Saturday, July 11, 2009

Wolfenstein 3-D

In the early 1990s, a small team of game developers found themselves faced with a conundrum. They had developed a method of displaying environments such that the player appeared to be in a fully three dimensional area, seeing things from a first-person perspective. And they wanted the player to be able to go around shooting people. Their dilemma was this: How can we make a game that revolves around realistically shooting people dead while not offending the world?

Title screen.The answer? Make the people you are shooting Nazi soldiers, and the player an American Jewish prisoner of war. Who could complain? The result was Wolfenstein 3-D, a game banned in Germany not because they were offended by its bloody content, but because they were embarrassed by the concept of a Nazi prison complete with swastika banners and portraits of Hitler. Fantastic.

The game is divided into six episodes of ten levels each, though one out of each ten is an optional bonus stage. When the game opens, you are inside your prison cell in presumably the basement of Castle Wolfenstein, having just wrested a knife from the guard and killed him with it. You then take his pistol as well, and begin your escape up the floors of the castle to daylight.

Last Crusade.You'll find quickly that the Nazis are a sloppy bunch of people, who tend to leave things strewn about in any old place. Baskets of dog treats, tv dinners, first aid kits, pistol clips, hoards of name it. There seems to be zero accountability within the Nazi ranks for cleanliness concerns. Conveniently, the food and ammunition happen to help you out on your quest to escape. So much for German efficiency.

The guards themselves generally consist of vicious attack dogs, run-of-the-mill infantry, SS officers, and military officers. They're all over the place, really. The castle has hundreds of guards, and as far as I can tell, you are the only prisoner. What are they all doing with their time?

Stabbity.The game has four weapons - the aforementioned knife and pistol, machine guns that SS officers carry, and a powerful chaingun. Each bigger gun is a direct upgrade to the one before it, but the knife actually retains some usefulness throughout; if you incessantly stab at an enemy, they will be too busy wincing to shoot at you. And then they'll die. It's barbarous, yes, but guess what? They're Nazis. See how well that works?

After nine or ten floors of murdering and pillaging, only one enemy stands in your way. And he just happens to be 8 feet tall, 600 pounds, and able to wield a massive chaingun in each hand. But killing him yields your freedom, and it's not long before the Allies send you on a new mission to go eliminate a Nazi-engineered plague.

Steroids are dangerous.The evil genius behind the plague is this dude, Doctor von Badguy or something. He's holed himself up in another big fortress where he infects people with his zombie plague and manufactures enormous throwing syringes filled with poisonous doom. But mainly infects people with his zombie plague.

The thinking must have been that if the Nazi army could be bolstered by unstoppable zombie legions, the Allies would be forced to surrender. This was, of course, a terrible plan. One should never try to engineer the zombie apocalypse. It's inevitable enough as is without giving it a little nudge, you know?

Nazombie.So you naturally have to fight through a bunch of these Nazombies on your way to kill the schmuck. They're actually pretty frightening. All the living enemies make some sort of noise when they become aware of your presence. I still wake up in a cold sweat some nights thinking I heard someone shout "SPIEN!" before shooting me. Even the dogs bark, at least. But these guys are silent killers. Killers with guns. Coming out of their chests. Which are fired by raising their arms in alternation. With quite a bit of speed and enthusiasm. It's not pleasant, and so Doctor von Badguy must perish.

Finally, after completing that mission, you are sent to assassinate Adolf Hitler himself. Again, he is hiding in a fortress, so you have to navigate to the top floor. Naturally it's the most heavily guarded one yet, but the really strange part is when you get to the top.

You'll find the standard guards and such, but you will also see Hitler in a black cult robe, literally floating around the area. His chest will spontaneously generate balls of fire that shoot at you. Huh? You kill him, which doesn't take long, and the robe falls empty to the ground all Obi-Wan Kenobi style, and you hear this echoing laugh throughout the halls. Since when was Adolf Hitler a voodoo priest? You encounter this several more times, occasionally even seeing two of them at once. What is going on?

Adolf.It's therefore a bit of a relief when you finally get to the large room containing the madman himself. Although it's pretty unhelpful of him to be riding around in a large suit of battle armor. And even when the armor is destroyed, he jumps out with two chainguns that were evidently in his hands the entire time. How were you operating that suit again?

But it's worth it to finally lay that last bullet into him. The game even hilariously gives you a "Kill Cam" and shows you the grisly death on instant replay, complete with Hitler wistfully saying "Auf Wiedersehen." Wonderful.

All that said, the game actually continues with three prequel episodes which are harder, but extremely anticlimactic. They don't offer anything new in terms of gameplay from the previous ones either, which is a shortcoming and makes the game feel like it drags on a bit. The game is enjoyable, but can get tedious quickly. Hunting around for keys is a pain, and the level variety leaves something to be desired. It's definitely worth playing through the first three episodes however, and for those this game gets a positive score overall.

Bottom Line: 13/20

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