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CONSOLE: PC DEVELOPER: id Software PUBLISHER: Apogee Software
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 5, 1992 GENRE: First-Person Shooter
// review by SoyBomb

Warning: Review not amusing in Germany.

That's right, this is the one game Germany didn't want you to play in 1992. Its depiction of the overall downfall of the Axis probably wasn't considered a high point in German history. But if you think that Wolfenstein 3D may, in any way, be historically accurate, you're going to be let down and let down hard. In fact, this game is SO inaccurate that it's amazing how, instead of directly banning it entirely, the German government didn't first laugh their asses off, hold a comedy festival in its honour, and THEN ban it. The full experience of Wolfenstein 3D is divided into six episodes and follows two distinct storylines. The first three episodes involve your character, William "B.J." Blazkowicz (supposed grandfather of Commander Keen and certified tough Polish guy), escaping from Castle Wolfenstein after being imprisoned there for acting as a spy on behalf of the Allied forces and successfully unraveling a scheme involving the creation of undead mutant soldiers. Sure, I remember THOSE in Normandy. The second set of episodes, called "The Nocturnal Missions", acts more as a prequel, showing Blazkowicz overthrew a massive chemical warfare operation. Neither of these incidents really happened, that's for sure, but to make matters even more insane, one of the final battles of the game feature Adolf Hitler... with four gatling guns... in a giant mech suit. Yeah, it's just that insane. The only historically accurate part of the game is the fact that the Allies DID once fight the Axis, and also that Germany really does exist. ...At least, I think that's right. Let me check an atlas...

Castle Wolfenstein most assuredly is a desolate place.

Considered as one of the first popular first-person shooters out there, Wolfenstein 3D is actually, by comparison, a relatively simple shooter, though that does not imply that it is without merit. Each "episode" contains 10 floors -- 9 regularly traversed levels and one extra that is usually extremely well-hidden -- through which B.J. must be guided from its starting point (the elevator that brought you here) to the elevator that will bring you to the next floor above you. The first eight floors are rather maze-like in structure, often requiring you to backtrack after picking up a key or ending up at a dead-end (though some are much easier to scuttle through than others). Along the way, you'll have to take down numerous soldiers of varying degrees of difficulty, many of whom you can sneak behind for an easy kill. You'll start out with a knife and pistol, eventually graduating to a machine gun and subsequently the chain gun. You'll also get to pick up extra ammo and health items (such as strange chicken meals that are just sitting around for absolutely no reason), as well as neat little treasures to amp up your score. The ninth floor always contains a few enemies but is most notable for containing the boss character who, unlike all other enemies, cannot be surprised by an attack. And all floors have one thing in common: hidden passages. Located by using the key used for opening a door at specific sections of certain walls, you can reveal new passages featuring treasure, more ammo and health, or even extra parts of the level itself. I love the crunchy sound the wall makes, I really do.

Unfortunately, with this game being older, Wolfenstein 3D definitely looks its age. The graphics are basic, though nevertheless effective in illustrating the often lonely and consistantly discomforting situation of the protagonist. The ceilings and floors are one bland colour, and the textures of the walls get extremely repetitive over time, though at least varied wall textures/colours are present (and posters of Hitler's cubic mustache'd visage are often found plastered across the walls). Long corridors with very few discerning features are a common element, making for an oft-confusing trip. Enemies are more detailed, particularly the individual bosses (who tend to tip the scales on the heavy side), making attacking the more pleasant visual experience of the game (as it should be). Also of interesting note: after defeating some (though not all) of the bosses, the neat DeathCam replay gives you a close-up of that boss' death sequence. Gross, but worth it.

Bordering the lines of good taste?

However, although the pseudo-3D graphics may be the selling point (it's nothing compared to the styles of the Nintendo 64), the audio is where my love lies. From the heart-thumping anthems that keep you moving through the floors of soldiers to the eerie quietude of Für Elise on the final floor, the music is surprisingly fitting in every regard, often resounding of military finesse. This game also features digitized voices from all enemies (including the attack dogs), usually involving shouts in German. Even Adolf Hitler gets a few words in, such as "Scheisse!" and "Eva, auf wiedersehn..." as his body slumps into a liquified pile of post-mortem goo. Pretty? I think not.

Wolfenstein 3D was a revolutionary title. This isn't necessary true in the technical sense: other games had used its engine prior, such as the interesting Catacomb 3D. But it IS true in the sense that it made first-person shooters far more mainstream than they had ever been before -- at least in the world outside of Germany, where the game was banned from being sold. The ripples of its legacy can still be felt today; Wolfenstein 3D has been made available on the PlayStation Network and on Xbox Live Arcade. There's really no reason not to try out a vital piece of history, at least just to see how far along we've come and to whom your newest Call of Duty game owes its respects.


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