Return to Castle Wolfenstein

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Box art.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a first-person shooter developed by Gray Matter Interactive with oversight from id Software and published by Activision for Windows on 2001-11-19. The game uses the id Tech 3 engine and served to reboot the Wolfenstein series after a seven-year lull.

I remember seeing this game on store shelves shortly after it came out. Having been a big fan of Wolfenstein 3-D, I was interested in the new game, but I was confident my computer wouldn't be able to run it, and I probably didn't want to pay full price anyway. I didn't end up playing the game until about 17 years later when I got it in a Steam bundle with Wolfenstein 3-D and Spear of Destiny. Having played the earlier two games, but never bought them, I felt obligated to finally give some money to the developers.

Status

I own this game on Steam and first beat it on 2018-09-09.

Review

  • Overall: 5/10
  • Best Version: Windows

Good

  • The various period weapons are fun to use.
  • The cut-scenes and voice acting are pretty good.
  • I love the ability to peek around corners. Very helpful in stealth missions.
  • I like how enemies often give themselves away by making noise or talking, and how listening to them gives you ideas about what to do next.
  • There are a lot of good scripted encounters.
  • There is a nice variety of stealth missions and combat missions.
  • Enemy soldiers have pretty good AI. They take cover, seek alternate routes to sneak up on you, and even kick away grenades.
  • It's always a lot of fun to kill Nazis.

Bad

  • The story is interesting, and I'm okay with a adding fantasy elements to historical settings (e.g., Indiana Jones), but the character designs for Heinrich and the wizard who imprisons him are ridiculous. They look like they were stolen from a Blizzard game.
  • Like with many FPSes, you're bogged down with lots of weapons and ammo that you rarely use. This is especially annoying late in the game when the pistols and light machine guns are worthless.
  • Near the end of the game, it became less about having fun, and more about a saving and restoring every few seconds due to extremely difficult enemies.
  • Grenades aren't very useful. BJ can't throw them very far, enemies actively avoid them or kick them away, and they have a very small blast radius. To kill they have to be nearly touching an enemy when they explode.
  • Paratroopers are ridiculously strong. You can start firing sub-machine gun into their back, and they may still turn around and do 100 points of damage to you before you kill them.
  • The elite female guards have good AI and are quite formidable enemies, but their high-heeled tight black leather-clad outfits are juvenile. Likewise, the character model for Marianna Blavatsky, the women who summons Heinrich, is ridiculous.
  • The 3D models of people looked pretty awful, not just because of a low poly count, but also due to poor animation.
  • Enemy guards activate, or don't activate, under unusual circumstances. You can injure an inactive guard with a grenade, and they will remain inactive, but, if you get in their line of sight, even when obscured in the dark or behind obstacles, and they become active.
  • Saved games often fail to properly store the status of enemies. If you save a game with a guard inactive, activate the guard, the reload, the guard often remains active and will begin hunting you. I've also had several occasions where a saved game deletes a guard altogether so I don't have to kill them.
  • Occasionally when I was playing the game would start running super slowly after a reload for no noticeable reason. The only way I could get it back to normal speed was to quit and restart.
  • They weren't common at the time, so this is forgivable, but the game doesn't have very good support for widescreen displays, even the updated version.

Ugly

  • The menu system is poorly coded. The cursor hot-spot isn't at the tip of the arrow, you can't save over the current game until you first click off it and back on it, the mouse-click doesn't always take, and the save files are sorted by name rather than date, which requires you to have to resort every time you enter the menu. All of these problems are minor annoyances at first, but, over the several hours of playing the game, they become extremely frustrating.
  • There is an annoying bug that I encountered which prevented me from being able to load while in a mission. Even when I died, the game rarely reloaded from the last auto-save, it would just fade to black and stay that way. The only way I could load a game was to quit to the main menu and then load from there.This bug started somewhere in the second episode, and continued until the end of the game.

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