While Wolfenstein 3D is not exactly the first three-dimensional shooter, it did forge the foundation of a genre of electronic games that is now very pervasive.
Other than this feat, it was also known for putting the Nazis in an outrageous light, which is suggesting that the Nazis' side ventures into occult studies and scientific research of the hideous sort actually bore fruit in the form of abominable monstrosities that the Nazis were able to use as weapons of war.
It was an undeniable success, so it was not a surprise that there would be an attempt to refresh the franchise later, though that this only occurred after almost a decade would have been quite eye-raising. Further, the building of the series appears to have exchanged hands: Activision has the publishing rights for the series and development work has been given over to associates of id Software, though it still appears to retain the creative rights and has a supervisory and consultative role in the making of this game.
The re-imagining of Wolfenstein 3D could not recreate the genre-founding feat of the original, of course. However, players would find that it does a very great job of updating the series to the standards of the genre over the turn of the millennium.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein has two very separate game modes. They are so different that they can be practically considered entirely different games, even though they share a lot of game materials.
One game mode is the single-player-only story campaign, which is reminiscent of the earlier Wolfenstein games of yore; it has B.J. Blazkowicz as the protagonist again, fighting against the insidious and clandestine schemes of the Nazis.
The other game mode, which is in contrast multiplayer-only, offers class- and objectives-based gameplay. This game mode has a focus on gameplay balance, perhaps more so than any other competitive team-based multiplayer shooters at the time.
(As side information, class-based gameplay has been pioneered earlier by Team Fortress Classic, the first fully-fledged shooter title to have such gameplay. Objectives-based gameplay, in multiplayer-centric shooters, have roots in titles such as Unreal Tournament.)
As vastly different as these two game modes are, they can be run using the same game engine: idTech 3, albeit this one has been very heavily modified since its last iteration in Quake III: Team Arena. Yet, while this showed the versatility of this now-venerable game engine, the developers had to resort to two different deployables that share some of the same game files. Switching between the two game modes can be very clumsy, though their gameplay designs are so different that the player can consider them to be two separate titles (for better or worse).
The story in the single-player mode is a re-boot of the canonical storyline. B.J. is no longer a vengeful prisoner-of-war going after the Nazis' chain of command, but is rather an agent of the USA's clandestine Office of Secret Action. However, like his previous incarnation, he has been recently captured by the Nazis, but has used his incarceration to get closer to their base of operations.
After giving an unwitting grunt a knife-stab and stealing some weapons, B.J. gets involved in a nefarious scheme by the Nazis to obtain new weapons of hideous and mystical nature that the Allies simply have no counter to.
Much like the protagonist of any shooter associated with id, B.J. has the gameplay design known as the "magic bag", which means that he can carry an unbelievable number of weaponry and ammunition underneath his clothes. Of course, this is so that it is convenient for him to be a one-man army in order to face numerically superior enemies of the mortal and not-so-mortal varieties.
More than half of the weapons that he uses are mirror images of real-life weapons that were prevalent in World War II, while a few are sci-fi guns. Compared to Wolfenstein 3D, there are certainly a lot more weapons, but when compared to other shooters at the time (especially id Software's own titles) they actually lack variety in function and roles.
Many of them happen to be hit-scan weapons, which include pistols, submachineguns and bolt-action rifles. Then, there are grenades, of which there two models but both being practically the same weapons. (B.J. can still carry separate stockpiles for these, though.) They also function a lot like hand-thrown grenades in other shooters at the time: the player can hold down the fire button to "cook" the grenades.
After that, B.J. has access to dynamite explosives, which are practically timed mines.
However, unlike certain games with weapons which are designed with real-life weapons in mind, the developers for this game had actually considered balancing them out against each other, especially for multiplayer, where there is no case of one weapon being practically an upgrade over another. (As a side mention, other games that have weapons based on real-life ones, such as Counterstrike, have weapons that are practically upgrades over others.)
For example, there is the Sten submachinegun, which is a fast-firing weapon that also happens to be silenced. This would give the wielder a major advantage when ambushing isolated enemies, but it has been balanced with an overheating mechanic that prevents the user from spamming next-to-inaudible shots with abandon.
