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Wolfenstein 3D (PC) artwork

Wolfenstein 3D (PC) review

"We fire! *poot* Fire! *poot* Right in Der Fuehrur's face!"

There were two thoughts running through my head when I first checked out Wolfenstein 3D. One was, “Whoa! I'm shooting from my own point of view! What is this wonderful genre and where can I get more!?” The other was, “Haha, I'm killing Nazis.” It was cathartic. Nazis have always been a easy punching bag for entertainment, so it was no surprise to see them here getting blasted to bloody piles while looking through the eyes of the protagonist. It's hard to describe to people just how sublime the game was once upon a time because nowadays it seems so quaint...

I mean, really, if you played an action game with a lot of shooting way back, it usually came in 2D run 'n gun form similar to Contra or Metal Slug. First-person games existed, but usually as point-and-click or graphic adventures or turn-based RPGs. You didn't find many that functioned in real time where you could snuff out enemies while looking down the barrel of gun, so finally playing something like that, even in the form of a colorful, pixelated romp with simple environments like Wolfenstein, felt like you were living in the future.

The game isn't as complex as the shooters you see now, or even the ones that came not long after it. Here, you begin your mission in a Nazi compound, clutching a handgun. A dead soldier sits in a pool of blood before you, with a closed door behind him. That sums up the entire campaign, really. You mosey about the labyrinthine fortress composed of blue bricks, gray floors, and green doors, gunning down fascists and hunting for treasure to up your score. Yeah, there's slightly more to the story, like searching for keys to unlock certain doorways, but that's all par for the course...

Score, you say? Yeah, it's a thing here; a vestige from simpler times. It does nothing beyond make you look cool to exactly three people worldwide, so you can safely ignore it.

Honestly, there's not much more to the experience than what I described. You open doors and tread carefully, taking out troops clad in different colors and the occasional attack dog. Eventually, you locate automatic weaponry, including a chaingun, that take out the opposition more quickly. That's good, because your foes eventually graduate from brown-clad weaklings to white-wearing professionals and blue-donning pricks who can strip off your health quickly.

The key is knowing which weapons to use and when because they all share the same ammunition. If you constantly use the chaingun, you're going to run out of bullets quickly. Also, that arm is overkill when working with low-level foes, as an ammo-conserving handgun will do the trick in those situations.

Thankfully, each stage provides enough medkits to keep you alive, plus secret locations hidden behind walls that are filled with all kinds of goodies, from trinkets to munitions to health restoration. By the tenth stage, you engage in a boss encounter against a huge, stereotypical German man in power armor clutching dual guns. Unlike modern FPS titles, you don't see his projectiles coming at you, so you can't dodge them so easily. All you see is his guns' reports while you lose health. Perseverance is key to winning this fight, as well as not holding still and unloading everything you have in your chaingun. Oh, and using corners in corridors to your advantage.

Well, that and save scumming. This one allows you to save and load your progress any time, so you can effectively go through the whole campaign without losing any hit points [wink, wink].

What happens from there? You enter the next “episode,” which consists of another ten levels and start the process over again. The game's challenge factor only ramps up so much and is partly dictated by the difficulty setting you choose at the beginning of the foray, where the game notoriously/hilariously insults you by calling its easiest setting “Can I Play, Daddy?”

Yeah, sometimes color palettes change a little, and levels feature additional troops placed in trickier locations than before, often behind corners or environmental fixtures to surprise you, but really, the experience proves samey from start to finish. More than anything, this setup gives Wolfenstein its dated feel. Yeah, its visuals definitely remain antiquated, but given how many indie games nowadays utilize retro graphics, it's hard to pick that point apart. It's gotten so that “retro” visual style isn't even retro anymore; it's just a different graphical scheme. So while I could slate this title for looking old fashion, that point isn't its undoing.

Even back when this game was more relevant, I struggled to get all the way through it because every level played more or less the same. The lack of variety was easier for many folks to overlook back then because holy crap, I'm playing an action game in first person! Now, it's more noticeable than ever.

That said, Wolfenstein still provides some cheap thrills in the form of unbridled and bloody violence committed against Nazis. So if you're aching for some catharsis and you just want to gun down some of Hilter's finest (and eventually Hitler himself), this game is definitely for you. Granted, you may want to take this outing in bite-size portions rather than powering through the whole thing as a project, because as I stated before, it gets very repetitive before long.

While Wolfenstein 3D may not have aged entirely well, it's still a fine WWII-inspired trip that can kill an hour or so, but only in small doses. It's aged so much by now that it's difficult to sit through, especially after playing even slightly more advanced offerings like Doom and Heretic, and never mind modern shooters such as Call of Duty or Borderlands. This one goes down as a great granddaddy among FPS, one to be revered and cherished for its contribution, but not one to be treated as if it's still relevant or fresh.

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (May 03, 2024)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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JoeTheDestroyer posted May 03, 2024:

Doh! I didn't want to do this as a staff review. Sorry, Marc. Sorry, everyone.
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overdrive posted May 07, 2024:

Ah, for a long time, I had just put all my stuff as staff and one day, Jason said there should be only one staff, so I stopped. But still probably have a few dozen, if not more, staff reviews that were the second or third of those. So no biggie. At least I never took it as such!

Good review. After playing the "meh" SNES port of this game, the main thing that struck me was how repetitive the game was, where the only really thrilling levels were the boss ones, as you just might release a boss into a level still filled with regular soldiers if you went through the wrong door at the wrong time. But other than that, it just droned on and on. But, since it was the SNES port and that system totally botched Doom, I never was sure if it was just really chopped down and butchered. And now I know that it might have been inferior, but it was at least true to the original.
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Masters posted May 13, 2024:

No apology needed--nice review!

Man, there's 21 years between yours and mine. We're all getting so old.

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