Wednesday, January 7, 2015

VGR Return to Castle Wolfenstein

In the first Wolfenstein, the Nazis were able to create mechas in the 1940s. In this new game, they resurrected the dead and created monsters to defeat the Allies!
Hell awaits your soul, will you dare face more id Software reviews through the following links?

VGR: Return to Castle Wolfenstein also known as simply RtCW
From Gray Matter Interactive/Nerve Software (Multiplayer)/Splash Damage/id Software/Activision
Played on PC
Also available on Mac, Xbox & PS2

Type Scifi FPS
Year 2001

Part of gaming history, Wolfenstein 3D launched an era of first person shooter games! It was only appropriate to have the series back when things evolved well beyond the simple stage-based maze "run and gun" games.

But Return to Castle Wolfenstein was only a "return" in terms of the ip. The game was actually meant to be a complete reboot of the story, but only on the loose sense of the term since it doesn't follow the original story of Wolf3D, neither the same general settings. There's not even any acknowledgment if Hitler's even dead or alive during the settings of this game.

This reboot is not just a retelling of the original Wolfenstein 3D, featuring an all-new story, new places and new enemies. There's a big singleplayer campaign and a distinct team-based multiplayer mode, none secondary thanks to the two different teams working on both. 

This episode was not developed by id itself, instead it was developed by Gray Matter Interactive and Nerve Software (with Nerve only in charge of its multiplayer mode), with id Software's team only overseeing the production of the game and credited as executive producers this time. The reason was that the core team of id was actually actively working on what would become Doom 3 and id's brand new engine, the "id Tech 4".

But the Quake III engine, id Tech 3, was more than enough for what they wanted to implement in this new Wolfenstein. This appropriately titled "return" would allow Wolfenstein to finally feature proper castles, halls and walkways, fully rendered in 3D for the first time in the series. If Valve's Half-Life did one thing for the genre was immersing the player actively in the plot of the game via the use of scripted events and the use of in-game story and dialogues. Gray Matter had heavily modified the engine to be able to match the same features. Which didn't come easy, since those new features were meant to only be added in the id Tech 4 engine, the proper successor that would finally allow more cinematic and modern presentations to id's engine.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein has an heavy focus on story, which brings a change of pace from the classic Wolfenstein 3D. The settings would now be varied enough as you progress through the game. The game uses a mission-system, giving you a set of objectives to perform during the game. It also kind of lets you play out missions as you want to. Avoiding linearity as much as possible, the game still retains the signature huge places to explore, only now it forces you to be even more careful while moving around, even having to backtrack some times.

Our story opens with Wolfenstein's (slightly redesigned) protagonist, William "B.J." Blazkowicz. Our hero is an Allied agent working for the fictional "Office of Secret Actions" (OSA). There have been are rumors of Heinrich Himmler founding entire paranormal projects for the Nazis. Two agents are sent to Nazi-occupied Germany to investigate, Blazkowicz is one of them.

B.J. Blazkowicz is captured, they end up in the eponymous Castle Wolfenstein. The other agent dies during the interrogation, but BJ is able to finally escape the dungeons.

At first the role is only to escape Castle Wolfenstein. Once out of there, the game takes a mission-based system. BJ will report back to his superiors every now and then, to see the progression of the story. The objective then becomes investigate what the Nazis are working on actually.

BJ faces the entire SS Paranormal Division. He finds them excavating tombs all over the place. Himmler is trying to find the grave of the Saxon warlord Heinrich I to bring him back to life to lead a new Reich to glory!! They've awaken these old mummified knights, but can't control them just yet.

Following an old journal, it takes BJ from these excavation sites to Norway, and back.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein also introduces the series' new main antagonist, Wilhelm Strasse, aka "Deathshead". The new head researcher of this paranormal "Special Projects" Division. He is responsible for "Operation Resurrection", they're trying to reanimate the corpses of dead soldiers by using biomechanic weapons! Strasse's the man behind these new Übersoldaten - prototype super soldiers.

With Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the series proves it still got it!

Wolfenstein was brought back with some style! 'gotta love the steampunk-ysh elements of this game.

It's a fairly standard FPS. With lots of elements inspired by fiction and classic movies, and even some actual shady old stories (the whole paranormal Nazi division..). It gives the game a great adventure film feeling.

Like the original, there's lots of fun time-appropriate weapons like these old submachine guns and rifles but also a couple of more fun options like the flamethrower and dynamites.

The campaign is fairly long. There's some decent variety of foes you face from the simple human soldiers carrying all kinds of weapons to the undead monsters and creatures. My only complaint on that regards is that there aren't that many bosses overall. All sorts of SS soldiers, troopers and the dangerous Übersoldaten!

By then the engine was kinda starting to look a bit dated, but they were still able to push it to its limits. They were able to make everything look specially nice. Like the use of lightning to create the mood here and there. If anything, the real problem was the lack of flexibility regarding new features at the time.

It was most visible in the little details, since it was specially designed with multiplayer in mind (with Quake 3 for example). It could not support tons of animation, to keep things smooth online. It's only really visible on your weapons, which always feel a bit rigid (there's no movements or complicated animation). Kinda reminiscent of the old classic Wolfenstein, involuntary. It can be a bit distracting if you notice it.