However, the single-player mode won't be fun if B.J. has to use balanced weapons, which are otherwise too mundane for a sense of progression in the player character's growth in power (as is required for shooter games with stories that have the protagonist fighting against great odds). B.J. will come across certain weapons that are not (officially) in multiplayer, such as the FG42 Paratrooper Rifle, which is practically a step above any other hit-scan weapons. He will also get the Tesla Gun, which is the only thoroughly out-of-this-world weapon in the game. (Unfortunately, it also comes very, very late in the game to be of much fun - if the player decides to play the single-player mode without cheating to get it earlier.)
Return to Castle Wolfenstein also features a Flamethrower with effects that had yet to be seen in other shooters. Much like flamethrowers in other shooters at the time, they set enemies on fire. However, this game boasts fire effects that are surprisingly impressive for a game of its time, as will be described later.
(Also, the flamethrower will not be the first thing that the player encounters in the game that exhibits fiery graphics.)
Weapons and the ammunition for them aside, B.J. also has to worry about his health, stamina and any protective armor that he may be wearing.
Health is of course his most important concern. Although game-over occurs when his health reaches zero, he does not suffer any debilitation as he reaches near-death, much like most other shooter protagonists at the time (and his previous incarnation). In fact, like his similarly-named predecessor, B.J. can regain his health through means that should not exactly make up for injuries like bullet exit-wounds (and harm from otherworldly sources, as will be elaborated on later). These methods range from (stealing and) ingesting meals that were intended for Nazi soldiers and officers to (instantly) using the medical supplies found in healing kits.
Meals are the more interesting healing items here, because they can be eaten partially to restore any minor health loss that B.J. has. One of them, the Hot Meal, also happens to make use of vaporous graphical effects, which certainly make them easier to spot.
(It is worth noting here that one of the more notorious - and less well-known - methods that the original B.J. had in healing himself is not present in this game: the new B.J. does not resort to cannibalism when he is close to death's door.)
Stamina is a minor statistic that governs running speeds. All player characters in both of this game's modes move at a brisk clip, but they do not move as fast as those in high-octane shooters like the Quake games. However, as a way to escape danger quickly, they can sprint at much greater speeds while consuming their stamina. Unlike health, stamina can regenerate over time, thus allowing players to sprint when the need arises.
Stamina is reduced too when the player character jumps. While this may seem to crimp the mobility of the player character, it is still an understandable limitation and more importantly, it addresses an issue that had been in games which were made using idTech's proprietary game engines (more on this issue briefly).
For the single-player mode, B.J. has the benefit of being able to drink liquor to restore his stamina, and even boost it above his maximum for some short marathons.
This mechanic of stamina may seem like deliberate crimping of player characters, especially when the much more agile protagonists in other shooters are considered. However, these other games have much more outrageously designed weapons that are better suited at catching quicksilver targets, whereas those in this game are not so.
Armor is a statistic that is exclusive only to single-player. B.J. can adorn himself in armor that he gains from collecting helmets and flak jackets (also conveniently stolen from the Nazis). Armor, much like that in other shooters, reduces the damage that he receives from enemies. This is not an entirely new game mechanic, but its surprise is that it is not present in the multiplayer mode. (This will be elaborated on later in this review.)
If it is not apparent already B.J. has a lot of additional gameplay designs that benefit him but which his multiplayer counterparts do not enjoy. On the other hand, B.J. faces a lot of enemies that can be much more than a handful to deal with.
The single-player story will have B.J. fighting unassuming German grunts at first, though B.J. will face tougher S.S. troops as he digs deeper into the Nazi Paranormal Division's schemes.
The human enemies that B.J. faces are surprisingly better organized than those in other shooter titles at the time. They are not eager to run out of cover just to get closer to B.J., but will rather wait for B.J. to do so instead. Even if they have to advance, they will not likely do so without compatriots sending suppressive fire at B.J.'s direction. They also happen to chuck grenades regularly.
It is notable here that in addition to the usual ramping up of damage-received-versus-damage-dealt ratios, increasing the difficulty level of the single-player mode also happens to make human enemies a lot more aggressive and more likely to resort to tactics that would be very, very inconvenient for the player at the time, such as spamming grenades around corners if they know that B.J. is cowering behind them. (Enemies that use ammunition and grenades are designed to have unlimited supplies of them, by the way.)
