Return to Castle Wolfenstein

The Nazis are back.


The Quake 3 engine is a bit angular when it comes to outside areas, but looks great indoors.

During one of the scenes in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, one of your superior officers remarks: “Advanced weapons, biological engineering, robotics, and the occult… it all fits. I’m not sure into what, but it fits.” You have to admire a game that knows where it stands. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is loosely based on the great granddaddy of all first person shooters, Wolfenstein 3D. But aside from the name, these games share only one thing in common – you kill Nazis, and you kill ’em in droves. Hitler’s minions may well be the best game villains ever, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein plays them to death, albeit in a very Hollywood blockbuster sort of way.

A bit like the Nazis of Indiana Jones, the ones in RTCW are two-dimensional sadists that dress in black (just so you you know how evil they are), worship the devil, dabble in dark sorcery and spend all their spare time either building uber-robots or performing nefarious rituals to raise the dead. You’ll gun down hordes of almost every conceivable bad guy that could possibly fly under Hitler’s flag – from bio-engineered monstrosities to a resurrected Germanic warlord (the Hitler Mech is conspicuously absent) – and by the end of it you’ll wonder what exactly was it that you’ve just experienced.

The Reich Stuff

You wear the badge of U.S Army Ranger B.J Blazkowicz. Being the strong silent type, you rarely question orders, or even speak at all. The game comes with an outlandish story, but it’s ultimately disposable. Cinematic interludes deliver most of it in snippets of melodramatic exposition that provide an excuse to send you to a variety of locales and pit you against a host of foes. It’s tough to take it very seriously.

Fortunately the game beats you to that punch – it doesn’t take itself very seriously either, and it often pokes fun at its inadequacies. At one point you discover a memo from high command about the unusually high number of ladder-related fatalities among soldiers. Anyone that’s ever tried to navigate a ladder in a Quake-based game will be sure to get a laugh out of this.

When using the sniper rifle you can shoot right away or wait until your aim steadies.

When using the sniper rifle you can shoot right away or wait until your aim steadies.

The game does great hiding the fact that the core gameplay is essentially very simple – you kill all the bad guys. It throws a few superficial twists into the mix, such as stealth missions or assignments that task you with finding a specific object. Most of this variety is welcome, even though the stealth can get tedious at times. In one mission you get to steal a top-secret jet aircraft, in another you creep around a German village, assassinating key Schutzstaffel officers. At one point you have to escort a stolen tank through a bombed-out city, shielding it from anti-tank crews. The game spices up the environments with props jacked from Thief and No One Lives Forever – intercepted notes and scripted conversations between enemies add to the atmosphere.

Make no mistake, however – this isn’t No One Lives Forever, as none of the twists offer a dramatic departure from the basic run and gun formula. It uses mirrors and sleight of hand to make you forget that what you are really doing is moving through a completely linear environment shooting anything that moves. In an assassination mission you get a handy list of all the officers that you have to kill (the names, for the humor impaired, are straight out of Hogan’s Heroes), but you can accomplish your goal with equal efficiency without even reading your briefing. Just kill everyone. The stealth missions at least require some observation of enemy movements and precise timing, but most of the time it’s just a matter of mowing them down quickly with your silenced weapons.

Some of the early and late zombie missions offer interesting distractions. Trapped amidst some very overzelous undead, you have to make due with limited supplies as you travel looking for hidden switches, secret areas (oh how much I enjoy secret areas!) and grisly remnants of German soldiers packing extra ammo but who were less fortunate in their expedition. All along the campaigns are quaint little distractions here and there – an alpine tram ride, a Nazi mansion, a boss fight once or twice. It really does feel like it’s got variety, even though it’s nowhere near as complex as it might have been.

Fighting The Good Fight

One area where the game breaks out of the mold is multiplayer. Instead of offering the typical assortment of deathmatch and capture the flag games, Return to Castle Wolfenstein delivers an original assortment of Axis vs. Allies team-based games that are almost as fun as Counter-Strike and Team Fortress Classic. You get to choose from an assortment of classes (Soldier, Engineer, Medic, and Lieutenant), each of which has useful and well-differentiated abilities. Depending on the map and the game mode that you choose, you get a variety of objectives that typically involve demolishing targets, capturing checkpoints, or snatching special items.

On the whole, the return to Castle Wolfenstein has proven worthwhile, and with so much over-the-top Nazi revisionism delivered in such a ridiculous manner, it can only entertain in the long run.

System Requirements: P II 400 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 16 MB Video, 666 MB HDD, Win 95/98

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