And just like the original, the game was surrounded by all sorts of controversies at the time. With the most important one regarding the release of the game in Germany. That edition was completely edited to no have any direct mention of both Nazis and the Third Reich (in the game, it's actually a Fourth Reich of sort they're trying to bring up). And the Nazi Party had to be changed for the "Wolves" instead, with all swastikas edited out and replaced by the RtCW logo (which actually works in the game favor if you ask me). But if you were from anywhere else, like me, the game remained mostly unchanged.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein features a great fantastic orchestral score, perfectly suited for this epic tale. Composed by Bill Brown. The score also makes use of a couple of musical pieces, such as the "Moonlight sonata" and "Für Elise", used during the story campaign.

The multiplayer was really solid for the time, and the basis for most online multiplayer-based competitive shooters nowadays, which continue to inspired titles to this day. It made use of different classes having to work together to win, following a different set of main and secondary objectives. You played Allies versus Axis, each side comprised of lieutenants, medics, soldiers, etc. The game came already packaged with several maps, with more added as time went on. The most famous and fan-favorite one being a great recreation of Omaha Beach.

The multiplayer became huge and was responsible for giving the game a second life of its own. On such a scale it was eventually given an entire standalone multiplayer spinoff. A downloadable multiplayer game pseudo-sequel called Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Enemy Terriroty went on becoming one of the most popular online multiplayer "free downloadable" games out there.

Overall, a Recommended and pretty fun new iteration Wolfenstein that not only managed to live up the hype but also surprise. If it didn't bring a lot of new elements to the genre, at least it was a perfectly fine, fun and decent FPS. A worthy successor of the original which brought the series up to speed, with a plot captivating enough that helped make it stand out from all those other "War shooters" out there.

This long-awaited reimagining offered a new experience that dared evolve the series and which has since become the staple and basis for all new Wolfenstein games ever since.

The game was received by a huge positive reception at the time, thanks to its big multiplayer element. Well-crafted, polished and original.

Thanks to the huge success of the game, it renewed people's interest in the franchise. And a Wolfenstein film was supposedly in production in Hollywood around 2002, with Rob Cohen (xXx) set to direct it. But there's not been a lot of news since then. If you ask me, form the looks of the Doom film, we might be better off if it's never made...

Following the original PC release, a Mac and Linux port was released in 2002, ported by Aspyr Media a Timothee Besset respectively. In 2003, the game was adapted for PS2 and Xbox consoles. The PS2 port was titled "Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection" and the Xbox one "Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War". This new release retitled the original campaign "Operation Resurrection" and saw the addition of a new single player chapter, a prequel mission set in Egypt called "Prologue: Cursed Sands" (more on that bit below). The PS2 also added the ability to purchase new items in between levels if you found secrets to trade for it, while the Xbox awarded a  bonus if all secrets were found in each level. The Xbox version also added a couple of new items, weapons and enemies and an exclusive 2-player co-op mode (as the other protagonist that usually died early on, "Agent One").

Fun fact: most versions of RtCW came packaged with the original Wolfenstein 3D, even the consoles ports once the main campaign is completed it unlocks Wolf3D.

After almost an entire decade, Wolfenstein was back. Never too far from the general audience's mind, a sequel would follow after a hiatus of almost another decade. The multiplayer spinoff Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory didn't offer a single player element, it was originally planned but not completed on time and ended up completely scrapped altogether. Enemy Territory was released as a free standalone game and went on to become its own sub-series, with a sequel of its own in 2007, "Enemy Territory: Quake Wars" - this time instead set in the Quake universe. A proper follow-up titled Wolfenstein (2009) was released in 2009, developed by Raven Software and id Software this time. But that is a story for another time...

I give it:
2 / 3 Quacks!

VGR: Prologue: Cursed Sands part of Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection and Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War
By Raster Productions/Aspyr Media/Activision
Type Port/Expansion
Year 2003

This prologue mission, "Cursed Sands", is an added mission that only appears in the PS2 port of Return to Castle Wolfenstein titled "Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection" and the Xbox one "Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War".

It's a fairly short "expansion" of the original game, only adding these 7 segments that comprises this new mission before the actual game. 

It takes place in these sort of streets, undergrounds and burial site and sees the addition of a few new Egyptian-themed undead creatures.

The story sees B.J. and Agent One prior to their capture in Germany. In a mission taking place in North Africa, in the town of Ras el-Hadid in Egypt. They're sent to a secret archaeological dig site where they find the SS Paranormal Division after ancient tablets...

Overall: It's not particularly fun. Or memorable. There's hordes of annoying foes right from the start (ditching the more cinematic approach of the main game - forcing you through it before the actual game).

The idea was fun, I guess. But if you're familiar with the main game, chances are this will be a bother more than anything else really.

This prologue is pretty forgettable when it's all said and done, it doesn't really add anything to the game to be honest (it almost detracts from the actual experience in the later game since you can't skip it nor select the original game from the go).

Also one of my main issues with it is that it shows paranormal forces way too early...

I give this one a: 1.5 / 3 Score! 

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