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SummaryWolfenstein 3D turns 20 today. So, how does it hold up?
- Great graphics for the time
- Gameplay revolutionary again for the time
- Still tons of fun 20 years later.
- Is dirt cheap and has tons of levels
- Finding secrets is rewarding
- Gives the player a tough, but fair, challenge
- More depth to combat system than meets the eye
- Has great historical significance to gaming and was the first great FPS
- May not appeal to modern FPS fans who don't dabble in old school games
- Can get very repetitive during long play sessions
- Only a small handful of enemy types and weapons
- Can't circle strafe, which would be very useful
- Music can get repetitive and grating
- Repetitive wall textures can make mazes a nuisance
The Bottom LineStrangely enough, I found the idea of reviewing Wolfenstein 3D a rather hard one. I found it not unlike attempting to review Super Mario Bros. Attempting to write a review puts you on a tightrope suspended above a thousand spiky precipices, as every game designer inspired by that game aim high velocity sniper rifles right at your testicles or clitoris. A lot of them are trigger happy, even if all you did was pick a nit on their beloved game. No matter what you say there's just no denying the massive influence and importance of this game, and even if you aren't a fan of it - it won't ever truly fade into obscurity like so many of its peers over time.
However, also like Super Mario Bros. - Wolfenstein 3D is a damn fine game, even 20 goddamn years after its explosive debut in 1992. At the time of this writing (May 5th, 2012) Wolfenstein 3D is 20 years old - and I feel like an old geezer saying that as I played it when it was fresh and new.
Another hard part about reviewing it is ultimately the struggle to view it without the rose tinted goggles of nostalgia. It's nearly impossible when you have 20 years of Nostalgia to feed upon, but I did my best - and yet even without those goggles, Wolfenstein can be pretty entertaining. Granted - I doubt youth weaned on games like Modern Warfare or Halo 3 will care much for the game, but for those who are willing to dip into the old school - Wolfenstein 3D is a game you must play at least once.
The premise of Wolf3D is dirt simple: You are in a castle. See that guy over there? The one in the blue coat, blonde, blue eyed, giving you a dirty look? He's a Nazi. Do you like Nazis? No? I didn't think so, here take my gun - go nuts but remember he ain't the only one.
Okay, okay if you want to be technical there is a plot buried in Wolf 3D but it is about as substantial as the one I just gave. Basically, you play as B.J. Blazkowics and you are out to stop some evil Nazi scheme (is there any other kind?) but right as you are about to learn the dirty secrets of said scheme, you are found out and unceremoniously thrown into a cell in the dungeons of the eponymous castle Wolfenstein. You escape, find out a plot involving mutants, and then ultimately kick hitlers arse. There is also a prequel trilogy (Oddly labeled as episodes 4,5,6) in almost all current releases of the game in which you stop another plot involving deadly gas.
But that isn't why you are here, I prefer my version of the plot - you are here because you don't like Nazis, and they are cramping this places style something harsh; so go nuts. It wouldn't be long for Nazis to become a cliche in shooters, and if any modern gamers wondered where the fascination with crushing the third reich came from in FPS games - here you go.
The game controls fairly simply, you use the arrow keys to move, space to open doors and CTRL to shoot - although players like me prefer a mouse/keyboard combination where the mouse moves, fires, opens doors, and toggles strafe whereas the W and S buttons move your characters surprisingly quick legs forwards or backwards. You can't aim up and down in this game though, aiming is as simple as making sure that your target is in the center of the screen.
In fact the title of the game is something of a dirty lie. The game isn't 3D at all, but rather smoke and mirrors, the game uses an advanced (for 1992) technique called Raycasting which creates the illusion of 3D by surrounding the player in coloured heightmaps pretending to be walls. Even the foes you fight are 2D sprites, the game loads in one of 8 possible sprites depending on where you are standing which gives the illusion that they can rotate in the world.
