When I heard that id
softwaress and Grey Matter Studios Return to Castle Wolfenstein was being
released at the same time that the original Doom was being released on the Game Boy
Advance, I thought it somehow appropriate. In one way, it was a stunning reminder of how
far first-person shooters have come in the last seven years. In another, it was a stunning
reminder of how far first-person shooters--especially those produced by id software--have
not come in the last seven years. From the original Wolfenstein to Quake III, id software
has always specialized in FPSs that emphasized stellar graphics and quick-twitch
action over anything like a plot or sophisticated puzzles, much to the delight of the
"I can shoot my way out of hell" crowd. In fact, by the time Quake III was
released, id software had forgone any pretense at all of presenting single-player games or
stories, and gave us nothing but pure fragmeister multiplayer eye candy.
was good enough for a lot of gamers. But others couldnt help but wonder what would
happen if the powerful Quake III engine somehow got married up to a terrific single-player
game --especially after theyd played such revolutionary single-player FPSs as Half-Life, System Shock, Thief, No One Lives
Forever, or Deus Ex. Those games
combined a compelling narrative, sophisticated AI, and a distinctive atmosphere with
gameplay that demanded a bit of thought from gamers. After playing through about the first
half-dozen levels of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Ive got to say Im
impressed. While it doesnt have quite the narrative depth or complex gameplay of any
of the aforementioned games, its so far got stellar graphics, excellent AI, great
atmosphere, challenging gameplay, and Nazi zombies. And Nazi zombies make up for a lot.
first thing youll notice upon firing up RtCW is its graphics, which are in a word
stunning. This is the best-looking first person shooter ever, and even though some of the
levels employ the traditional "color-challenged" id palate, youll be
pleasantly surprised by just how colorful some of the outdoor levels can be. Every level
thus far is extremely atmospheric, from the fog-shrouded catacombs to the snow-driven tram
scenes to the exquisitely modeled bombed-out cityscapes. Weapons effects are stunning, and
the game is probably worth buying just for the flamethrowers. Nazis come in a variety of
fabulous fascist haberdashery, and monsters look damn good, too.
of Nazi monsters, enemy AI in this game is very capable. While not above the occasional
slip-up, most enemies will take account of the situation before attacking you. Sometimes
theyll try the traditional "damn the torpedoes" approach, but usually
theyll take cover, try to sneak around you, and fire from a range appropriate to
their weapons. Especially at the higher difficulty settings, youll be forced to do a
lot of save-and-loads due to tricky enemy behavior.
Theres no lack of distinctive enemies in the game, either. Thus far
weve faced your garden-variety Nazis, shield-wielding and spell-casting zombies,
high-heeled leather-clad Nazi vixens, crack Nazi paratroopers and some sort of flame
demons. Theyve all been armed with a variety of weapons, from sniper rifles to
panzerfausts to flame throwers, and they all use them pretty effectively.
But fear not; youll quickly acquire quite an arsenal yourself. So far
Ive picked up two kinds of pistol, three kinds of submachine gun, three kinds of
rifle (and two sniper rifles), a panzerfaust, demo charges, grenades, and the flame
thrower. Since all of these also have an alt-fire function, you have a lot of tactical
possibilities. By using the proper weapon you can fairly easily solve almost any game
Level design so far is fairly pedestrian; again, while everything looks great, most
levels are quite linear, and most of the puzzles therein are pretty quickly solved by some
sort of variation on the "hit-the-button-and-run-like hell" or "find all
the switches" conventions. No jumping puzzles yet, thank god. That being said, it is
nice to see such a premium put on stealth in the game. You really cant just go in
banging away; most missions will require you to stalk, to employ stealth, and to work your
way around the maps until you can take out some enemies without alerting others.
BTW, multiplayer looks greatthough there are only seven maps, theyre all
pretty huge. Since I havent played much MP yetother than the beach
demoIll hold off on passing any judgement for now.
Overall, Im so far favorably impressed with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. While
its not quite as innovative as No One Lives Forever or as cerebral as Deus Ex, I
cant tear myself away from it in the same way I couldnt, all those years ago,
tear myself away from Doom or Quake. So far it seems that with the single-player game of
Return to Castle Wolfenstein, id software has both returned to its roots and reworked its
gameplay in light of recent FPS trends. Its a happy combination.