Review by BlackMageJawa
"Join the army and see the next world!"
Think back to a time when computers could only manage 16 colours at a time, screen resolutions were lower than a Big Brother contestant's IQ, and everything looked like it was made out of Lego. 2D was where it was at, mainly because 3D was so damn difficult on these early PCs. A few games managed it, mostly by kind of cheating and making things look 3D even though they weren't. Several of these games can be classed as early 3D shooters, but the game that really began the FPS genre involved a lone American hero called (ahem) Captain William John Blazkowicz. B.J (as he was known) was sent deep into German territory in the middle of WW2 to find out about a Nazi plot codenamed 'Operation Eisenfaust', which involved diabolical experiments with genetic mutations and the undead. Before he could get there, he was captured by the German SS and imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein. It was up to the player to bust out of the Castle and put a stop to Eisenfaust. Oh, and then he had to go and assasinate Hitler, who, of course, had a huge mech suit complete with chain guns.
FPSs have come a long way since then, with such innovations as mission-based gampelay, decent plots, looking up and down, jumping, and having more than a different colour of walls to differentiate each mission. And so the time has come to return to Castle Wolfenstein. It's not so much a sequel as a Resident Evil/Star Wars Trilogy style 'finishing off' of the original.
Once again, B.J is sent into German territory to investigate a Nazi plot involving genetic mutations and occult meddling. And once again he is captured and imprisoned in Wolfenstein. This time around, the plot is much better, involving a thousand year old 'Dark Night' called Heinrich who commanded an army of the undead. The Nazis have found the remains of Heinrich, and are trying to use the evil power to create their own zombie horde with which to win the war. Oh, and they're trying to make some kind of super-soldiers by fiddling with the soldier's genes, and have of course ended up with all sorts of horrible monstrous 'accidents'.
So, historically inaccurate it may be, but then just about every war sim seems to be the story of how one American single handedly won the war, which never actually happened, so what difference do a few zombies make? Far more important is how it actually plays. And I'm glad to say it's pretty good. The weapons are nice and clunky with decent reload animations, B.J is fairly sprightly and responds well to the button presses, and the environments look great and are incredibly atmospheric.
The main problem that I have with RTCW is that, like an increasing number of games these days, it seems to rely too much on the fear factor to draw the player in. OK, so as a remake of Wolf3D it has to stick with the Eisenfaust theme, but it really tries to go all out with the decaying ghouls leaping out of walls and then hurling spectral skulls at you or assaulting you whilst in full viking garb. It's all a bit surreal and creepy, but it doesn't need to be. Call me homicidal, but shooting people is fun. Shooting monsters isn't. I had the same problem with Half-Life; Gordon Vs. Marines was entertaining, Gordon Vs. Freaky-ass aliens was creepy, but not as satisfying.
Which is a shame, as as a war sim it makes a great change from the overly realistic tactics of something like Operation Flashpoint or Rainbow 6, without the sheer crapiness of Medal Of Honour. Sorry, Honor.
The weaponry on offer is mostly authentic hardware from the 1940s, plus one or two which id claim the Nazis 'could have invented' given the tech level of the time, such as the Tesla gun, flamethrower, and ultra-rapid fire Venom gun.
So then- Return To Castle Wolfenstein is a great war-time FPS which is let down by a dodgy horror story. It's definitely worth getting, especially if you're into horror as well as realistic FPSs, but after escaping from Wolfenstein and exploring a quaint little German village it suddenly turns into something more reminiscent of Clive Barker's Undying than Wolf3D. Make it out of the crypts though, and you're back to the satisfying nazi-bashing, with only minimal amounts of zombies. Until you come across the hideous mutated freaks. Sigh.
It gets better though, as you can now get Return To Castle Wolfenstein Special Edition. As well as RTCW itself, the package contains 7 new multiplayer maps, a 5 minute 'making of' movie, 'wallpapers, cartoons and concept art', and the WolfRadiant level editor for, umm, editing levels. The real gem of the package though, is a full version of Wolfenstein 3D! The game that started it all is back, and it runs perfectly under Windows XP (as long as you set it to Win95 compatability mode), with only a few sound problems. It's just as playable, if not as creepy, as it was then, and I have actually been playing it more than the new one.
Oh, and there's the multiplayer. As I have only a stupidly slow internet connection I have yet to sample it, but it sounds pretty good, with a nice mix of tactics and action. There's no traditional deathmatch as such, instead focusing on team-based battles as the Allies and Axis compete to achieve certain objectives before the others. Each player chooses from one of four classes, and each class has a specific role. The soldiers have all the firepower, medics can heal wounded players, engineers can plant and disarm bombs, and the Lieutenant can resupply the other troops and call in airstrikes from above.
As tempted as I was to give this game a 'nein' out of ten, the annoying zombie levels drag it down to an eight. It's still immensely playable though, and well worth a look. Just try not to get carried away shouting 'Achtung' and doing Basil Fawlty walks. (It can be very embarrasing if you have company.)
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/10/03, Updated 07/10/03
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