In addition to AI designs, there are also locations with scripts that give human enemies some advantages, such as rooms with tables that they are scripted to kick over and use as cover, or machinegun nests that they would occupy to give the player a hard time getting B.J. across the battlefield.
There are also human enemies that do not behave like the usual soldiers that B.J. would fight, such as the Elite Guard of the witch covens in the Nazi Paranormal Division. These often resort to acrobatic motions to get from cover-to-cover, and also have close-combat attacks that are more powerful than the usual grunts that B.J. faces. Then, there are the Black Guard, who often enter battle through dramatic parachuting. (They can be shot down at mid-landing for an amusing demise.)
Eventually, the player will have to face enemies that are obviously inhuman. These can be loosely categorized into relentless undead and monstrous man-machine hybrids.
There are shuffling zombies to be blown to bits; otherwise, they keep coming back up. Furthermore, unlike typical zombies, they also happen to have a ranged attack in the form of restless, raging specters that they can summon and set upon their victims, which can be quite horrible to look at and hear for the first time.
There is also an even nastier variant of zombies that happen to present the fire and burning effects of this game in a first-hand manner that the player would find quite excruciating.
Then, there are undead marauders who have shields and rusty but otherwise wicked blades. Their shields happen to have the surprising quality of being able to reflect gunfire, while their wielders cower behind them while advancing carefully. On the other hand, they are also the most disappointingly easy undead enemies to kill, as their attack animations are very easy to exploit for openings and that they do not come back after being taken down (oddly enough for undeathly warriors).
The man-machine abominations that B.J. fights are no less terrible to behold as the undead.
There is the Loper, whose lower-body has been replaced with electrical-discharge devices that allow it to leap about with gusto, as well as knock down and electrocute any victim that is too slow to get out of the way. Disturbingly enough, this is the only inhuman creature that has no voice-overs, meaning that it can only be detected through the tell-tale - and dreaded - noise of crackling electricity.
Next, there are the Super Soldiers, which are big walking tanks armed with heavy weapons. They happen to be the toughest non-boss enemies that B.J. will have to battle.
It has to be noted here that there is no in-depth documentation on the exact capabilities of enemies, both in-game and in the manual. In other words, players will often have to discover the capabilities of enemies the hard and painful way.
On the other hand, the game's story makes use of scripted events to foreshadow the hideous methods by which they kill their victims, who usually happen to be some conveniently hapless Nazi personnel. Furthermore, he can also collect pieces of intelligence, such as report clipboards, journal papers and notes that the Nazis have left behind for more foreshadowing.
Collecting intelligence also completes objectives that advance the game. There are also other objectives, such as killing Nazi officers and interrogating other key Nazi personnel (often before having to kill them).
Helping B.J. pursue his objectives is a note-book that contains all the intelligence that he has gathered thus far. In this notebook, he also has his objectives stated out for him, and also a sketch or schematic drawing of the map in play. However his location in the map is not indicated in the drawing, which does not help much in figuring out where he is. Fortunately, most maps are quite linear and simple to navigate (as is typical for most shooters).
Defeating bosses is also one of B.J.'s objectives. Whereas the bosses in Wolfenstein 3D are often over-the-top, the ones in this game can be quite terrifying to battle (if also somewhat over-the-top).
The first boss encounter alone requires that the player has B.J. running around a lot to keep away from not just the hideously fleshy boss, but also the storms of specters that it calls into the battlefield. The others are also as heart-thumping to battle - if the player fights them in a manner as intended by the game designers.
Unfortunately, certain boss fights have design issues that can hinder the fun that can be had from them. For example, a certain early-game boss fight has a flaw in the ad-hoc boss 'arena' that can be exploited to give the player a reliably safe haven from the murderous approach of the ground-shaking boss and its homing ranged attacks.
Furthermore, the bosses are to be defeated with just plain piling of munitions after munitions on them. While this is a simple method, it also happens to be quite archaic.
