Wolfenstein 3D is rightly seen as the granddaddy of first person shooters. A 1992 PC shareware release, it not only popularised the game format, but also, for a time, the method of shareware distribution. As such, this title had more ports than the Hanseatic League (one for the history buffs out there), ranging from a frankly bonkers Arcade VR machine to the Gameboy Advance, calling by the Acorn Archimedes and Apple IIGS. Before Doom stamped its cloven hoof on the market, this was the shooter game to have on your system and didn’t consoles of the early ‘90’s know it. Atari famously held off the Jag port of Doom to get the Wolf 3D release out of the door (imagine how many more Jaguars would have been sold if they’d gone straight to Doom! Three? Four??? I jest, obviously!). Here, we’re going to have a look at what I think is the best port of all, the 3DO version.
As it’s a shooter, you’re gonna get a story to justify killing everything that moves. You play William (“B.J.” – stop sniggering at the back!) Blazkowicz, an American soldier who is on a one man rampage to destroy the Nazi war effort and halt their nefarious occult plans. This fight is spread over a total of 90 missions, encompassing 30 levels from the SNES/Jaguar conversions (“Original Encounter”) as well as the 60 original levels of the PC version (“Escape from Castle Wolfenstein”, “Operation Eisenfaust”, “Die, Fuhrer, Die”, “A Dark Secret”, “Trail of a Madman” and “Confrontation”). For sure, you’ll have a lot to get through to finish the game properly, and that doesn’t take into account the four difficulty settings as well.
This being the 3DO, it’s a very technically accomplished port. The graphics are sharp, the sprites are big and colourful, and they move at a smooth 30 fps. If you’ve ever played the SNES conversion, you’ll know how much of a difference this makes, and certainly makes the game easier to play. Of course, being a port, there’s still no texturing on the ceilings or floors, so this does make some of the more maze like areas confusing to traverse – the map (A and C buttons together) does come in handy. It’s a very good looking game… for 1992.
Sound wise and you have a total on nine music tracks that are of high quality and suit the game very well. The issue here is that after putting in twenty plus hours into this title, nine tracks just isn’t enough. They get very repetitive very quickly. Sound effects are equally good and, let’s be clear, also equally repetitive. The first few times you hear a guard shout, you think it’s cool – the sampling is excellent. After that, well, not so much. As with the graphics, not bad for a game that originated in 1992.
Gameplay is, well, shoot-y. Shoot-y and collect-y. That’s it. Nothing more. And really, why should you need more? This is Wolfenstein 3D. What it does, it does very, very well. There is plenty of challenge from both the number of levels and the higher difficulty settings. There are secrets galore and those with an obsessive need to find everything a game has to offer will, no doubt, love what Wolfenstein 3D delivers.
Criticisms? The gameplay is a bit simplistic and there could be a bit more variety in enemies, but that’s part of the charm of this title. There could also be a bit more variety in the graphics, but again, this is part of the charm. Controls are ok, and the presence of shoulder buttons on the pad are a god-send for strafing, though diagonal movement is sluggish and, at times, you’ll struggle to get yourself pointing in the right direction to start shooting. Some players may get bored with the monotony of 90 levels but vary the difficulty and the game will give you a run for your money. And if I am really being picky, whoever did the Interplay animated intro really does have unnatural feelings for the music for Babylon 5 – just saying here that the CGI intro and music have… nods to the style and presentation of that show. Maybe it’s me…
Let me be clear, this is an excellent port of a great game… from 1992, and the score below emphasises that. But let’s not kid ourselves here. The 3DO port was released at the back end of 1995. Three years after the PC original and more than a year after the Jag port. If this game had been a launch title for the console then it would have been something to shout out about. Hell, not even the US launch, the mid-94 European launch would have done. But no. Around the same time as this game hit the shelves, Space Hulk: Vengeance of the Blood Angels also arrived – and although the latter title is a slower, more tactical shooter, prospective customers just needed to see a couple of screen shots to see that Wolf 3D was from a bygone era and not the title you wanted to show off your expensive hardware purchase with. Charging £50 for a slightly enhanced shareware title also didn’t help. Whilst reviews at the time did hammer this port for those reasons (CVG gave it 61%), I feel that was too harsh and so, in my eyes, Wolfenstein 3D deserves better. Despite its age when released, it’s still a damn fun game and deserves to be played for that reason alone.
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A great port of a classic game, Wolfenstein 3D demonstrated little of the 3DO’s capabilities and arrived far too late to worry the competition.