Review: Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Reviewed By: Kirk Hiner
Review Date: May 21, 2002
I no longer have my original floppies for Wolfenstein 3D. I remember buying them, though. It was the first time I got suckered into buying a full game after getting hooked on the demo. I thought four levels would be enough, but they weren't. I needed more, so I paid for the whole game. I was on an LCII at the time, and I remember the speed bump I got when upgrading to a PowerPC. Everything moved so quickly it'd make you dizzier than a ride at the county fair. I seem to recall there was a speed governor to actually slow the game down.
Those days are well behind us, I'd say.
And now, I have even more Wolfenstein...certainly more than I ever thought I'd get, probably more than I ever thought I'd want. Yet, here I am, playing it to the point where I'm starting to question my mental stability.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RtCW) is built on the Quake III engine, a game I've never played. I did get a kick out of its counterpart, Unreal Tournament, but I didn't stick around long. I never fully understood the point of just running around and fragging people. I see it's appeal, sure, but I don't see the point.
No, I like my first person shooters to be good and single player. I like it when it's me against an army of whoever's trying to kill me now, not me against someone in Oregon with a T1 and a PC and months of practice. Again, I understand the appeal of this, it's just not for me. So, when I read all the early press and PC reviews about the gloriousness of the multiplayer aspect and the lackluster single player action, I was nervous. It didn't long for RtCW to win me over...then lose my attention...then win me over again.
The box claims that RtCW includes "intense story-driven action." Intense, yes. Story-driven, not exactly. Mission driven, perhaps. Event driven, more likely. Sure, the missions are all tied together with one ultimate objective, but you won't be thinking about that when playing RtCW. You'll be thinking, "Where in Sam Hill are those bullets coming from?!"
You play B.J. Blazkowicz, a soldier during World War II. You and a buddy have been captured and are being detained in Castle Wolfenstein. Well, you're being detained. Your buddy is being tortured. You escape from your cell too late to save your friend, but just in time to save yourself and hopefully in time to save the free world from the Nazi threat and a host of mutants who somehow still aren't as frightening and evil as Hitler himself was.
Oddly, you don't spend a lot of time in Castle Wolfenstein. In fact, the game more accurately could've been called Escape from Castle Wolfenstein, since that's what you're trying to do throughout the first few levels. Of course, by the end of the game, you do actually return to Castle Wolfenstein, so maybe I'm just over thinking this. Regardless, you escape quickly from the dreary, gray castle and soon find yourself in airplane hangers, mutant test labs, Norway, and so on. Your missions vary, but they all lead to the same objective; the "uber soldat," or super soldier. Isn't this the plot of every Jean-Claude Van Damme and Dolph Lundgren movie made between 1986 and 1992?
That being said, RtCW completely enthralled me...in parts, anyway. Perhaps it's because so much of it reminded of Deus Ex, one of the best games I ever played. When it was me against the Nazi soldiers, I found the game to be captivating. Perhaps it was the realism of it, which is rare in first person shooters where you're normally put on other planets or are fighting some kind of freaky demon. But the levels where I was working my way through a bombed out German city, dodging Nazi sniper fire as I ducked in and out of the smoldering husks of crumbled buildings, fire lighting the skyline, it all just seemed to dire to me. Creepy. Perhaps it's because people I know have had to experience it, unlike fighting mutant skeletons and robotic super soldiers who take five rocket shots from a Panzerfaust to drop.
Of course, this is all just personal preference, and I'm probably in the minority here. I realize there are those who thrill at the opportunity to kill the well nigh unbeatable "bosses" in games such as this, and RtCW provides plenty of them. Along with practically the entire Nazi army, there are plenty of zombies, skeletons and the aforementioned super soldiers to destroy on your way to putting an end to this supernatural threat. As if the Me 262 weren't enough, it seems the Nazi are also bent on resurrecting a 1,000 year imprisoned prince of something really, really bad and powerful. The higher-ups in the Office of Secret Actions must really have it out for your B.J. character because they never hesitate to throw him into these situations by himself (well, he does get some help from a tank at one point). If I were B.J., I'd quit this gig and apply for a job in Rainbow Six.
Of course, B.J. has to be happier with his surroundings. They're amazingly cool. The Castle itself, although dreary, is gorgeously detailed. It's almost oppressive in its scope, with huge, detailed concrete walls and Nazi flags that flutter in the breeze. Wood planks creak as you walk over them, and torches cast soft yellow glows and reflections off your gun sights as you pass by. The interiors of the science labs later on aren't quite as inspired. The detail's still there, but the design feels too modern...not World War II era. This game is at it's best when you're in the woods or in German churches or the snowy terrain of Norway. It just looks better there, it feels better there, and the action is more realistic there.
