Return to Castle Wolfenstein impressions

We take a close look at the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of id's first-person shooter.


Activision stopped by today to give us a look at the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Rather than just try to port the PC game to both consoles, Activision and id Software are working to ensure the game is a good fit for each console. To achieve that goal, the pair has enlisted Raster Productions and Nerve Software to handle the game's conversion to consoles. We had a chance to get a look at both games running and were impressed by what we saw.

The PlayStation 2 game, called Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection, is being executive-produced by id and developed by Raster, whose experience bringing Quake III Arena to the Dreamcast is likely helping the impressive conversion that we saw. Although not due to ship until 2003, the game already looks extremely sharp and runs surprisingly well, considering the disparities in memory and horsepower between a PlayStation 2 and a good PC. Some trimming and tweaking have been done to fit the game's levels onto the PlayStation 2, and in some cases larger levels are being split into two separate chunks that will feature unique mission objectives. Overall the game looks very good and runs smoothly, and it retains all the key gameplay elements of the PC game.

In addition to the original game levels that will be included, a new set of levels that will make up a prologue to the main game is being added. The prologue is set in Egypt and follows the first meeting between B.J. Blaskowicz and Agent One. There will also be some new content in the form of new enemies, power-ups, secret areas, and gameplay features. You'll find three new enemies in the game. The first is an "X shepherd" found in the X labs--a creature that's half German shepherd, half machine and is armed with a poison gun that looks like an Aibo gone horribly wrong. In the crypt levels, you'll find a new occult priest that will attack you with tesla energy. Finally, mercenaries will be roaming through the Egyptian levels in the game and will be eager to take you out.

To go along with the three new enemies, you'll find three new items to use in the game: the holy cross, the EMP device, and the X shield. The holy cross is an ancient artifact that will summon holy light and wipe out zombies within your field of vision. The EMP device will fire a pulse of energy that will immobilize X creatures for a brief time and let you take a few shots at the deadly creatures. Finally, the X shield will form a protective barrier around you for a limited amount of time. In addition to the new items, you'll also find the shotgun, which makes a welcome return appearance to the Wolfenstein franchise.

In terms of secret areas, the PlayStation 2 game will contain more secrets than the PC game. In terms of gameplay, the game will track player performance and offer rewards based on how you play--for example, meeting certain criteria as you play a level may net you an ammunition or life bonus. From what we saw of the game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection looks to be coming together very well. The one hitch to the PlayStation 2 game, however, is that it will only offer a single-player game experience. On the plus side, you'll be able to save anywhere in the game.

While the PlayStation 2 game will lack a multiplayer option, the Xbox game, called Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War, will be ready for competition. In addition to offering the new content found in the PlayStation 2 game, the Xbox game will feature several multiplayer options, including Xbox Live support. As with the PS2 game, id will be executive-producing the title, while Nerve Software, which coded the multiplayer portion of the PC version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, will be developing the game. The game looked remarkably slick, despite being a ways off from release. Detail was high and the game moved smoothly, and it looked quite comparable to the PC game. A representative from Nerve noted that the polygon count for the game is pretty much the same on the Xbox as it is on the PC.

Along with its excellent visuals, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War will offer Dolby 5.1 support, which was working in the version we saw and sounded great. Unlike the PlayStation 2 game, the Xbox version will make use of a checkpoint save feature. We also saw a brief demo of the multiplayer options in the game, and they look very promising. The game will offer three multiplayer options: co-op, system link, and Xbox Live. Co-op is a cooperative two-player game that lets you work in tandem with a friend. System link lets you link to Xboxes via a cable, and Xbox Live will offer full support for Microsoft's recently launched online game service and its various features, such as voice masking, voice chat, messaging, and game matching.

In terms of control, both games have been tailored to work with their respective console's controller and will have an auto-aim feature to work around the limits of a console controller's sensitivity. Players hoping to keep things real will be pleased to see that the games will let you turn off the auto-aim feature and remap the controls to your liking.

While still early, both console versions of Return to Castle Wolfenstein are coming together very well. All parties involved appear to be making the most out of the platform they're working on. The extra content is a nice addition and should offer players quite a bit to explore. Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Operation Resurrection and Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War are slated to ship next year. Look for more on both games soon.

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