Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a re-imagining of id Software‘s classic Wolfenstein 3D, developed by Gray Matter Studios and first published by Activision in 2001. It uses the id Tech 3 engine (as created for Quake III) and has a single-player campaign, as well as a multiplayer component where players are split into Allies and Axis.
The single-player campaign puts the player in the role of “Blazkowicz“, an Allied commando who must escape from Castle Wolfenstein and find and destroy the “SS Paranormal Division“, who have been reported to be operating in the area. The game seems to attempt to capture a “Where Eagles Dare” type of atmosphere, with wintry conditions, cable cars, and period German music. Later on it then turns into “Raiders of the Lost Ark“, with a more supernatural edge to the storyline.
The gameplay is mostly standard first-person shooter action, with a variety of weapons at your disposal. You start out with just a dagger, but can also find and use a mixture of allied and axis equipment, including: a Luger, an MP40 submachine gun, a Mauser rifle with sniper scope, a Thompson machine gun and ‘potato-masher’ grenades. You later acquire more sophisticated weaponry, such as dynamite and a flamethrower.
The movement of the player character leaves a little to be desired, because the inertia makes it feel like you’re sliding on ice most of the time, and it’s very easy to fall off a ledge to your death. And when you’re juddering down some stairs it’s also quite difficult to keep your aim. A few short bursts of enemy fire and you’re dead, so you have to be careful and not dash into a room full of Germans.
Health packs and food items replenish health as you progress and ammo is strictly limited, so you constantly have to collect it as you go, and also remember to re-load before entering a skirmish. Re-loading during combat is not a good idea, and if you do find yourself having to do that a smart player will take cover while the animation cycle completes.
Each stage has a number of secrets and treasures to find, and when you approach the end of a level the game warns you that you’re about to exit, so you can go back to look for any secrets you missed, if you want to.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein does have some nice features, like enemies who throw grenades back at you; the occasional machine gun emplacement that you can use to take out a rush of enemies, and some destructible scenery and objects (although not very much, it has to be said).
On the downside: the kick animation is poor; enemy death animations are not very good either; cut scenes are un-cinematic, and using ladders is not as easy as it should be. The environment is very basic too, with lots of big, empty rooms in the castle, and not much detail or interactivity. You could argue that this is due to the period of time in which Return to Castle Wolfenstein was made, but Half-Life came out three years before this and definitely puts it to shame on that front.
Generally, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is more of a 3D maze shooter than anything else, and it’s not particularly enjoyable to play. There are lots of frustrating dead ends, and sections where you’re going ’round in circles trying to find a door that opened, or a switch somewhere, and there isn’t much in it that is novel or innovative. It’s just an okay early first-person shooter that really could have done with more detail. It does have one thing in common with its predecessor, Wolfenstein 3D, though, and that’s the fact that it quickly becomes boring to play.
More: Return to Castle Wolfenstein on Wikipedia
Steam: Return to Castle Wolfenstein on Steam
GOG: Return to Castle Wolfenstein on GOG.com
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