It has been argued on countless occasions that Wolfenstein 3-D wasn’t the first FPS game that came out (that title usually goes to Catacomb 3-D), nor was it the most influential (that one usually goes to Doom), but it can’t be denied that this game proved to be the turning point for its creator, id software, and it paved the way for Doom to skyrocket the genre. Now, I could write several pages on the subject of Doom, but there are lots of websites out there who have already done that. I think that Wolfenstein 3-D deserves to be lauded this time.
In this game, you are William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, an allied soldier captured by the german Nazi forces. You are imprisoned in the terrible Castle Wolfenstein, with a fate worse than death ahead of you. Fortunately, you manage to break out of your cell, and now you have to figure out how to get out of this place alive. That’s basically the story (FPS games, apparently since their beginnings, never had deep stories).
The gameplay was simple enough to pick up and play, but back in 1992 the experience was way above par. On a PC with a 386 processor and 4 MB of RAM the framerate was smooth and the loading times relatively short. The game supported a variety of sound cards, and the music and sound effects were superb, from the tunes to Horst-Wessel-Lied to the dying cries of SS troops. The levels were 2-D mazes brought into 3-D perspective by using a technique called ray-casting, which applied to a point in a grid the appropriate sprite.
In terms of mood, the game was tense as you traversed the corridors of the Nazi stronghold, and turned frantic when you were attacked by enemy soldiers, especially if the gunfight alerted other bad guys patrolling in nearby rooms.
The difficulty settings made the game accessible to many players, independently of skill, but Apogee encouraged to play on the harder settings by naming the easier ones with ridiculous titles and matching character portraits (the easiest setting was “I’m too young to die” and featured the portrait of B.J. Blazkowicz with a baby bonnet and a pacifier).
The game was divided into 6 episodes (a common feature in PC games of that time), with the first one being freely available as shareware. Each episode consisted of 9 regular levels and one hidden floor, with a boss battle at the end.
There were aspects of Wolfenstein 3-D that were seldom seen in any FPS since, like 1-ups and a points system. But in my own experience, it was simply rewarding to finish and episode and discover that I had the highest score among my friends in school (we convinced the Computer Class Teacher to let us install it). In order to get a high score you had to collect treasure, which just added up to your points, and kill as many bad guys as possible (this could be enhanced by choosing harder difficulty settings).
It’s curious how, even when the game had a fixed lighting intensity, the mood could change from level to level. This was achieved by the use of different texture colors for the walls and the layout of the map. It was a different experience when the level was square, with well defined rooms and corridors, with brick walls, or wood paneling, as opposed to a map with tunnel-like corridors and walls made from moldy rocks. I applaud id software for being able to define the theme of each level just by clever use of texture and enemy placement.
Of course, a game based on killing Nazis couldn’t be complete without a showdown with Adolf Hitler himself. And at the end of episode 3, you get just that! There’s a very nice and warm feeling that fills you every time you see the Fürher collapse into a gory pile, uttering his last words, “Eva, auf wiedersehen!” Priceless.
Actually, this last image wasn’t from the PC game, it’s from one of the different ports (My guess is SNES, but I could be wrong). The game was good enough to be ported to several different platforms, including the SNES, 3DO, Atari Jaguar and Game Boy Advance. Some of them were good, some of them were not.
That’s pretty much what I have to say about this game for now. In closing, the concept of this game was great, as was the gameplay, sound, controls and design. Sadly, there were some detrimental points too. The game became repetitive after playing it for some time, the number of weapons was small, as was the number of different enemies. Nevertheless, and even with the advent of Doom, this game will always be remembered as the groundbreaking classic that it is. Feel free to comment and to add your own experiences with this game. Until next time, good bye!
By the way, you can still buy this game, and other vintage classics, directly from id software!