The single-player mode also has B.J. "retrieving" treasures that had either been stolen by the Nazis or hoarded by them (if they are originally Germanic in nature). These are often hidden in difficult-to-spot nooks and crannies in maps, but they are all plausible hiding places and none of them are too ridiculously hard to reach. Obtaining them does not grant any gameplay benefits other than a tally for bragging rights at the end of every level, but each piece of treasure tends to look different from the last one, so admiring their fabulous and shiny aesthetics may be worth the trouble of locating them for some players.
The seemingly minor flaws that had been mentioned about the game aside, the single-player mode would appear to be quite solidly designed. However, there are flaws that damage its immersion factor.
There are non-combatants in this game, and killing them results in a game-over. Of course, this is to conform with decency standards for games at the time, namely the requirement that killing what appears to be civilians should not be condoned. Yet, there are so few characters that can be considered 'civilians' in this game and whoever there are often fictional German women that are there only for purposes of eye-candy.
Furthermore, there are miscellaneous characters that resemble civilians, such as non-combat Nazi personnel which include scientists and engineers. Despite their seemingly innocuous looks, they will shoot B.J. with sidearms that they have concealed under their work-clothes, often after pleading for their lives and waiting for the player character to turn away from them.
This can lead to very unpleasant surprises the first time around, and it won't be long before the player becomes too paranoid to leave anyone that looks harmless alive - something that the game insisted some hours back in the story's progression, when there were actually benign civilians.
B.J. is practically a mute protagonist, so he won't be doing much of the propagation of the story. Instead, this task is handed over to the other characters, namely his allies back at Washington and key villainous characters that are pivotal to the Nazis' schemes to acquire weapons of supernatural nature and forbidden technology.
Thankfully, these characters are more than decent in delivering the cutscenes and conversations that are needed to advance the story. There are some contrived Nazi stereotypes, like overbearing ultra-nationalists, as well as less-than-fluent statements in Deutsche, but they are otherwise well-portrayed enough to fulfill the roles of villains that the player would want to hate and defeat.
For the role of giving mission briefings of sorts, there are B.J.'s superiors who would discuss the findings that B.J. has obtained as he is shuttled from one part of Germany to another to continue his campaign. Their segments can be a bit dull if compared to the Nazi's cutscenes, due to their office-only setting, but they are otherwise adequate enough in underlining the brevity of B.J.'s situation.
The multiplayer mode has player characters that are very different from B.J., in order to accommodate the different gameplay. Unlike B.J., they do not have the luxury of being able to carry a tremendous amount of weaponry on their persons. Instead, they can carry only the rudimentary Knife, a sidearm, a primary (and two-handed) weapon and a belt of grenades. Such restrictions are of course understandable, as they are important for functional and balanced team-based gameplay.
Players are divided into two opposing teams: the Allies and Axis. Both teams practically play in the same manner, so the only differences are visual (and aural, if their different voice-overs are considered).
Player characters are divided into four player classes, each with his own load-out permutations (though they share some commonly available items). Before entering battle - and before respawning - the player gets to decide what the load-out for his/her chosen class will be.
As mentioned earlier, the player characters in multiplayer do not have any armor statistic. While this is odd for a shooter that is sanctioned by id Software, the absence of armor also makes it simpler for the player to focus on survival.
In return for the absence of armor, each player character has a "Power Bar", which will determine how frequently a player can use the special ability that is uniquely available to his/her class. Using special abilities drains the Bar, but it handily regenerates over time, not unlike Stamina, which player characters in multiplayer also have.
Before this review assesses the designs for player classes, it is worth noting here that shooters that run on id Software's proprietary game engines have issues with the physics that govern the movement of player characters, namely bunny-hopping and jump-strafing exploits. These exploits can be exceptionally damaging to the multiplayer experience of the game.
Unfortunately, these exploits are present in Return to Castle Wolfenstein's multiplayer, though their effects are tremendously reduced compared to id Software's shooters that were released before this game. However, the Stamina mechanic has practically addressed these issues by making sure that players cannot have their avatars jumping indefinitely.
