Hopefully the first of many (we haven’t told him yet) guest reviews from the one and only Jake ‘The Voice’ Parr! If you fancy writing for the site please get in touch.
Ah, Wolfenstein 3D, the granddaddy of first-person shooters. As countless nerdy people have pointed out, no, it was certainly not the first of its kind, and that id Software’s DOOM perfected and popularized the genre on the whole. Regardless, ol’ Wolfy was no doubt revolutionary, and controversial, for its time, considering how smoothly it ran and how mindlessly-fun splattering Nazis was. This is the game we have to thank for kickstarting the three-decade trend of Nazi-hunting World War II games.
The Atari Jaguar, meanwhile, was not nearly as memorable or praised, despite its supposedly-superior graphical capabilities (64-bit graphics compared to the Super NES and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis). Nevertheless, the console needed titles, so Wolfenstein 3D was ported within a month by id Software. Alas, no amount of polish could prevent this title from feeling dated, even at its time of release, and yet, this may very well be the best port of the game ever released.
As super-soldier B.J. Blazkowicz, you must shoot your way through thirty levels. The level design is nothing particularly memorable, and is still a big maze-hunt made up of corridors with strict, 90-degree angles. Mercifully, the maps are a lot less confusing than its PC counterpart, so finding the exit is not as much of a time-sucking chore as before. Plus, there’s an in-game map – finally! While you can’t access levels via chapters (the first chapter has three levels, the next has four, and so on), you can still save your data, or let the game game automatically it after you beat a level.
This is no doubt the prettiest-looking version of Wolfenstein 3D to date. Textures are more detailed than before, and the baddies look much meaner, too. In fact, most of the guns look like they were plucked straight out of DOOM. It also runs at a smooth framerate, and controls fairly well, even if Blazkowicz swings around a bit too widely in order to make accurate shots. Before the start of each chapter, you’ll be given a briefing from your commanding officer, who fills you in on the plot points and which of Hitler’s commandants are on your hitlist, should you care enough to pay attention.
Armed with a knife and pistol, which are about as effective as a sack of kittens in a gunfight, eventually you’ll snag an MP40 with a steady rate of fire, a super-speedy gatling gun that eats up ammo very quickly, and two of the new weapons: the rocket launcher and an overpowered flamethrower. These are projectile-based weapons; they spew missiles and fireballs that fly through enemies, dealing heavy damage. They’re welcome inclusions, though you can’t help but feel that the armory is still pretty small. After all, the heftier bullet-weapons replace the weaker ones permanently. In this port, you carry more ammo, regain health by collecting treasure and do not have limited lives any more. These are all welcome inclusions.
Hitler army are mostly hitscan enemies armed with pistols or MP40s, meaning dodging their attacks is near-impossible if you’re unlucky enough to be in their line of sight. While there are other enemies like attack dogs, tougher enemies like the mutants with guns built into their chests are real bullet-sponges. Bosses appear at the end of each chapter, and these bad boys will dish out just as much damage as they can take before going down for the count. Dueling them can be tense if you’re low on supplies, but otherwise it’s as simple as hiding behind corners and unloading your arsenal into them when they show their ugly faces.
Video game composer legend Bobby Prince is the man behind the MIDI soundtrack. It’s different compared to the PC version, but it’s still a swell listen. Taking inspiration from his days in the army (as explained in this fantastic interview with a very handsome British chap), Wolfenstein 3D’s soundtrack is an eclectic combination of atmospheric sounds and militaristic drum beats. They’re short tracks, but catchy ones nonetheless.
Speaking of sounds, the enemies and weapons sound sharper and less distorted than before. Enemies will clearly exclaim “achtung!”, and will omit pitch-shifted screams on death. It feels a bit more realistic than having them shout “mein leben”, which was rather silly. The bullet-weapons sound like pop-guns, and don’t sound quite as loud or meaty like in the original.
It’s difficult to recommend Wolfenstein 3D these days. It may be a landmark title for first-person shooters in general, and while it does have charm, it does get repetitive quick. For those who love the deviously difficult retro shooters of yesteryear, Wolfenstein 3D is a title that’s best played in quick bursts. Getting your hands on a working Atari Jaguar may be challenging, but know that this version of the game is the most accessible, balanced and enjoyable of them all. Its revamped level design, polished visuals, bonus weapons and various gameplay tweaks make it a rare example of a console port that actually improved on the foundations of the original in many ways with few compromises.