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Wolfenstein 3D (Xbox 360) artwork

Wolfenstein 3D (Xbox 360) review

""Nazis... I hate these guys...""

Wolfenstein 3D is still a compelling experience over two decades after its initial release. I was entranced by the hypnotic rhythm of running and gunning. The core mechanics are just simple and addictive, like Tetris. ID Software was wise to place gameplay on a higher pedestal than visual fidelity. Certainly not every aspect of the design has aged well, though Wolfenstein holds up much better than I anticipated. It is a classic for more reasons than just being the first FPS ever created.

As the first of its kind, it shouldnít be surprising that plot is minimal. You play as B.J. Blascowitz, a man bent on single-handedly dismantling the Nazi regime. At the start, players are dropped into a Nazi fortress with merely a pistol. From here, you clear floor after floor of soldiers, leading to a showdown with Hitler. Itís super flimsy and cheesy, as you might expect a videogame from 1992 to be. The most interesting aspect of the story is that it bluntly assumes players are motivated to kill Nazis simply because they are Nazis. Instead of giving B.J. any sort of personal drive, ID Software decided to work off a common historical prejudice. Perhaps Iím giving the developer too much credit, but I would occasionally stop and ponder how this game was exploiting my boneheaded patriotism, like it was World War II propaganda.

When I wasnít thinking, I was shooting. Dashing through maze like levels at mock speeds, pumping lead into foes felt immensely satisfying. Additionally, there is a surprising amount of tension in the gameplay. Nazis frequently emerge from alcoves outside your line of sight, so peeking around corners to bait enemies is a necessity. It only takes a few bullets to put B.J. down, so I was astonished at how conservatively you must play certain stages. Ammo is plentiful, but can easily be squandered, thus painting players into an un-winnable corner. Thankfully Nerve Software, developer of this XBLA port, added the feature to save anywhere. It is effortless to restart precisely where you want. Nerve also perfectly ported the classic keyboard inputs to controllers. I have tinkered with the PC version of Wolfenstein, yet I can never imagine committing without the 360 joystick and triggers. Though minor, these tasteful alterations make this my definitive way to play Wolfenstein.

Speaking of small changes, the visuals are unfortunately identical to the ancient PC version. I do like that the HD nature of the console cleans up the rough edges and makes the colors pop more, though Nerve didnít bother retexturing anything. It is incredibly easy to get lost in Wolfenstein, and merely recoloring walls to more clearly divide areas of a level would have offset several personal frustrations. The only reason I didnít outright abandon the game is because the blistering speed at which B.J. can move, supported by the 360 hardware which can effortlessly run at 60 frames per second. When you can dart through the entirety of a level in seconds, losing your way is relatively painless. On that note, my favorite aspect of the entire game is B.J.ís animated head, displayed at all times along the bottom of the screen. The image will change dynamically based on how much damage B.J. has taken, being pristine at full health and mangled when low. Also, I genuinely got a better sense of the character than a lot of silent protagonists simply because of the funny animations it displays. I find it impossible not to laugh at B.Jís shifty eyes.

Also, the audio work is unintentionally hilarious. Even in 1992, composers knew levels need tunes with tones and tempos suiting on-screen action. That is, unless you were audio engineer at ID Software. The vast majority of levels utilize tracks that sound like 8-bit versions of reject elevator music. This is highly inappropriate, but somehow meshes seamlessly with the audio effects that sound like they were ripped from a retro Toys Rí Us ad. The only thoughtful byproducts of the stupid sound design are the neat callouts triggered by enemies when they are approached or killed. They are actually quite critical to recognizing threats, as every type of enemy has a single unique trigger phrase. This is a mechanic that shooters to this day still utilize, though rarely with does it impact gameplay like in Wolfenstein. And if nothing else, I found the German shouting to be silly fun.

In fact, I think the core essence of Wolfenstein 3D is silly fun. The game is still very polished from a gameplay perspective, though virtually all else is shock value. For $5, it is no brainer for classic shooter fans or gamers looking for a history lesson. I invested roughly 8 hours into the 50+ stages offered. I found the difficulty a bit lopsided, yet nothing that couldnít be conquered through standard trial and error. All things considered, Wolfenstein surprised me with how enjoyable it still is.


andrewtopointoh's avatar
Community review by andrewtopointoh (September 25, 2013)

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