The Soldier class would be the most familiar to shooter veterans, because his main role is to simply bring the fight to the enemy. To help him do this, his weapon load-outs include heavy weapons like the Panzerfaust, Flamethrower and Venom Gun - all of which slows him down if he is wielding any of them, in an apparent game design to balance his advantage in firepower.
He is also the only class that can discard his pre-equipped weapons to pick up and use others instead, giving him more versatility than the other classes.
It is worth noting here that the Venom Gun is available for the Soldier, despite being a completely science-fictional weapon. This was likely included to give the Soldier a weapon that is capable of suppressive fire.
The Panzerfaust happens to be more powerful in multiplayer, but instead of bringing around several sticks of the portable rocket, the Soldier can only fire this weapon when he has a full Power bar. On the other hand, this also means that the Soldier has no actual limit on the Panzerfausts that he can launch, unless he ditches it for another, more expedient weapon.
The Engineer is the only player character that can lay down dynamites (which consume his Power bar). However, unlike the single-player version, he has to manually arm these for detonation. Conversely, he can also disarm dynamite charges that had been armed by the enemy, assuming that he has enough time to do so before it explodes in his face.
Requiring the Engineer to arm the charge is a smart design. As has been seen in the single-player mode, dynamites can make for very convenient and powerful mines, which would have been quite imbalanced in multiplayer. However, this meant that the dynamite would only be useful when there are map-specific barriers that can only be removed through bombing, or other stationary targets that can do little if anything against a pack of dynamite sitting next to them.
The Engineer can also repair and rearm machinegun nests for the rest of his team (or himself) to use. Machinegun nests often overlook important chokepoints that enemy forces have to go through, so these nests are inadvertently critical to any effort to check the advance of enemies and these are where the Engineer can be very vital to success.
With machinegun nests and barriers in addition to defenders in the way of an attacking team, multiplayer matches run a risk of the attackers being frustratingly stymied. This is where the Lieutenant class comes in useful.
His most important ability is his access to calls for artillery strikes. He can call in a strike at wherever he is looking at through his Binoculars, which will drain away his Power Bar completely. He also has the ability to throw a Smoke Grenade, which is a less Power-costly ability that will shroud the immediate area with clouds of smoke that obscure sight.
In addition, he has the ability to drop ammo re-stocks, and is also incidentally the only source of ammunition in multiplayer. This is a peculiar game design that is far removed from the ammo mechanics in the multiplayer modes of other shooters that game-makers like id Software had made. However, it also encourages the player who is playing as the Lieutenant to stick close to his team - which is very much in line with the design goals of fostering teamwork.
He is also the only other class that can wield the Sten gun, which is certainly handy in finishing off anyone that had not been removed by the ordnance strikes, or gunning after anyone that had been blinded by smoke.
There will be players who will have their avatars hurt, regardless of how hard that they try to prevent this. Obviously, having a player character's health diving down to zero would mean a trip to the respawn screen and, more importantly, one less team member to achieve the team's goals for a long, few dozen seconds.
The Medic is the solution for keeping team members alive as long as possible. As his name suggests, he can heal fellow team-mates that had been injured by dropping health kits (not unlike those in the single-player mode) that the latter can pick-up, while draining his Power Bar.
It may seem like the Medic can resort to spamming health kits whenever he has enough Power to do so, but this is balanced by the fact that enemies can grab these too, especially if they assault the Medic and his nearby team-mates while he is dropping healing kits.
He also has the passive ability of adding an additional ten points of health to everyone on the team, though this bonus does not stack with additional Medics. This encourages every team to have at least one Medic, which is always good for the chances of the team.
Most importantly, he has the ability to revive fallen team-mates, who are otherwise reduced to stiff bodies when they are "slain"; he can also see these bodies through what is essentially a legal wall-hack. This ability of his effectively allows players who are awaiting respawn to immediately come back as the same player class at the same location, albeit with the same load-out and amount of ammunition remaining.
This example of the game mechanic of reviving fallen friendlies to maintain the momentum of the team is perhaps the earliest to have been encountered in the shooter genre; it also happens to a satisfactorily functional, well-balanced one. The formula of this game mechanic in Return to Castle Wolfenstein would later be seen in many, now well-known team-based shooter IPs, such as the Battlefield series.
