RETRO – Ten years ago was the first time we stepped into the boots of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, the American commando serving in WW2, in Wolfenstein 3D to massacre the Nazi army. Since then ID Software has become legendary and have been releasing more refined games.
Finally, it is time to return to the old location, where everything began: to Castle Wolfenstein. Our mission will be harder than ever: occultist Nazi soldiers, secret experiments, bloodthirsty zombies and their mutated versions are our foes. The army is led by non-other than the leader of SS, Herr Heinrich Himmler, and his mad goal to resurrect an old King I. Heinrich. Heavy story eh? Well, the atmosphere is there at least.
However, the development team Gray Matter did not even hype how awesome this game will be! Okay, we did expect great graphics: as the previews already shown us what they did with the Quake 3 engine. We were hoping that the old school Nazi killing will be in place, as back in the original game.
This game, however, is not just a modern graphics homage, but a professionally made FPS that is almost on par in terms of gameplay and story as Half-Life and No One Lives Forever, and the multiplayer is miles better than those two games. Is this the FPS of the decade! Let me divulge why…
Nothing lasts forever
Let’s begin with the story. Gray Matter knows how to cook a good story: a good graphics engine and well-made missions are not enough if it does not have the “feeling” of it, as the story is so basic and one-note as in Ghost Recon.
Well, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is perfect in terms of atmosphere: We find a few occultist rituals, the conspiracy that is reminiscent to the X-Files, zombie killings in catacombs, and a lone American hero’s daring mission against the occult Nazis just like in Indiana Jones. It reminds me of No One Lives Forever where the story is done with in-engine cutscenes, although it is much less in RTCW. It is not much of a problem as the main focal point should be the gameplay and the slaughter of Nazis, and here the developers passed the mark.
In the beginning, we are introduced to the OSA’s boss, and his lackey, explain the situation to two army generals. The OSA according to the story is a secret paranormal branch that is trained to combat the occult. Their best agent is B.J. Blascowicz is sent to Wolfenstein Castle with his colleague to snoop out the rumours of Nazi genetic experiments. Unfortunately, both of them are captured, and Agent One is tortured to death, to make them spill the beans as to who they work for. Luckily Blascowicz escapes James Bond style, and this is where the player takes control.
Stylish or slasher type: take your pick
A lot of levels can be done by the good old method of heavy fire, just like the old Wolf 3D, so the feeling is there. Besides this just like in NOLF there are a lot of situations where you can silently take out the enemy so that no alarm is raised, and half the German army won’t come breathing down on us.
The new addition is also that a lot of missions have sneaking as a prerequisite, or the enemy will notice is us too soon and the mission will fail. The tension and fun are there when we approach German soldiers listening to a piece of patriotic music while we in our hand with a knife stab him. It reminded me a lot of Where Eagles Dare to star Clint Eastwood.
One of the other favourite features – and my personal favourite – is the use of scoped rifles. There is nothing more satisfying than shooting from afar. However, the developers also need not jump the shark with this feature. Games like No One Lives Forever, or Soldiers of Fortune were able to provide a good balance of this.
However, games like Ghost Recon and Delta Force 3 ended up as duck hunts in a few missions. Luckily in RTCW the use of a sniper is well balanced: we can only use it in a few particular instances (but it is useful in those), and even then if the enemy notices out, we might end up getting shot by similar weapons.
“Perfect German, my IQ is in the skies”
While we are here I must mention how great the AI is in RTCW. Besides a few issues the AI is well designed. The Nazis and the zombies will fight hard against the player, especially in the later parts of the game.
Once the simple German soldiers discover you, they run for cover, hide, and try to flank you at times. Aggressive behavior is common for these enemy types. What was more aggressive are the skin tight leather assassin girls that are “elite guards”, that will roll around, and take cover in impossible corners, and will wait for us to go there to kill them? Then suddenly fire a burst at us.
The most annoying one was the assassin who kept throwing grenades from a vantage point, and when I tried to climb, I got blasted by her. Finally, I ran for a cover where the explosion did not reach me, and I was able to see the bitch. I killed her easily with a shot from my sniper rifle when she leaned out.
In the later levels, the zombies that seem harmless are pretty slow at first. Looks can be deceiving, though, as they become fearless and quick when attacking B.J. As they are ancient warriors.
The simple (ex)soldiers, for example, know how to swing their swords, and defend with their shields when shooting at them, which reflect back to BJ harming him. The best tactic against them is to aim for their undefended legs.
