a voice actor in a recording booth than an ancient supernatural king powered by the darkest magicks.
Dragon Age: Origins! I knew I recognised his voice from somewhere.
Sadly he gets a little cocky afterwards and decides he's earned himself a slow motion action hero 'walk away from the
After spending a few minutes on exposition to set up the story Tony Jay eventually decides to just leave the two captured agents to escape on their own. Any secret agent worth rescuing must be skilled enough to break out by themselves, right?
Personally I think the more pressing concern here is why this guy's tie is so much higher resolution than any of the other textures in this scene. It's like it's an artefact from one of their earlier missions where their top agent went forward in time to 2006 and stole it from Hitman: Blood Money or something.
The doctor is almost done here (done torturing the agent to death that is), so he sends a soldier down to the cells to bring in the other prisoner: the legendary B.J. Blazkowicz (the protagonist from the original Wolfenstein 3D!)
Okay I'll quickly run through the checklist before I take off.
- Iron sights? Nope.
- Auto-map? Hah!
- Can I at least see my own legs? I'm playing as a floating camera with a hand attached to it.
|Wolfenstein 3D (MS-DOS)|
Plus it also has a floor and ceiling.
Legend of Grimrock! If I find a giant spider waiting for me at the end of this hallway I'm turning the game off.
I know it's a little bit harsh perhaps to shoot an unarmed man in the back, but it should be noted that he just tortured a man to death and was about to repeat the same procedure on me. Shockingly it turns out that there's no way to hide bodies in this, so when another soldier came by to check up on the doctor I thought I'd better put a bullet in his head too, to displace any thoughts of running away and setting off an alarm.
In happier news, I found an MP 40 submachine gun in here too! It's also rapid fire.
It's nice to see that the game hasn't taken itself too seriously and has kept a bit of the retro charm. It's not above including some of Wolfenstein 3D's more video-gamey elements.
But this is far less realistic than having Wolverine-style healing powers and being able to recover from gunshot wounds by hiding around a wall for five seconds! It's ruining my immersion! It's far too delicious too.
LEVEL 2: CASTLE KEEP.
They're not mindless idiots, they like to ambush me and will run for cover if they're in trouble, but they gotta come around that corner some day if they wanna kill me. Fortunately there is an end to them, they don't respawn.
Here I demonstrate how not to clear out a room of enemies. Sure I got one on the way in and two more with the exploding barrels, but now I'm right in the open with one bullet left in my magazine and 14 health. Honestly I'm surprised I ended up winning this fight.
(I ran away and shot them as they chased me around the corner).
Some turret sequences in games just drive me to despair. I remember one in particular around halfway through the original Call of Duty that nearly made me quit the game right there; shooting down bombers with a flak gun or something like that, over and over again because I kept screwing it up. It's been years now but I still have the nightmares.
LEVEL 3: TRAM RIDE.
It's funny just how many first person shooters had cable car levels in them around this time. Just off the top of my head you've got No One Lives Forever released the year before this, then 007 Nightfire and XIII which came out in the years immediately after. Also they all came out in November, how weird is that? Was there a big cable car-based action scene in a movie back then that I'm forgetting?
More importantly, do you think I can get up onto those cables and walk the whole way down?
LEVEL 4: VILLAGE.
Wait, who the fuck is Karl? And why didn't he think to yell "Warten! Nicht schießen!" before running out into a street full of dead enemies I just gunned down. There hasn't been an over-abundance of friendlies in the game so far, so I'm kind of primed to shoot on sight.
Not that the game doesn't give me a second to react when an enemy walks on screen, as if I catch them by surprise it often takes them a moment to realise who I am and that they should be shooting me. It definitely helps to give me a fighting chance, especially as I apparently have to take a second to identify them as a threat now as well.
Of course when the shooting goes down the soldiers seem to develop a supernatural awareness of my current location wherever I'm hiding. But that's what corners are for, right?
You know, I never quite realised just how out of scale things were in this game until now. I realise that level designers have to exaggerate the size of buildings in games like this to give me room to move, but man this room just does not look right at all.
Anyway it turns out that snipers have a natural vulnerability to explosions, so a single grenade sorted this situation out. Alas this was made before the invention of the separate grenade key (and on-screen grenade throwing arc guides for that matter) to it took me a bit more effort than it needed to.
