9.2

RtCW builds on the memory of the original with ten years' worth of FPS innovation...

I love a good remake or revision, particularly within any medium that benefits strongly from technological improvements between the time of the original and its retelling. Star Trek went from an on-the-cheap TV show that was, to me, nearly unwatchable in its lo-fi cruddiness to the wonderful Next Generation/DS9/Voyager series, as well as the impressive Kirk- and Picard-led movies. The movies and later shows were able to expand their settings and raise the quality of their spacefaring paraphernalia above the level of cheesy re-painted hairdryers and glittery green makeup through the burgeoning field of digital animation (plus, it should be noted, some much better writing and acting). However, those early episodes were essential in establishing the appeal of Roddenberry’s universe, even if the show’s awful mechanics weren’t enough to garner a wide audience; without them, TNG and the like could certainly still exist, but they might lack a level of significance that stems from the story’s history.

Which is all just to say that Return to Castle Wolfenstein stands alone as a remarkably fun and detailed game, but is all the more beautiful in the eyes of those who can compare it to the appealing but incredibly low-tech Wolfenstein 3D. In ten years, the Nintendo-style sound effects and spare animation of early sprite-based FPS titles evolved into surround sound and exemplary modeling. Blaskowicz’s backstory jumped from a cursory bit of fiction told through readme files and onscreen crawls to a cinematic introduction and periodic updates expressed through the hero’s handlers back at HQ. The weapons found in and around Wolfenstein are plentiful, allowing for a lot of strategic variety through both realistic and fanciful damage-dealers. While the combat skills of Wolfenstein’s Nazi menace are, by now, quite commonplace to fans of Medal or Honor or Call of Duty, the remake’s ghoulish Lopers and Uber-Soldats help to differentiate the remake’s appeal from the other WWII-style shooters with a soupçon of survival horror.

RtCW’s gameplay is primarily of the run-and-gun variety, although the designers incorporated a few stealth segments. On many levels, sneaking pays off in that the player is more likely to overhear the often entertaining – although mostly meaningless – conversations that abound between various henchmen. The areas that absolutely require the player to remain unseen and unheard are thankfully brief and not very difficult. The combat scenarios, on the other hand, are positively brutal on RtCW’s Hard setting; I spent several hours and quickloads slowly gaining ground through Deathshead’s X-Labs and enjoyed every white-knuckled minute of it. On the other hand, the game is a cinch on the Medium setting, although it’s comparatively more enjoyable, with a more solid narrative flow thanks to fewer reloads and less backtracking for health packs.

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the original Wolfenstein and Doom on my old 486 PC, I can attest that the impact of ten years of advances in both computer technology and FPS game design on either remake is nothing short of euphoric. Return to Castle Wolfenstein incorporates much of the hard-won knowledge gathered by multiple game designers over a decade into what makes for a good FPS game. The remake itself is already halfway through its own decade of life, at the end of which I would certainly like to see another anniversary edition that employs similar industry-wide innovations.

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