Wolfenstein 3D shows its age in practically every way, but it is still a competent shooter that deserves more respect than it gets.

Retrowatch: Wolfenstein 3D – The Granddaddy of FPS’s

Wolfenstein 3D shows its age in practically every way, but it is still a competent shooter that deserves more respect than it gets.

Welcome to Retrowatch, a series where every Monday we take a look at a good game from years long past. It is time to pay some respect and give some love and appreciation to the games that have given us so much, yet are often forgotten or uncared for.

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In order for a game to be covered on Retrowatch it must be at least 15 years old and most of all, it has to be good. Any game that scores below a 7 out of 10 will not be covered.

Today we are going to take a look at the granddaddy (at least one of them) of the FPS genre, Wolfenstein 3D.

Wolfenstein 3D was developed by Id Software and published by Apogee Software. It released May 5th, 1992 for MS-DOS and was later ported to other platforms such as Classic Mac, SNES, Jaguar, 3DO, Linux and the Game Boy Advance. In later years it was ported to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 through their respective stores.

Wolfenstein 3D shows its age in every way from its level design to the arcade elements and primitive FPS gameplay. Despite this being the case, it is still a fun and competent shooter. While everyone — even those who don’t follow gaming — know of DOOM, it’s older brother Wolfenstein 3D really doesn’t get the fame nor respect it really deserves.

A mission to take down the Nazi regime

The player takes on the role of William “BJ” Blazkowicz (yes we know his name is funny) an American spy of Polish descent. The game follows his efforts to destroy the Nazi regime over a series of six episodes. Episodes one to three centre around attempting to end the war. The first titled “Escape from Castle Wolfenstein” where Blazkowicz must escape after being captured.

The second episode titled “Operation: Eisenfraust” follows BJ’s discovery and thwarting of the Nazi’s plans to create an army of Undead mutants. In the final episode titled “Die, Fuhrer, Die!” Blazkowicz infiltrates a bunker under Reichstag where he finally confronts Adolf Hitler himself.

Episodes four to six serve as a prequel to the plot of the first three. They are titled “The Nocturnal Missions” and deal with the Nazi’s plans for a chemical war.

Episode four is “The Dark Secret” and follows Blazkowicz’s pursuit through a weapons research facility of the scientist responsible for the weaponry. The fifth is titled “Trail of the Madman”, where Blazkowicz must find the maps and plans for the chemical war. In the sixth and final episode of the game, “Confrontation”, Blazkowicz must confront the general behind the chemical war and put a stop to his plans.

Like all of Id Software’s classic titles of the 90s, the plot to Wolfenstein 3D is as basic as it gets. It serves its purpose but it isn’t a game that is played for its plot but rather its gameplay. If you are looking for a title with a story you can get absorbed in, then Wolfenstein 3D may not be what you are looking for.

As basic and old-school as FPS games get

There is no denying the fact that Wolfenstein 3D’s gameplay is quite primitive, to say the least. So primitive in fact it some arcade elements crept into the design, something that is non-existent in all modern FPS games. Such elements include Lives and a Score system, both of which were removed from all future Id Software titles thereafter.

The lives become redundant however with the ability to Save your game at any given time. The score system functions just like it would in any arcade game, you must attempt to score as many points as you can to take a place on the high score board.

You increase your score by killing enemies, collecting treasure and receiving bonuses at the end of the level with 100% kills, treasures, secrets discovered and for finishing the level under the par time. While it may not be a feature that gamers would look to in an FPS game today, it serves its purpose and adds ever more reasons to seek out the many secrets hidden in the levels.

As for the general gameplay itself, it is as fast-paced and as old-school as it gets. There is no looking up or down, just left or right and it plays at quite a fast pace, though nothing to the comparison of Id’s later titles. There are four weapons of choice, the Combat Knife, Pistol, Machine Gun and the always pleasing Chaingun.

While the game’s arsenal is smaller and the speed slower than most, hearing the screams of dying Nazi’s as you mow them down is still as exhilarating it would have been in 1992. There is no doubt it is still a very competent shooter but what would put most gamers off playing it isn’t the shooting but rather the level design.

Prepare for some maze-like level design

Along with the arcade elements of Wolfenstein 3D, it is also the level design that shows its age. Like many games of the era it comes from, the levels tend to be quite maze-like and more than a few of the game’s 60 levels are purposely designed to be like it.

Even as someone who enjoys old games greatly, my patience began to run thin with the level design. With there being no in-game map, you are relying entirely on your own sense of direction and with the basic level design, it is easy to become disorientated and lost.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy the level design of Wolfenstein 3D there is still plenty of levels that are not filled with just twists and turns and are much easier to navigate. The levels would not be enjoyed by most modern gamers, but the most hardcore retro players and those looking for nothing but a nostalgia trip will find everything that they are looking for.

A skill level for all players

Despite Wolfenstein 3D being a game in its element on harder difficulties, it is a game that caters for all players of experience levels. With four difficulties to choose from, there is a level that would suit any gamer from the most casual and inexperienced to the most masochistic and hardcore of gamers.

As the difficulties increase, they offer more enemies in each level and tougher enemies appear at earlier stages of the game. They are also more accurate in higher difficulties and deal more damage, with point blank shots sometimes leading to instant death, even at near full health. It is a game that allows anyone of any experience level to pick it up easily and play if they are willing to give the game a chance.

A great game thwarted by design of its time

To say that Wolfenstein 3D is a terrible game, would be an insult. It is in fact, a great game but the design of its time doesn’t work well with what gamers have become accustomed to in the modern day. Is there still fun to be had in Wolfenstein 3D? Yes and plenty of it.

If you can look past its dated design and accept and appreciate the game for what it is, there is plenty of enjoyment to be had from killing the hundreds of Nazis you will be facing against throughout the games huge amount of levels.

But if it is a case of it being just too old for you, it is best to simply just respect it and appreciate what it has given us. Without Wolfenstein 3D we would probably have never gotten its younger and much more famed and flashier brothers, DOOM and Quake. Most of all, without it, we probably wouldn’t have an FPS genre.

I hope you have enjoyed the first edition of Retrowatch, and I hope you will join us next Monday, where we will be taking a look at another retro title.

Retrowatch: Wolfenstein 3D – The Granddaddy of FPS’s
Wolfenstein 3D shows its age in practically every way, but it is still a competent shooter that deserves more respect than it gets.

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Damien Smith
Playing video games for over 23 years, love to write and love everything video game related.