The other zombie type does not have any armour, and is not so fast, but can shoot out ghost skulls that not only drop B.J’s help, but the most powerful ones even blur his vision (luckily only the main bosses can do that). We’ll meet fire spewing undead: that will run towards us when they see us and fry our hero. There is also a German counterpart to this: A Nazi wielding a flamethrower who is also as aggressive and dominant as his rotting version.
Well, the science division was not sleeping either, whom on the order of Himmler, a bunch of genetic experiments later created a few undead super and über-soldiers. One of these nightmarish soldiers only have their upper-body part and travel lightning fast.
The importance is on the lightning as the monster will kill the player if they get too close to them with a bolt of lightning. The other mutant is a Terminator-like a behemoth who is equipped with a machine gun, a rocket launcher, and a lightning cannon, all of these are switched by the monster on a whim. These are destroyed quite difficult, but then I realized that by aiming with the sniper rifle from long distance to their head, they lose some armour. After 10-15 shots I was able to kill them quickly, which is not a bad number since it took 7-8 shots with a rocket launcher. (However getting that type of ammo is scarce, so sniper is better) Luckily we have loads of fun toys against Germans and their mutants.
The most basic weapon is a dead soldier: the Mauser gun, from officers we get the Lüger (which would actually be better and make sense if it had a silencer), a submachine gun from the German assassins, and flamethrowers from those that wield them. Later on, we get better and exotic weaponry. One of them throws lightning, and the other is “Venom” a minigun that can kill off massive enemies.
There are three types of my favourite weapon, the sniper rifle: The simple Mauser with a scope, the semi-machine gun from paratroopers, and the American miracle that has infra-red sight. Sometimes we get to use mounted machine guns that can allow us to massacre a larger contingent of Nazis, so it’s better to wait a bit.
Nightmare Tours, first class
The levels are reminiscent of a lot of adventure and horror movies; the detailed graphics adds to the feeling of the game. Castle Wolfenstein full of old armour, everywhere is old Nazi flags, and other Nazi symbols, which result in providing an authentic history for the 1940s. At the beginning of the story, we start from a dusty old basement, where we can hear the death screams of our partner, who will end up on the floor of the restored halls of the castle.
I don’t want to spoil all of the levels so I’ll just list some of them to provide some preview on how varied the design is. There are foggy sniper battles in cable cabins, rustic German villages, where we have to kill six officers, old catacombs where the Nazis and the zombies kill each other, and a bombed city.
The catacombs are especially great, as someone who played with Undying will know what it is like to wander around in the dark full of the undead. Although it will not be as scary, you’ll still sigh with relief when encountering the Nazis on top.
The design of the character and enemies are top notch: the characteristics are lifelike and the ripples of the uniform can also be seen, the zombies are disgustingly gruesome. In terms of graphics, only one misstep was made by the developers: no visible injury is seen on the dead Nazis, they look as if they were just extras in a movie.
The levels are not overcomplicated, but they are well designed and varied enough. The objectives can be solved quickly; the difficulty comes from the heavier enemies or bosses. Around the end of it, you’ll end up using the quick load button a lot. I don’t think it’s a big spoiler that you’ll be sweating against the final boss.
Wolfenstein über alles?
It’s the end of the article now so I probably should provide a percentage for this game. The biggest question to me and to you is whether the heritage of the old Wolfenstein could be preserved. What’s for sure that this an excellent FPS both in terms of single and multiplayer created by Gray Matter that also beats every other FPS.
Well, first of all, let me tell you I loved RTCW’s main story and gameplay. I was not expecting a military simulation, just a good old Indiana Jones and X-Files sci-fi type of a game. If I had to kill Germans throughout the entire title, I would have been probably bored.
Although the combat against the zombie was not as breathtaking as in undying, I was still scared here a lot. (It has its feeling when the coffins get smashed by the zombies from the insides)
Maybe the commando missions were not as well made as in NOLF or Soldier of Fortune, but we’re talking about a few minuscule details, a maximum one or two percentage penalty.
The second half of the game has fewer cutscenes, and even these are between the OSA leader, his lackey, and two generals, so another percentage was lost from the grade
If I would take into consideration the single player part then it would be 92% in the name of objectivity. However thanks to the Multiplayer this game is one of the best FPS of all time.
+ Great atmosphere / War – Horror story
+ Superb graphics (2002)
+ Smart AI
– Cutscenes are short and not too many
– The game is a bit short as well
– Boring cutscenes near the end
Developer: Grey Matter
Publication: 2002, January