Wolfenstein 3D

When Buzz Aldrin piloted the Lunar Module of Apollo 11 on to the surface of the moon, or when Roger Bannister ran the mile in less than 4 minutes, they both accomplished something incredible, something rare. They were the first. They blazed a trail, entered the history books, and became inspirations for generations to follow.

In a small way, with Wolfenstein 3D, we’re looking at the gaming equivalent of one of these great men. Perhaps more than any other game, it holds claim to being the grandfather of modern first-person shooters. Before Duke Nukem 3D, and before DOOM, it first had PC gamers circle-strafing back in 1992, and has been ported to multiple systems since. Now Nerve Software and Activision have brought this landmark title to XBLA, so it’s time to grab that chain gun, run sideways just as fast as we can, and see what all the fuss was about.

The game has you step into the army-issue boots of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an allied spy captured by the Nazis and imprisoned in Castle Wolfenstein. Armed with a pistol and a knife (presumably taken from a guard) B.J. sets out to escape the castle and take on the might of the Nazi regime. His one-man assault on one of the most powerful military forces the world has ever known will see him come face to face with highly trained officers of the SS, attack dogs, genetically-engineered undead mutants (with a third arm sprouting from their chest, no less), and eventually one of the most infamous bosses in the history of gaming and the world; a mecha battlesuit-wearing Adolf Hitler who has to be seen to be believed. All while still finding time to scoff roast chicken dinners and loot treasure, ofcourse. This is history as it happened. It did happen like that, right?

The setting does present an issue from the outset. With limited graphical power, id’s designers needed a way to set the game in time and place. This was achieved with heavy use of Nazi symbols like the Swastica and more images of Adolf Hitler than you can you shake an Iron Cross at. Seriously, I think I’ve seen more images of Hitler in the last few days, than I’d seen previously in my entire life. And it’s this aspect of the game that has been known to cause controversy, and in the past saw copies confiscated in Germany. One of the factors that will determine how much you like this game, will be how you personally feel about the use of such images.

There are other issues too. There are six episodes (each containing ten levels), but each episode typically features only three enemy types plus an over-powered boss. Music and sound effects are simple and repeated endlessly, though done with some charm. And all gameplay takes place on a single plane; there are no steps, or balconies, or even aiming up or down, the game is played out entirely on flat ground. Also, the game is entirely singleplayer, and on all but the hardest difficulty settings, not overly long.

I had a lot of fun with this game. I loved seeing what was possible back in the day, on limited hardware. I got a kick out of id’s bloodthirsty art at times, and the core gameplay can be fun. But id’s-own DOOM, did all this better only a year later, and in the world of the modern shooter both level design and gameplay are just too basic to really hold your attention. I guess that like Buzz and Sir Roger, though it’s place is assured in history, the game is just showing it’s age. After all, we’re not asking them to lead the Olympic team, or Captain the next shuttle mission, are we?







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