Return to Castle Wolfenstein
It’s been nearly ten years since id Software’s startlingly innovative Wolfenstein 3D kicked-started PC gaming en masse, and inspired a whole genre of lucrative titles; mimicking it’s first-person style. Just think, without the original Wolf3D there would never have been Doom, Quake, Half-Life, Duke Nukem, Soldier of Fortune or Jedi Knight – gamers, and the PC games industry as a whole, has a lot to thank Wolfenstein for. Now Wolf’s back too, thanks to id Software and their charges Gray Matter, who promise to deliver a game that sparks the imagination as the original did. Whether it quite succeeds is debatable, but what isn’t is the progress which it exemplifies since the original; I wonder if id could ever have envisaged the future when creating this game’s predecessor?
The most instantly notable feature of the game; is the attention to detail it is blessed with; from the menu systems, through to the cinematics, the cut-scenes, the level design, and even the multiplayer; Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a meticulously planned prospect. The cut-scenes are the game’s first opportunity to really shine, and Gray Matter have not foregone this opportunity, the movies being of the highest standards; and must have been very expensive. The mission-briefings which follow this (and divide the single-player game) are nicely-designed too, continuing the cinematic ambience using in-game graphics.
Of course, as seems customary in the genre, the plot is as ever a little far-fetched, though the cinematics, cut-scenes, and continuity of the story throughout the single-player missions help give life to a highly plausible setting – thus generating a great deal more atmosphere and immersion than a less-cohesive effort would have managed. Just don’t expect this to be Saving Private Ryan, and suspend your disbelief.
The level style and design is perhaps the games strongest aspect; the highly-versatile Quake 3: Arena engine helping generate environments brimming with realistic visual-effects, rich detail, and cunning layouts, brought to life with a smorgasbord of textures, curved surfaces, and vividness. In short Return to Castle Wolfenstein contains the most convincing world of any game in the genre – a highly immersive world that positively enthrals the senses. A similar level of praise could be directed at the detail and animation of in-game characters too, as they bring to life the human-terror of the Nazi’s in chilling fashion. The AI is an improvement over many games in the genre too; and this can easily be seen in the unpredictable behaviour of guards and other enemy. It’s nice to see that the action of the game is well-balanced as well, as fire-fights are particularly exciting; thanks to the cunning level design and original settings.
Gray Matter’s cinematic vision of Nazi Germany is also made all the more realistic thanks to the weapons used in the game; possibly the most frightening gun-fire sound-effects ever heard are included, as are a number of authentic weapons that behave in a manner that lays testament to the developer’s commitment to detail. The variety of the environments also adds the seamless anti-beauty of the game’s atmosphere; as Germanic towns, archaeological sites, the great gothic Castle itself, and a number of other locations blend nicely with the plot to create a very thorough and diverse experience. The multiplayer component of the game; developed by Nerve Software; also deserves special mention for the time that has obviously been lavished upon it. Unlike, the some what paltry multiplayer options available in some games, Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s online experience is an absolute joy to play – the team-based matches being particularly fun. Some of the multiplayer levels are very impressive too; and the whole experience is once again highly immersive – thanks to the unique weapons and highly original locations – some of which are even more impressive than the maps of the single-player game!
To conclude then, whilst Return to Castle Wolfenstein does not innovate greatly in the gameplay department; it does execute the balance of plot, action and progression to perfection. Not only that, but the richness of the world is nothing short of awe-inspiring too – all of which combines to make Return to Castle Wolfenstein an essential purchase.