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Platform

PC

 

Genre

Shooter

 

Publisher

Activision

 

Developer

Grey Matter

 

ESRB

M (Mature)

 

Released

Q4 2001

 

 

- Strong combination of story and action retains attention span
- Great looking graphics
- Team-oriented multiplayer

 

 

- Pushes lower-end systems to the ultimate limit
- Some frustratingly hard single player levels
- Can't drive all those vehicles parked throughout the levels

 

 

Review: Unreal Tournament 2003 (PC)

Review: Die Hard: Nakatomi Plaza (PC)

 

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Return To Castle Wolfenstein

Score: 9.3 / 10

The First-Person Shooter genre hit the gaming scene full-force with the introduction of Castle Wolfenstein 3-D in 1992 from then little known software developers id, which started what can only be described as a gaming revolution. Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem 3-D, Goldeneye, Unreal, Half-Life, Max Payne, Serious Sam, Halo and every other FPS game good and bad from then until now owe their existence to id's first shooter.

 

RtCW_1.jpg (15839 bytes)          RtCW_2.jpg (27181 bytes)

 

Now, a decade later, are you finally ready for a howling return to the castle that started it all? The genre come full circle with the long-awaited sequel to CW3-D, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The extensive wait was worth it, because the game surpasses the high expectations of gamers who have been waiting for another Nazi neutralizing adventure.

Although id, the creators of the original Wolfenstein, Doom and Quake series didn't directly develop the game this time around, they gave Gray Matter huge amounts of much-appreciated development tips and help. The quality touch of the FPS master development house id shines through in the dark world of RTCW. The level and character design is what you would expect from an id-developed game.

 

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What RTCW has that earlier id-developed FPS games were missing is a decent storyline, which play out like some type of Indiana Jones/X-File hybrid. Most recent FPS games have given gamers want an involved story to shoot their way through, at least on the single-player side of the game. Look no further than Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Half-Life, Max Payne, and Halo as examples of that. You don't need a complex story to make a quality FPS, but it certainly doesn't hurt.

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The plot of the game has you in control of the American hero William J. "B.J." Blazkowicz in 1943 Germany. As a part of the Office of Secret Actions, you must infiltrate the Third Reich and first uncover and then single-handedly destroy the Nazi plot under the control of Heinrich Himmler to use sinister supernatural forces to raise the dead and create virtually indestructible super-soldiers.

Also present in RTCW is above-average voice acting. I was really surprised and pleased to hear the quality of cut-scene voice acting throughout the game, considering that we're talking about a FPS title. It maintains a first-rate performance throughout, high above most of the cheesy B-movie voice acting that is the norm in most PC and video games.

With the visuals of the Quake III Arena engine powering it, RTCW has a great lineage to draw from. The greatest aspect of RTCW's presentation is its strong graphical elements, at least if you have a PC powerful enough to let you set the graphics at the highest setting. The high benchmark of system requirements really pushes a lower to mid-range PC to its utmost capabilities. On a 667 MHz machine with 128 MB RAM, I had to set all the options to their lowest levels to attain a comfortable, functional playing atmosphere. But if you have oh, lets say a 1GHz+ system with 256K RAM, you are in for an eye-pleasing treat with what is one of the five best-looking PC games of the year. Even with a lower-end system, the graphics are really enjoyable throughout the game's environment. I wasn't at all disappointed with the level of visuals I had to deal with on my slower PC.

 

RtCW_4.jpg (112071 bytes)          RtCW_5.jpg (89392 bytes)

 

Both the characters and the levels are creative and varied in their look. It was almost a shame to have to shoot all those good-looking but deadly blonde Nazi bad-babes serving as an elite killing guard unit, all decked out in their tight black leather outfits. Mutated X-creatures created by the German scientists are also impressively designed. The varied locales throughout Germany like a submarine base, airfield, German villa and chateau, and Castle Wolfenstein and the underground catacombs it hides are nicely rendered and give the game an always-refreshing visual aspect. You don't get bogged down playing in drab, dankly colored dungeon-looking levels, something that plagued early id games.

RTCW's cut-scenes are really average for the most part. The scenes play out too many times in the "secret" OSA strategy room with a bunch of espionage leaders sitting around while an aide stands around explaining what is currently going on in Blazkowicz's mission of mayhem. It helps to give the gamer the low-down on the direction the story is headed next, but doesn't pack the same interest factor as the cut-scenes involving the Nazis and the secret, supernaturally evil plan to create the ultimate Nazi "super soldier". These cut-scenes are better if only for the mere fact of playing themselves out free of the boring OSA office environment. They can also be funny in a twisted, noir sense.

The game's funniest cut-scene is a German soldier-to-soldier exchange at a dam checkpoint near Wolfenstein. A truck-driving soldier, who has a delivery of sausage and cheese for a celebration by Himmler on the eve of the final events the Germans hope lead to success of the super soldier project, is told he cannot proceed past the checkpoint because of strict orders by Himmler himself.

"What am I supposed to do with all this cheese?" he exasperatingly asks the checkpoint guard. "I dunno, why don't you go find some crackers?" the guard laughingly replies.

Mouse-look control works well in RTCW. The single player mode can get a little frustrating at points when stealth is required to progress to the next level. Instead of just shooting your way past the Nazi horde, there are missions where you need to sneak stealthily past unsuspecting Third Reichers. If they discover you and set off an alarm, the mission is scrubbed and you must start it over. This is definitely not always easy to do, because the game's AI is tough. No Colonel Klink equivalent of ineptitude will be found among RTCW's Nazis.

Multiplayer games are free of the supernatural elements of the single-player game. It instead focuses on team-based missions in varied World War II settings. You get the chance to either be a member of the Allied or Axis teams throughout levels taken from the single-player game. Your team is given an objective like capturing important secret papers, capturing an occupied beachhead, or holding off the enemy from a strategic position. I've always liked the chance to play as part of a team in multiplayer action instead of battling alone. But with a 56K modem, I ran into some jerky gameplay at times, especially when there was a large amount of players in the game at one time. I still was able get enjoyably functional multiplayer game time in most of my online adventures. This is a game that cries out loudly for DSL-type multiplayer speed connections. If you have DSL, this is a great multiplayer title to pick up.

On the sound side, there's not a lot of music, which is expected. But tension builds nicely with the light musical touch presented, particularly in the early levels. Sound effects could have been better especially when it came to the weapons fire, but they are serviceable.

Looking for a great mix of good storyline and frantic FPS action? This is beyond doubt an enjoyable game for the FPS multitude, especially in the multiplayer realm. In the words of U2's Bono, "Achtung, baby!" RTCW is one of 2001's best titles, FPS or not. It isn't quite (Serious) Sam and Max's (Payne) level, but it definitely should be regarded right up there as one of the superlative FPS games to hit the PC scene this year.

- Lee Cieniawa

 

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