Return To Castle Wolfenstein: A zombie shooter classic that deserves to be brought back from the dead
By Callum Smith
When I needed a break from my PS2, a frequent destination was my PC where I would lose days playing the inriguing Return To Castle Wolfenstein. It was Activision’s answer to Medal Of Honor, though the franchise had already made a name for itself in the arcades with Wolfenstein 3D.
It followed OSA Operative William B.J Blazkowicz, who undertook a number of missions around the globe. Though I compared it to Medal Of Honor, Wolfenstein took a far darker path and you should trust me when I say that, as a 10 year old, playing this game at night with surround sound headphones on was a huge mistake unless you were in possession of spare underwear.
Despite loosely modelling itself as a war game, it was heavily orientated around killing revived Nazi zombies. This may be a fairly common theme in modern FPS games such as Call Of Duty, however back then it was the stuff of nightmares.
“It may be a fairly common theme in modern FPS games such as Call Of Duty, however back then it was the stuff of nightmares”
A particularly terrifying moment occurred whilst battle a huge monster called Olaric in the grounds of a church. His size was so vast that you could see the rumbling of his footsteps in the surrounding area in addition to summoning evil spirits which would decimate your health. I eventually worked out that you could defeat him fairly easily by hiding in a hole in the church wall and just sniping him but the encounter would still shake me up.
My dad played the game before me and completed it in a few days by adopting the ‘all guns blazing’ approach which inevitably saw him get taken down a few times along the way. I tended to play in a much more tactical capacity, picking my moments whilst moving from cover to cover and picking off enemies from a distance.
Return To Castle Wolfenstein was the first game I had on the PC and, I will confess, was a copied version, though it worked perfectly. For a game released in 2001, the gameplay was outstanding and matched up to many of today’s FPS games. I was also impressed with the physics in the game, particularly of the guns which each possessed their own feel and would behave differently.
The game allowed you to play it however you saw fit. You could adopt my dad’s gung-ho approach or, should you choose, you could sneak around quietly stabbing Nazis. Naturally there were times when combat was unavoidable and on certain missions you were required to apply stealth tactics but, more often than not, you could choose. This was a big plus for me as playing the game in exactly the same manner over and over again could get boring.
“Should you choose, you could sneak around quietly stabbing Nazis”
The graphics were very advanced for the time and really showed exactly how much effort was put into making the game. I would say that they reached their absolute peak during the levels which took place inside Castle Wolfenstein as opposed to alternate locations. On these stages Blazkowicz would have to evade capture and, as you roamed the corridors, the attention to detail put into the decor, such as paintings and banners, was remarkable. It worked incredibly well in tandem with the soundtrack which was eerie and depressing, perfectly befitting the visuals on the screen.
My dad and I used to discuss the game and, in particular, which our favourite levels were. Bearing in mind his style of play which I have already touched on, he tended to favour the action-packed levels such as one where you had to escape a V2 rocket base which was on high alert. Conversely, I was drawn towards the stealthier levels such as a huge dam which led to the village of Paderborn.
However, unquestionably my favourite level of all was the last level where you took on the final boss, the mighty, sword-wielding warrior Heinrich. In the main intro Heinrich states that he cannot be destroyed and is imprisoned below ground. However, upon his eventual resurrection, the statement quickly went out the window as I emptied my Gatling Gun into him, shooting him back to hell. I suppose, as the old saying goes, you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight.
“I suppose, as the old saying goes, you shouldn’t bring a knife to a gunfight”
My only real criticism of the game was the cutscenes where the characters barely changed expression and the entire thing felt very wooden and stiff. The Crypt and X Labs levels were particularly guilty for this and I feel that had the acting and character portrayal been better, it would have added to the overall tone and mood of the game.
That being said, it’s a very minor criticism and if you like horror games, first-person shooters or indeed both, I’d say it’s a game well worth playing. The series was later continued by Bethesda, otherwise notable for the Fallout series, which added a further three games which took a slightly different approach to the storyline. However, this was the one where it all started for me.