Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Retro Review: Wolfenstien 3D

I've been having so much fun playing all my old games that I thought I'd review another one. This time I've gone way back in gaming history to where it all began for the FPS genre. Before Battlefield, before Call of Duty, before Unreal and even before Doom, there was Wolfenstien 3D.

I've been playing Wolfenstien 3D since the early 90's. Back then I used to play it on my Dads thumping gaming PC that boasted 64 megabytes of RAM and had a huge 128 megabyte hard drive. It was the game that got me and many others into gaming. It's graphics were cutting edge with a fully 3D map to explore in first person. Unlike other 3D games at the time which had you merely rotate on the spot and just shifted images, Wolfenstien gave the player full fluid movement. Many things in FPS games today we take for granted, like cross hairs and reloading weapons, are non existent in this game. Adding further challenge even today. The game engine was all coded in hexadecimal format. If you're a programmer you will know that coding anything as sophisticated as this in hex would be a bitch. The engine is so solid the developers, I.D software and Apogee, held onto it and would be used to make great games like Doom and Doom 2.

Back in the day developers couldn't rely on a game selling well because it had shiny graphics or an awesome multiplayer experience. Games needed characters and rich plot lines that engaged you and kept you wanting more.Wolfenstien is the original world war two FPS. You play as B.J Blazkowicz, an american G.I who is captured by the Nazis and held in castle Wolfenstien. The first episode (which consisted of ten missions) is about B.J escaping from the castle and killing every Nazi in sight in a blaze of gunfire. Subsequent episodes had you fighting Nazi Zombies and even fighting Hitler himself. There are no cut scenes and the pieces of the story are revealed at the end of each episode and it is really well written. Although I'd like to have seen some more back story for B.J I can't say I.D software didn't accomplish what they set out to do.

There are two ways players can move about and shoot in Wolfenstien 3D. One was to move and shoot with just the keyboard. Which works well but I feel is restrictive. The other being to use the mouse to move and shoot and only use the keyboard for opening doors or switching weapons. I prefer to use the mouse because not only does it make taking out multiple enemies easier and quicker it also allows you to move as fast as you can move the mouse. While the keyboard movement was at a set speed, slow. Because there are no cross hairs aiming came down to just pointing the gun at the enemy. No head shots or blind fire here. Also while there is no cover system per-se enemies will tend to either charge straight at you or move in a pre-set pattern which usually had them moving from cover to cover. the easiest way to dodge bullets is to open a door blast away and then close it before the enemy fires back. Every gun used the same ammo type so conserving it was important. The instruction manual in the game states that you should fire in bursts. Seeing as it only takes three shots from any gun to kill the basic grunts (Brown shirts) who would then drop ammo this stops being an issue after level 1. While the game is focused on just charging about blasting everything it is possible in some levels to sneak up on someone or a group and launching a surprise attack. It doesn't make a difference as far as the game goes but if you feel like it or you're on low health this is a good thing to keep in mind. The only real problem with it is navigating the huge levels can be quite tricky because there is no in game map or navigation system and many rooms appear the same.

The graphics at the time set the standard for all FPS games to come after it. At the time many shooters were side scrolling platform games and Wolfenstien 3D showed that it was possible to make games with 3D universes to explore. However the game isn't truely 3D. The way it works is it generates a series of 2D images and either expands them or contracts them depending on how close you move to an object in game. If you open up the game in a sprite editor you'll see that all the sprites are smaller then they appear in the game. Even though this left the graphics blurry, they are so well drawn (All the sprites including the animation frames were drawn by hand on a computer by the way) that it made little difference to how the game played. Worth noting that the game is set in a Nazi castle so there are a million Swastikas and pictures of Hitler on the walls all throughout the game. So if you're offended by these images you might want to by the SNES or Atari Jaguar port of the game which has all of this removed.

Wolfenstien 3D was one of the first games to have voice actors. Each enemy you come across will utter some word in German before coming to attack and will say something else when they die. The in game music while all just a series of beeps and bops (Come to think of it, isn't that what techno music is?) it really set the mood for each episode. Also an 8-bit version of the Nazi party anthem 'Horst-Wessel-Lied' can be heard while in the games main menu. Considering having sound at all was a technological mervel it is amazing to see it not just there to show off but to add to the atmosphere of the game.

If you want to get a copy in its original, form I.D software is still selling it along with the prequel Spear of Destiny on its website for fifteen bucks. I think it's also available on Steam for around the same price. The free shareware version which is the first episode is also available here. It is a tiny download at only 30 megabytes and uses less than a megabyte of RAM it will not push the limits of even the weakest systems.

Every First person Shooter out there can trace its roots back to Wolfenstien 3D and without it would not even exist. Even 19 years after the games release it is still played and the mod community for it is still going strong. There are not many games that can claim this level of popularity. This game is a piece of gaming history and even if you hate first person shooters or you are a COD player through and through, if you are a gamer you must play this game.

9 and a half out of 10

1 comment:

  1. this post was very entertaining and informative at the same time.thanks for sharing the stuff.children education games.