Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Ex the Axis
Antique Code Show As a nipper during the 1970s and early 80s, there can't be a war movie I haven't seen, either at the cinema or on telly on a rain Sunday afternoon. You can surely say the same of Grey Matter Interactive, because its Return to Castle Wolfenstein lets you play pretty much every famous war film scene.
Not that this is a dull combat simulation of the kind that were just becoming popular around that time of its release.
Stick it to 'em
Both Medal of Honour was just then tapping into that turn-of-the-century Saving Private Ryan zeitgeist and brief revival of the World War II movie to deliver straight down the line go-to-war games - as would Grey Matters' next game, Call of Duty.
Fortunately, for those of us keener on Spielberg's other, less xenophobic and more fantasicl work, Raiders of the Lost Ark, there was no choice: RTCW was the game for us.
Dam and blast
Yes, you get to shoot, stab or electrocute human Nazis, either in all-out firefights or sneak-into-the-base stealth missions, but there are demons and fire-flinging skeletons too, not to mention bizarre wunderwaffe monstrosities, bio-mechanical fusions flung together in secret science bases and SS castles.
Released in 2001, nine years after iD Software's Wolfenstein 3D - itself inspired by the 1981 Muse release for the Apple II, Castle Wolfenstein - RTCW wasn't so much a sequel as a remake, this time with a full 3D engine and - yes - a plot.
Putting Das Boot in
Once again, you're BJ Blazkowicz, and you start out a prisoner of the Nazis, locked in the titular castle's dungeon with nothing but a knife to your name. Luger pistols, Schmeisser machine pistols, multi-barrel Venom guns and Panzerfaust anti-tank weaponry come to he who fights for them, and soon you're shooting down W3D's hierarchy of enemy soldiers with a similar line-up of kit, all the while looking for secret caches of looted gold.
No sex please - I'm working for the British
And then RTCW blows open the scenario and takes you on a journey that has you descending a cable car (Where Eagles Dare) sneaking through alpine villages to battle subterranean killer fire zombies and undead knights, fighting through wrecked urban killing grounds (Stalingrad); sneaking into rocket bases (Operation Crossbow, Guns of Navarone), submarine pens (Das Boot), barbed-wired shrouded forest camps (The Great Escape, kind of), flying-wing launch sites (Raiders of the Lost Ark) and archaeological digs (ditto); trekking through snowy northern wastes (Heroes of the Telemark); crossing spotlight lit dams (Force 10 from Navarone).
'For you, ze var is over'
About the only war movie clichés you don't do is make a parachute jump - but it's there in a cut-scene - and fly a DeHavilland Mosquito.
The ice have it
The upshot is a game with a variety of mission types that take you well beyond the 'enter room, blast everything within' gameplay of its predecessor. There are W3D-style caches of hidden treasure, but not too many should you tire of hitting every picture of Hitler and Nazi flag on the off-chance there's a switch hidden behind.
This being the 21st Century and a long way from the realities of WWII, RTCW sexed up the Second World War with a coven of leather-clad lady warriors to combat, a Nazi black magician who summons demons in her undies, and some rather cute - watch 'em tap their 'feet' when they can't figure out where you've gone - electro-organic Nazi-made monsters, the Lopers.
I am a Loper. I lope.
And there's the inevitable occult angle, a firm favourite of (long post-war) WWII fiction - Mike Mignola's first Hellboy book came out in the mid-1990s, a key influence, I'd say - with a quest to resurrect an ancient, magical Teutonic warrior neatly bookending the more science fictional stuff.
The regular axis troops got an upgrade too, with flamethrower-equipped fighters, snipers - another nod to Saving Private Ryan, as is the level in which you protect a slow-moving Sherman tank from Panzerfaust-wielding soldiers - and elite parachute squad, the latter showing just how far AI had come along in the years since the original game.
Tanks for the memory
No more ducking your head through a door, cocking a snook and waiting for the newly awoken but still dozy enemy to come running straigt into your gun sight. These guys had learned to wait for you. The secret? Shoot 'em while they're still coming in to land.
Unlike its predecessor, RTCW didn't go big on boss levels, throwing in just three into its 26 levels, the finale pitching you against Heinrich, a Dark Age dark knight resurrected by the SS to wage demonic war against the allies.
The Elite Guard will stiffen your resolve. Or something
But it's the NPCs that make this game. There's a nice line of jarhead black-humour running through RTCW, with soldiers complaining about work details and expressing their fear that the higher powers have left them up the proverbial without a panzerfaust. It doesn't always work, but at least it lifts them a little above the canon fodder cliché. It's a shame you have to kill them all, really. But war is hell...
RTCW was coded on top of iD's Quake III engine. A Mac port followed in 2002, as did a version for Linux. It's still available on Steam and, following the release of the source code in 2012, various free ports have popped up, though you'll need an original disc for the maps files, graphics and such.
Developer Grey Matter
Release Date November 2001
Platforms PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox, PS2
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