Return to Castle Wolfenstein impressions

The long-awaited game from id Software, Gray Matter, Nerve, and Activision is finally available on store shelves. Read our impressions of the retail build and take a look at a flurry of shots and movies.

Even though Return to Castle Wolfenstein went gold only last week, it's already in most software stores throughout California. Since receiving the game early this week, we've been playing through Wolfenstein's single-player campaign as well as its multiplayer component. Both modes are equally as robust: The single-player campaign appears to be long, and the game's many levels are all complex and interactive enough to keep you constantly occupied with all of their many details. On the other hand, the multiplayer component of Wolfenstein has three distinct modes of play, along with what may be the most well-executed class-based system since the original Team Fortress. Most fans of the game should be familiar with Wolfenstein's multiplayer component if they've played id Software's recent release of the beach-invasion multiplayer level. Interestingly, that level is the only one of the nine included multiplayer maps that isn't a modified version of a single-player level. The id Software master server is already up and running, and there are dozens of servers hosting online games, many of which are completely full.

We've played through several hours of the game's single-player campaign and have passed through nearly half a dozen distinct areas, including Castle Wolfenstein itself, a nearby village, an ancient monastery, a series of catacombs, a lush green valley, and a Nazi rocket-testing facility. The game's setting resembles that of last year's shooter No One Lives Forever, and some of Wolfenstein's early scenes--such as the Alpine village and the ski lift ride--are particularly similar to those of NOLF. Additionally, you'll often stumble upon guards who are deep in conversation with each other, which is another aspect that's seemingly borrowed from NOLF. Return to Castle Wolfenstein even incorporates stealth sequences similar to those in NOLF--in these, you need to stay out of sight and quietly eliminate any enemy guards barring your way. If they spot you, you might have a chance to take them out before they sound the alarm--and if you don't, then your mission is failed. The similarities between the two games end there, however. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a very fast-paced shooter, and aside from the few stealth sequences, you can get through a good deal of the levels by resorting to "run and gun" tactics. What's more, even though you run very fast by default, you can use a temporary burst of speed to run even faster.

Prior to playing each level, you're given a briefing screen that progresses the story of the game and outlines your objectives. Some missions will have up to five such objectives, and the successful completion of all of them is required before you're allowed to proceed to the next map. Most of these objectives are straightforward, though, and they include everything from making sure that the alarm in a given area is never sounded to retrieving a specific artifact from a certain level. Additionally, since many of these levels are linear, you'll find yourself accomplishing your objectives in the order that they were listed on the briefing screen. There are also a few in-game cinematics that push the plot along, although these only play between certain levels.

We've already seen a wide variety of enemies in the game, including several variations of Nazi soldiers and officers. Even though many of these soldiers will behave the same, their dress will change from one level to the next, which is a nice touch. You'll also run across snipers, elite female guards, several types of zombies, and even a fair share of scientists and civilians. This latter group will force you to be careful with your trigger finger, since their death--accidental or otherwise--will result in a failed mission. There also seems to be a wide variety of weapons in the game, and as in Half-Life, they're all grouped within several classes for easy access. We've already come across two pistols, three submachine guns, two sniper rifles, and several mounted machine guns that can make quick work of nearby enemies.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein certainly looks and sounds impressive. The graphical quality can be scaled to suit different types of systems, but on a fast machine with a GeForce3-based graphics card and with all the graphics options turned on, Return to Castle Wolfenstein looks simply outstanding. The Quake III: Team Arena engine is also used to generate environments that are much bigger than those found in previous Quake III engine-based games.

Between its single-player and multiplayer modes, Return to Castle Wolfenstein looks like a game that any fan of fast first-person action would enjoy. The game's suggested retail price is $49, although some retail stores have been charging more than that. So if you can't wait for this shooter, you might want to shop around your local stores. Otherwise, stay tuned for our full review of the game, coming early next week. Until then, if you're not already enjoying Return to Castle Wolfenstein, check out more than 30 new screens from the full game, as well as a half a dozen new movies.

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