Still, if you saw this when it was fresh out of the tin in 1992 - your mind would be blown. Granted, 3D games had been out for awhile but they were often slow and did not have texture maps but instead, solid colours. Wolfenstein 3D had textures on the walls and the enemies were about as advanced as a human sprite got at the time, and most importantly - Wolfenstein was so bloody fast it gave people used to the chuggy nature of 3D racers and flight simulators at the time motion sickness.
As simple as the gameplay is though, there is more to Wolfenstein 3Ds combat than one might expect. Believe it or not - Wolfenstein 3D has a very simple, but often overlooked ballistics model. In fact those who are more used to its younger siblings, Doom or Quake may find themselves dying faster and wondering why, not realizing that unlike in those games - getting into close quarters combat is not recommended. There's a reason a trench gun or rifle wasn't used in Wolfenstein 3D, it's because even the wimpiest pistol could take you out at point blank range.
Wolfenstein 3Ds combat model works more or less like this; at a distance, bullets become less accurate and do less damage. However, at close range - they become much more accurate, and they can score critical hits - the games equivalent of a headshot, which wasn't possible at the time. Getting close to foes is never a good idea, and you MUST pay attention to your surroundings. Like other FPSes of the time, there are a lot of tight hallways which means backtracking and luring enemies into ambushes is essential.
If you see a pile of enemies in a room, get their attention - but unless you are packing a chaingun and don't care about wasting some ammo, don't head into that room. Instead, lure them out and take a vantage point at the end of a hallway - and use it to your advantage. While this may be a tactic that sounds like it slows things down, it truly isn't. Afterall... they do it to you too. Often times enemies are set to patrol, or they will hear you from other rooms and unlike in "Doom" they actually will follow your shots (In Doom, it just causes them to start randomly wandering around.) and sometimes you can find yourself pedaling back into an ambush set up by some foes who heard your shot. Stay on your toes at all times.
However, the game isn't perfect. Admittedly, even for the time there were very few enemies - 6 in total, not counting the bosses of which there are 3 in the very first release and 6 in every other release (I don't think it is possible to find a release with only 3 episodes anymore, they were only available VIA mail order and all ports and store bought copies have 6 episodes.) and one of said enemies only appears in Episode 2; only 4 weapons, one of which is a knife and 3 of which are guns that use the same ammo pool.
ID Software actually had previous released a FPS using the same engine called Catacomb 3D which offered more variety in this regard, proving that it was possible to have more. However it doesn't ultimately harm the game that much.
A somewhat bigger complaint, is that admittedly the level design and the appearance of the levels can be confusing and monotonous. They are almost always very maze like, and while I am one of the few people who kind of likes mazes in FPSes - I don't like it when the mazes don't offer at least some way of finding your way. In Doom, you had an automap and you could also recognize landmarks in the level due to a wider range of textures and scenery pieces. In Wolfenstein 3D, there are no maps and the walls are often all the same which can lead to a lot of meandering and the game really loses steam and becomes repetitive when minutes pass without a Nazi and a shootout. Sometimes you will be thrown a bone, and will see a unique looking set of walls that inform you that you are moving on. Otherwise, the only breadcrumbs you get are the corpses of your fallen foes.
My last nit to pick is the length. Wolfenstein 3D is not a game you will sit down and play through all the way, unless you have the highest tolerance to repetition in the world. As much as I love the game, its little flaws tend to build up during longer play sessions and there are 60 levels to clear. That's A LOT, especially for the time. Granted it was a sign that you were getting your moneys worth, but I doubt anyone could tolerate playing that many levels in a single sit. Space out your play time, or else you'll go mad - no matter how addicting Wolfenstein 3D can be, and it certainly can get pretty addicting even if it isn't quite as addicting as it was when it was brand new.
So at the end of the day, if you are a fan of shooters and enjoy old school games - there is no reason you should not try Wolfenstein 3D. C'mon man, you've had 20 years to do it and if you still haven't, why not now? You can get it from plenty of places for a cheap price, even Steam. Mach Schnell, SCHNELL! do it now and celebrate 20 years of this landmark shooter!
There's no reason not to... unless, of course, you are a NAZI!