The multiplayer experience consists of matches of a few types. However, instead of the usual deathmatches, team deathmathes and capture-the-flag, players get very refreshingly different modes of play, though these were not necessarily brand-new and original (as mentioned earlier).
Objective requires the two teams to achieve their own series of objectives. Their objectives are often mutually opposed to each other's. The first team to complete its set of objectives wins.
Stopwatch is a lot like Objective, but instead of players staying in one team match after match, they are all shuffled into the other team and vice versa for those on the other team. The team who won the previous match in a set amount of time now has to stop the other team from beating their record.
Checkpoint requires both teams to attempt to capture all flags on the mode and control them all simultaneously. This is practically a tug-of-war, with teams attacking and counter-attacking every contested flag.
However, it has to be noted here that the match is won when either team has just captured all flags. This means that opposing teams of players with more or less the same level of skill (and teamwork) will have a hard time trying to defeat each other, as a hard-fought-for flag could be assaulted and re-taken before the defenders could consolidate. It also means that the team with more skill and experience will roll over the other one very quickly, catching all flags before their opponents can muster a counter-attack.
There are several multiplayer maps in the launch version of the game, but not all of these can support all three match types. For example, the map Depot can be played using any of the three game modes, but the Destruction map can only be played in Checkpoint mode.
Furthermore, each map that can be played in Objective or Stopwatch mode has sets of objectives that are unique to it. This design may seem to be of benefit to the maps, as in giving each of them a unique character. However, there are not a lot of maps to be had in the launch version of this game and having strictly designed maps also gives an impression of lack of variety in the multiplayer experience.
It has to be noted here too that for many Objective/Stopwatch maps, the Axis team is conspicuously always on the defense, while the Allies team is on the attack. This is made further evident by the slight but distinct time difference between the spawning intervals for the Axis and Allies teams; Axis players take longer to respawn, to balance their usually more advantageous starting locations.
Nevertheless, despite being few in number and having pre-ordained designs that cannot be changed, the maps still offer entertainment that is very different from that in the multiplayer modes of other shooters at the time.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein uses idTech 3, which at the time was no longer as cutting edge as it was. However, the heavily modified build of the engine that is used in this game also shows how far its capabilities can be stretched to accommodate the standards in graphics that become higher over time.
The first graphical aspect that players would encounter are the more malleable polygons for models in this game, compared to those that were used for models in other games that had used the earlier versions of the idTech 3 engine. The more malleable polygons make for far less stilted animations and also believable secondary animations like breathing.
In addition, these more flexible models allowed for some use of motion-capture to produce more believable animations, such as the acrobatic maneuvers that the Elite Guard use and ladder-climbing. Of course, these animations still have flaws, such the less than exact contact between the appendages of models that are climbing ladders and the rungs of said ladders. Yet, such animations were very rare in shooters at the time.
The revised idTech 3 engine also allows the use of surprisingly well-shaped polygons. Apparent examples of these are the head polygons for human models; features such as chins, noses, brows and ears are articulated in these polygons, allowing for some impressively well-done faces. B.J.'s face is one of the best examples.
Facial animations are not as well done as the faces, unfortunately. In fact, there is very little in the way of facial animations, though lip-synching is satisfactory.
Gunfire effects are not as exciting as a shooter veteran would expect from an idTech-powered game. In fact, they are quite underwhelming. There is very little tracer fire from hitscan weapons, and bullet impacts produce little particle effects (though they make a lot of decals, namely bullet holes). In addition, explosions are also quite underwhelming; there is a brief puff of smoke and light, but that's it.
However, the heavy weapons of the game are the visual stars in the arsenal. The Venom Gun may not produce any more particle effects than other bullet-based hitscan weapons, but it has animations that would convince most players that the weapon is not for those who lack strong arms. Then, there is the Flamethrower, which has flame-spewing effects that are gloriously more impressive than those that had been seen in other shooters with flamethrowers. Whereas the latter resorted to cheap floating sprites or messes of narrow red-and-orange polygons to represent fire, Return to Castle Wolfenstein uses more believable vaporous effects for both the flames and any of their conflagrated victims. Finally, there's the Tesla Gun, which features lightning effects that are believable (despite the sci-fi nature of the gun).
