“Mein Leben!” As I hear these words again after so many years, a warm feeling floods into my stomach. Ah, Wolfenstein 3D, I’ve missed you.
For the younger generations who are not familiar with this classic, Wolfenstein 3D is regarded as one of, if not the, first ‘first person shooter’ in 3D. Released in 1992 by id Software, the player takes the role of American soldier William “B.J” Blazkowicz as he escapes from the infamous Castle Wolfenstein. B.J goes on to stop a Nazi plot to create super mutants and eventually confronts Hitler himself (who is half cyborg).
…created as much controversy as any current modern day shooter…
It is refreshing to see a shooter that doesn’t take itself too seriously (unlike some current blockbuster shooters (*Cough* Battlefield 3 *Cough*). Enemies range from standard guards and SS soldiers to mutants, apparitions of Hitler and even Pac Man ghosts. Yet while it is all very light hearted, back in the day Wolfenstein 3D created as much controversy as any current modern day shooter (*Cough* Modern Warfare 2 *Cough*). The game was banned in Germany for its depictions of Hitler and its many references to the Nazi regime. Every level is lined with portraits of the dictator while some levels are made up entirely of conjoined Swastikas.
Despite this, Wolfenstein 3D went on to be a huge success being ported to the Super NES, Atari Jaguar, Mac OS, Apple II’s, Game Boy Advance and more recently the Xbox Live Arcade, Playstation Network, Steam and both the Android and iPhone. While some ports removed the offensive material, the list is an impressive one that shows Wolfenstein 3D is a game that people want to play.
…a great game packed full of ideas…
And play they should, because behind the controversy lies a great game packed full of ideas that have become stable mechanics for first person shooters. A knife as a primary weapon, food that increases your health, 3 different guns and dozens of hidden rooms overloaded with valuable treasure; these are just a few of the ideas Wolfenstein 3D helped to evolve in the genre. Not only that, it created the way in which we move in first person shooters. While the player can look and move with the mouse, which is surprisingly easy, they also have the option of using the WASD keys for moving and turning. While the game no doubt borrowed a lot of inspiration from other genres, it managed to put so many good ideas into one package that it felt new and exciting.
When played today, the game holds up well. The gameplay is fast and tense, with a well thought out learning curve making sure you feel powerful when you need to and scared shitless when it wants you to. The music and sound effects are humorous and strangely charming at times. However, level layouts are vast and tiresome, with most rooms looking exactly the same and it can easily deter a new player. Graphically, it is hard to criticize a game that created its own genre. While obviously its presentation doesn’t match today’s expectations, its 2D pixel style can become quite captivating with some hilarious enemy designs and an almost archetypal depiction of treasure and power ups.
Make no mistake, compared to modern day first person shooters Wolfenstein 3D will seem very basic indeed. This game will not draw you in with an extensive list of features or keep you playing for hours and hours with online mayhem (this is before multiplayer games). Nor will it wow you with grandiose set pieces or bring you to tears with well thought out characters and a deep plot. But this is the game that created those games, this is the grouchy, slightly racist granddad of the modern shooter, and should be appreciated as such.
Image courtesy of Wolfenstein 3D