The game's been entirely true to its World War II setting so far (for a 2001 first person shooter anyway), but things are about to get a little... Diablo.
LEVEL 5: CATACOMBS.
Things are getting a bit old school now against these melee enemies, with more strafing and less ducking behind walls, but cruelly the game hasn't given me a shotgun. Where's the fun in circle strafing around a zombie if I can't blast them in the back with buckshot at point-blank range?
Oh the game has quicksaves by the way, though that should go without saying really for a PC shooter of this era, and I have been abusing the hell out of them. Though fortunately I haven't had to abuse the quickloads quite so much, as besides the odd cable car and flame demon incident I've been quite successful at keeping Blazkowicz on the mortal coil.
LEVEL 6: CRYPT.
You see that passageway up ahead? I don't suppose you can see the instant kill spike pit in the middle of it though can you? I definitely didn't first time around. Then, once I loaded my save and jumped over the hidden death trap, I flicked the switch at the end... and was crushed by the walls! The other traps down here are pretty easy to spot, but this hallway man, whoever built it has a dark sense of humour.
LEVEL 7: THE DEFILED CHURCH.
But I'm sure you wouldn't be interested a screenshot of any of that, so here's a picture of the church instead. It's a shame that the graphics engine isn't quite up to having light refracting through the stained glass windows, but I think it does alright for it's time.
LEVEL 8: THE DEFILED CHURCH - BOSS FIGHT.
Lots of phrases like "if you persist in this madness", "cowering bookworm and his pointless fears" and "your feeble threats won't stop me" are thrown around, so you can imagine the tone of the conversation. It's all terrible cheesy over the top comic book dialogue delivered exactly how you'd expect it to be.
She ends up actually shooting the other guy dead to get him out of the way, which seems a bit like overkill to me. I mean there's no way on Earth a skinny guy like that could've been a real obstacle to her, the woman's built like a tank.
Anyway she breaks the seal, unleashes unspeakable evil, and dies screaming. So I guess it's up to me to clean up this mess then and that means a... hnng... boss fight.
I honestly haven't been spending as much time cowering behind corners during the game as I've made it seem, but I'll sure as hell use any low down despicable trick I can short of outright cheating to make fights like this less tedious. Maybe he's not actually so bad to fight, I don't know. But I've been burned by too many other games to play fair here and risk having to repeat it.
ONE SUCCESSFUL BOSS FIGHT LATER.
LEVEL 9: FOREST COMPOUND.
By the way I can click on those tabs on the left to review the events of the previous chapters and remind myself of the story so far. It's a small feature, but it's appreciated.
Alright then, time to do this. Soldiers are everywhere and I have to make absolutely certain that not one of them triggers the alarm. I have to be like a ghost.
Hey this level's not so bad... oh shit, someone else pressed the alarm? Don't tell me that the guys in the watch towers have alarm buttons too! I'm so crap at this.
I suppose I'd better share some final thoughts about Return to Castle Wolfenstein then. The game lies somewhere between 90s FPS games and the set piece driven WWII shooters of the mid 2000s, closer to something like GoldenEye than it is to Call of Duty. I like how it doesn't take itself too seriously, but it still remains surprisingly grounded in a comic book kind of way and it respects its setting. It feels more like a World War 2 game with supernatural and sci-fi elements than a fantasy game with World War 2 elements, and that made it pretty unique back in the day when there weren't a great deal of WW2 shooters on PC.
The story... exists to string the levels together without being very interesting in its own right, but it does all it needs to do. This is all about the gameplay rather than the characters and plot twists and on that level it works just fine, so I'll give it my 'gold star for not being crap', for showing up to the party with its fly zipped up and not embarrassing itself.
I'm tempted to present it with my highest award as well, as it's a solid game and I enjoyed it a lot at times. But on the other hand it's nothing really amazing, the boss fights are irritating (to me), and it's a little clunky compared to some of its contemporaries. Plus I'm incredibly (and obviously) biased towards the genre and I can't just give every first person shooter I play my highest rating or else I'd end up devaluing it. Or can I?
I know, I'll totally cop out and award Return to Castle Wolfenstein with... Schrödinger's Prize:
Well that's all I've got to say about Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but if you'd like to say anything about the game yourself now would be a good time. The comment box stands ready to convey your opinions and feedback to the world.