Your enemies are equally detailed. They react as you would react...take a couple hits and they duck away to regroup. The seek cover when reloading weapons, and they even force cover by knocking over tables and such when you enter a room. The different soldiers behave differently, showing varying strategies and degrees of courage. What's more, this courage is affected by the number of allies they have at their support. Five guys are more likely to flush you out, while one or two will wait patiently for you to peek your head around the wall. They all have access to the same weapons you do, so you can't expect the obligatory skin-tight leather clad Nazi witch coven babes to always come at you with the same gun. You can, however, always expect them to roll and jump around, quite often right into your sights. I'll never understand why people think rolling is such a great defensive maneuver if they're're not rolling behind a wall or a box or something. When the roll's done, they have to get up. And while they're getting up, they're getting shot.
As much as I hated fighting the uber soldat's, I did greatly enjoy they way their robotic parts shattered off their bodies as I hit them. Quite cool. In fact, next to the settings, I think my favorite part of this game were the enemy soldiers. I like the way they looked, I liked the way they behaved, and I liked the way they talked (in English, and it probably would've been cooler if they'd spoken in German and given us subtitles). Many parts of the game were actually quite funny; listening to Nazi soldiers argue about which wire to cut when disarming a bomb (you can guess how that turns out) or how to get the generator running again. Quite often, your patience when hearing people talk will be rewarded either with clues on what to do next or with fewer enemies as they accidentally kill themselves.
The audio in RtCW is on par with other games at this level. The ambient noises are very effective, and the guns sound authentic to my untrained ears. Without seeing him, you can almost gauge a sniper's distance just by the volume of his report.
Oddly, because I spent so much time enjoying the scenery of this game, and because I happened across a cheat code that got me past the uber soldat's faster than I would have otherwise (if at all), RtCW seemed to go by far too quickly. The single player game is not that long, but there's enough multiplayer here to keep you happy for quite some time to come.
I won't go into too much detail here, since I haven't spent enough time playing the multiplayer version (it's actually a separate application) to give it a full review. I'll turn you over to Eddie Park at IMG for that (a man who's opinion I respect possibly more than my own). The few times I was able to get into a multiplayer game before the PC patch to v1.31 made it too difficult for me to find a game that would allow me in (apparently, the Mac version is incompatible with this PC version), I found myself enjoying it more than I thought I would. Quite honestly, if any game were to turn me into a multiplayer mainstay, RtCW would be it.
Multiplayer here is about strategy as much before starting the game as when playing it. Because there are actual objectives to achieve--more than just killing 25 people in five minutes--selecting your party is critical. You need medics to supply health packs, engineers to plant and disarm explosives, soldiers to handle the bulk of the fighting, etc. As a result, I found myself worrying more about my teammates than about myself...a multiplayer first. Players don't respawn immediately after being killed, you see, so your troupe is handicapped until they return. I'd actually like it more if they didn't respawn at all. Die, and you're out. Maybe there is such a setting and the games I joined just didn't utilize it.
I played RtCW on my 867MHz G4 in both Mac OS X and v10.1.4 and Mac OS 9.2.2 without one freeze or crash. I also tried it using both Nvidia's GeForce 2 and ATI's RADEON 8500. It played well in both, but the RADEON did afford me higher texture detail and resolutions. In both, some of the more open, active sequences did cause the game to drop frame rates, but not to the point where it killed the action. There are enough settings here to make the game playable on lower end computers, but take the above minimum requirements seriously. RtCW demands a lot.
My hope now is that Aspyr releases a patch soon to make the Mac more compatible with a greater number of online games, then doesn't release any new games for a month or two so I have time to enjoy Return to Castle Wolfenstein further. From the looks of things, though, they're not going to help me out here, not with the number of games they have at beta and final candidate. Oh well, at least one of them is Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. Hopefully, B.J. will have killed all the uber soldat's before Lt. Mike Powell sets foot on foreign soil.
Either way, I could always find those Wolfenstein 3D floppies and run through that again. Man, if that needed a speed governor on a 60MHz 6100, just think what would happen on the 867MHz G4. It'd likely to blow a hole in the wall. That may be for the best, though. Another place to duck away from sniper fire.
[an error occurred while processing this directive]