It’s lucky for first-person shooter fans that some things never change. It’s precisely this principle that’s persuaded Activision to release a sequel to the legendary Wolfenstein 3D, the first-person action packed game that many argue put shooter games on the map.
Nine years later, Return to Castle Wolfenstein (obviously in 3D) does it again only this time offering multiplayer capabilities of Axis versus Allies and greatly improving on the now feeble graphics of the original Wolfentstein, which at the time were nonetheless cutting edge.
The Return’s graphics are like Activision’s other big first person shooter, Soldier of Fortune. RTCW is a bit subdued on the violence angle compared to Soldier, which is not too bad considering many people feel Soldier was a bit over the top. Don’t get me wrong there’s still plenty of detailed blasting, slicing and dicing — you just can’t mutilate the bodies of your victims like you could with Soldier, and the heads and limbs can’t be shot or cut off. The only problem with leaving this type of gore out is that it is sometimes confusing whether or not you have made a head shot, which is of course your goal when using a sniper-type weapon.
But the play is nearly identical to Soldier of Fortune, especially considering the importance both games place on sniper rifles. What makes Return to Castle Wolfenstein a more fun game to play than Soldier of Fortune, outside the fact that you’re shooting Nazi’s (who doesn’t love that in a game) is its cool multiplayer-online capabilities and the nostalgia of entering levels in single player mode and recognizing its counterpart in the original Wolfenstein.
Usually sequels to successful games suck, like Blue Shift, the sequel to Half-life. The developers don’t dedicate too much time to making the game fun and intriguing because they know it’ll sell. This is not the case with RTCW, which could stand on its own without the prequel. Heck, we waited almost a decade for a sequel, so I guess people had plenty of time to work on it.
Everything about RTCW is good, and even the story line is appetizing.
Like the original, you start off as a prisoner who has to breakout of the castle. Unlike the original, you have to return to OSA (Office of Secrete Actions) to receive orders, which entails investigating and dismantling the paranormal activities of the Third Reich, which is trying to develop the perfect killing machines.
About 30 levels in seven missions take about 45 hours of game play, which is better than most shooter games I’ve tackled. Also unlike most shooter games, this one actually gets very, very difficult, particularly towards the final levels. The Nazi’s are quite smart, and seem to have lives of their own. If you choose to sneak around different levels instead of trying to go at everything Duke Nukum style, you will hear the enemy guards talking with each other, drinking ale and generally having normal lives. Often, the stealthy approach will grant you clues as to secret areas like hidden Nazi weapon or treasure caches, because if you are lucky you may find yourself perched outside the ledge of an officer’s hotel room or near a radio operator talking with headquarters. I think it’s times like these that make the game priceless.
If you are looking for a realistic World War II experience, then you might be disappointed with the game. There are zombies and demons and some other pretty scary stuff scattered throughout some levels. And there are also leather-clad Nazi babes with submachine guns that I’ve never seen a History Channel documentary about. (They should start making one right now!) Remember, this game is for entertainment and not historical accuracy and you should be fine. That said, most of the weapons and vehicles are all very realistic for the time period, especially in the early game before you discover some of the Nazi’s more science-fiction type plans.
Multiplayer is awesome and lets you play different maps including the Normandy invasion as either the Axis or the Allies. Coming off the front of that Higgins boat while real humans playing Germans pound away at you from fixed machine guns takes guts. Playing the Germans is no picnic either as there are always waves of Allies to contend with.
Some special features with multiplayer include the ability to call in air strikes or artillery if you are playing a commander, healing other wounded players if you are a medic, or planting dynamite charges as an engineer character. You also can’t pick up ammo or powerups in multiplayer. Instead you have to find a commander and ask for more ammo. This really changes the dynamics from traditional lone-wolf multiplayer games.
In single or multiplayer, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a masterpiece. I guarantee this first person shooter will not disappoint. It earns a perfect 5 GiN Gem score, because once you start playing, you won’t stop until you have practically single handedly won World War II.