The maps in both of the game's modes are mainly linear in design, if the achieving of the player's objectives is the main consideration; most objectives have to be achieved sequentially. This is especially so in single-player mode, where the player is usually restricted to one overarching path, so that scripts which advance the story can be triggered properly.
However, multiplayer maps are not as narrowly designed. The free-flowing Checkpoint maps notwithstanding, a few Objective/Stopwatch maps have objectives that can be achieved in any order, such as Depot.
While they may lack gameplay flexibility, they have plenty of graphical pizzazz, especially in their themes. The ones in the single-player mode take the limelight.
There is the aforementioned titular Castle Wolfenstein, which very much appears to have mortal trappings and medieval-era designs the first time that the player walks through it. The next time, however, it is a lot darker and sinister.
In addition, there is a bombed-out town that has tasted the bitter, smoking ravages of war, and where there are still Axis defenders holding out in search of important documents that they need to find (and the player needs to steal). In contrast, there is a more pristine town in the game, showing off old German architecture and their centuries-old culture that existed before the formation of Germany (namely wine-making).
There are also dank, foggy crypts and science labs with arcane crackling machines to fight through, if the player likes locales that allow him/her to suspend any sense of belief.
The lighting effects in all these places tend to be little, if any; the idTech 3 engine is not known for state-of-the-art lighting and shadows, and it is no different in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. However, that does not mean that the developers did not inject enough atmosphere into these locales. The aforementioned crypts are accentuated with torches that use the same fire effects as mentioned above, while streaks of lightning invoke a sense of dread in locales that are under the dark influence of occult terrors.
The sound designs of the game are perhaps better at portraying the themes of the game than the graphics.
There are the aforementioned examples of voice-acting in the game, which serves to propel the story forward. However, those that do not advance the story are noteworthy too - the voice-acting for the Axis soldiers in particular. Despite being unwittingly drawn into battle with murderous undead that they have never expected to encounter in their lives, they are surprisingly still composed enough to mount an effective defense. This can be seen during certain cutscenes in the story, and more importantly, heard.
(Actual in-game combat presents these fights in a less impressive manner though. The Axis soldiers fights the undead with the same tactics that they use against B.J., which is not exactly appropriate when angry undead that charge forward pell-mell are involved.)
Although the visual effects for the more worldly guns in this game would not be visually exciting to everyone, their sound effects have a better chance at being so. They are loud and dense, as befitting the simple but very practical designs of firearms during World War II. The heavy weapons steal the show from them though: hearing the Venom Gun spin and spit out hails of lead can be a joy (before it overheats and sizzles) and listening to the whoosh of flames (and screams of burning enemies) can be an even greater joy. (The Lightning Gun, unfortunately, has too short a tenure to be of much aural satisfaction.)
These weapons are not the only ones with sound effects. Artillery strikes, which are present in both multiplayer and certain moments in single-player, are accompanied by loud, high-bass noises that should more than convince players of their power and effect. There are also cannons to be heard in the game, though these are only for special, scripted set-pieces in the single-player mode.
The soundtracks and ambient sounds are meant to further add to the atmosphere of locales in this game. Most of them project a sense of foreboding, suspense and dread. There are also inclusions of a couple of Beethoven's compositions, such as an almost exact remix of Piano Sonata No. 14 (better known as the Moonlight Sonata) to portray the forlornness of war and Bagatelle No. 25 (also known as Fur Elise) for less hectic moments like the cutscenes involving B.J.'s superiors.
However, if a player is expecting uplifting music, he/she would be disappointed. There are no tunes that would lift the spirits in this game: it's a thoroughly grim and serious one. Only the resolution of the single-player mode will have a cheery soundtrack to accompany it, and even then it is a short one.
In conclusion, Return to Castle Wolfenstein may not be forging the foundations of new genres like Wolfenstein 3D did, but its single-player mode is an exciting one and certainly vastly more so than the original's and perhaps the single-player mode of other contemporary shooters as well. Furthermore, its multiplayer mode, while sparse of variety at launch, has gameplay designs that are very sound and balanced, and which would later be popularized in other, later team-based shooters.