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Developer:
Gray Matter Studios / Nerve Software
Publisher: Activision
Platform: PC
Release Date: November 20, 2001

by Nimish Dubey




Those of us who were into gaming in the early 1990s will remember Wolfenstein 3D with a great deal of affection. Very similar to Doom (hardly surprising, given that both games came from the stable of Id), the game revolved around gunning down Nazis as one made one’s escape from, you guessed it, Castle Wolfenstein. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a modern version of the game, bolstered by stunning graphics and with some excellent sound effects. And praise the Lord, it is as addictive as ever.


The World War, particularly the second one, has provided rich pickings for game developers. Almost every key battle in the conflict has been a gaming version – Battlefield 1942, Medal of Honor, Day of Defeat... it is a pretty impressive list. There are, however, a few games that have used the settings of the World War, but have added an element of fantasy to the proceedings.


Picture this, if you will... It’s the Second World War and the tide is turning against the Germans. In sheer desperation, the Nazis explore every possible option in an attempt to develop a weapon that will tip the scales in their favour. History tells us that they attempted to develop a nuclear weapon and tried many versions of long-range missiles, before finally running out of resources and time.


Return to Castle Wolfenstein adds a new weapon to the list – a hidden evil that would have been well-nigh unstoppable had it been unleashed.


But more of that later. The game comes on a single CD. It installed with no problems whatsoever on my PC (AMD Athlon 64 2800+, 512 MB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 5200 FX 128 MB, Windows XP) and did not request a restart. It played without a hitch.


The game gets under way with an introductory cinematic that seems to be right out of Blizzard territory. Swords flash, spells are cast, and boulders fall as a mysterious figure walks away after evidently burying someone alive in A.D. 1043. Fast forward nine hundred years, and amidst the sounds of digging, a hand removes some dust off a rock and then exclaims: “Return to Castle Wolfenstein! Inform Herr Himmler! We have found him!” I have seen quite a few cinematics in my time and I must confess that this is one of the better ones, although not really as good as the one in Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction!


You start the game in the socks of US Army Ranger BJ Blascowitz. The year is 1943, and you and a colleague have been sent to Castle Wolfenstein to get information (in less polite terms “spy”) on a new project that the Germans seem to be working on. Not too much is known, except that a number of strange rituals are taking place in the area and that the Germans seem to have developed a sudden appetite for the occult. Needless to say, the military are not too impressed by this, but your boss and his Clark Kent look-alike secretary think it merits a look, so it’s off to Wolfenstein for you. The trip gets off to the worst possible start with both you and your colleague getting captured. Your colleague is tortured to death and you... well, you have to find, or rather “fight”, your way to freedom.


Needless to say, that is easier said than done, with dozens of Germans trying to mow you down. As you fight your way out, you discover more about the SS’s dabblings with the occult and a sally down into the crypts near the local village sees the undead added to your enemies. And if you think that makes life tough, bear with me, you will come across mutant crawlers as well as Super Soldiers specially developed by German scientists – the latter electrocute people, launch missiles and fire guns, all under some pretty impressive armour. You have to vanquish all before finally confronting the ancient evil that has arisen again.


Activision has a reputation of building good games out of relatively inane plots, and Return to Castle Wolfenstein sees them live up to it. The plot has more holes than Swiss cheese. For instance, why on earth did the Allied Forces have to send their armies to battle the Germans when Agent Blascowitz was around? He takes out a few hundred soldiers and a few Super Soldiers as well. They could have just plonked him down in Normandy and he would have cleared the beaches single-handedly. Then, one might also ask why the Germans reserved the Super Soldiers solely for Agent Blascowitz – surely they would have been a handful on the battlefield. The cut scenes attempt to build a semblance of a story, but fall flat.


But the game itself doesn’t! The sheer intensity of the action makes you forget the weakness of the plot as you concentrate on surviving wave after wave of enemy attacks. There is not much room for stealth here – if you see the opposition, shoot on sight. There are hardly any puzzles to solve either. The game is pretty direct and linear -- you get a mission, get weapons, pick up ammo, and shoot your way through. Gameplay is simple – most of the commands come from the keyboard and if you are an FPS follower, you will be familiar with most of them.


The graphics are pretty stunning (the Quake III engine, I believe) with a number of locales – crypts, snow-laden territory, battle-scarred towns, farms – all depicted with more than a touch of realism. My personal favourite, however, was the Castle itself, with its winding staircases and huge halls. There’s a ride from the Castle to the town in a tram though snow-covered mountains that is particularly spectacular!


And if the graphics are good, the sound effects are brilliant. You cannot help but shiver as you walk down corridors, hearing the sounds of the undead massacring their victims somewhere in the fog. Another spine chiller is the tic-tic sound that legless mutants (called ‘lopers’) make as they move around. Most of the time you can hear the opposition, and given their numbers and strength, it is not comforting. Mind you, I still have not been able to figure out why all the Germans in the game converse in English, apart from the occasional “Achtung” and “Jawohl”!


The AI is rather decent as well, although not in the league of Half-Life. Most enemies try to head for cover instead of charging head on. Some of the undead warriors even advance cautiously crouched behind their shields, occasionally even giving you a taste of your own bullets, courtesy ricochets! The elite female German troops are particularly adept at moving rapidly and dodging gunfire, although why they do somersaults and wear low-cut clothes and high heels is beyond my understanding.


All in all, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a constant reminder to us of Napoleon's famous maxim – “It is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.” The game manages its share of both in a riot of action. Its logic is far from flawless, but that does not prevent it from entertaining. In India we have a saying about commercial films: “Leave your brain outside, don’t make judgements, and just enjoy yourself.”


The same goes for Return to Castle Wolfenstein.


Score: 75%


Minimum System Requirements:
PII 400
128MB RAM
16MB 3D accelerated video card
800MB hard disk space
4x CD-ROM




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