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Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Game of the Year Edition

Score: 75%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Gray Matter Studios
Media: 2/0
Players: 1 - Whatever server allows (LAN/Online Multiplayer)
Genre: First Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:

Depending on how well you've upgraded your computer in recent months (I know I'm slacking), Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Game of the Year Edition potentially carries the best FPS graphics your GeForce has ever seen. This reviewer personally recalls drooling at basic flamethrower effects in QuakeCon 2001's public beta nearly a year ago, and it's even prettier today. Well, if your computer can handle it, of course -- if you stick with the visual settings the game initially recommends, those flames might look blockier than the game box itself.

It takes some tweaking and a half-decent video card, but the real eye candy in RtCW needs to be seen to be appreciated. Gray Matter's artists concocted an excellent environment in which to bring out the grandeur of a mid-WWII Europe; few players should soon forget their first glimpse out of a castle window during Level 1's prison escape, for sure. Character models perform their actions with smooth, lifelike movements as well, although a bit more variety would have been nice. I remember seeing three completely different men make the same distinct pointing motion with their right hand while talking in separate cutscenes, as if this were the way every WWII Nazi soldier expressed himself in conversation. This probably wouldn't have been so apparent to me if I could remember seeing any other specific hand motions, but there's just not much to see.

Nevertheless, the look of the game must compliment the way it sounds, and vice versa. Most of Wolfenstein's music accentuates the action perfectly with sweeping, grandiose horns or tense, foreboding string sections to convey an eerily effective movie-like experience. Even I, a seasoned zombie flick connoisseur, was thoroughly spooked during the first undead level thanks to the terrific score. Sure, some background music during the cutscenes gets a little boring, but the audio team did a far better overall job than most FPS developers in past years.


For a title based on the now-boring/ugly/monotonous Wolfenstein 3D of some ten years ago, Gray Matter Studios had to dig deep for a plot to stand the test of time. While the original (which, coincidentally, is now playable on the Game of the Year disc) had players fighting the same palette-swap soldiers for hours on end with virtually no change in scenery, RtCW sends the legendary B. J. Blazkowicz into twisted experimental labs, corpse-ridden dungeons and hidden industrial bases in his quest to foil the Third Reich yet again. Players will need to utilize Thief-like stealth maneuvers to clear some stages, while others may require all-out Schwarzeneggarian warfare. The choice is yours.

For example, one of the most involved levels puts the player in a town on constant alert, with only silenced guns and steel nerves paving the way to success. B. J. must assassinate five Nazi officials while remaining unseen by enemy forces, all the while racing to reach a mysterious ceremony before it's too late. Of course, not all gamers have the patience for missions such as these, but that's why developers gave us the QuickSave feature.

The game contains plenty of period-specific nuances and subtle references to its predecessor, yet still throws a few touches of modern silliness into the mix. For the most part, however, RtCW stays true to what warfare might have been like first-hand in the trenches. As this is all based in 1943, players will have to make use of simple rifles, pistols and explosives of varying accuracy early in the game; more experimental guns make an appearance in later levels, but with the inclusion of corpses coming to life and Nazis creating cyborg killing machines (in the '40s, remember), just about anything's possible. It all makes for a fairly enjoyable single-player experience -- but the Game of the Year Edition seems to place more emphasis on multiplayer aspects this time around.

Based loosely on the old Quake 2 Team Fortress days, RtCW brings online players together to accomplish missions together as one of four classes (Soldier, Medic, Engineer, or Lieutenant), each with their own unique abilities. Any successful assault will need Engineers to blast doors and service broken guns; Medics are essential for boosting base health levels and reviving fallen fighters; Soldiers are the basic offensive/sniping units, while Lieutenants can replenish ammo and call in airstrikes. Players must be well organized and supportive to win the match, but individual combat skills are also a must for any class. Yes, it takes some serious time getting used to things if you haven't played online FPS games in a while, but once you learn all the maps and familiarize yourself with communication techniques and such, it's a total blast (even more so if your PC can handle servers with over 60 players at a time, unlike mine). And, as an added boost to replay value, the Game of the Year disc includes seven new multiplayer maps in which to unleash your mad camping skillz!


I'll admit, this is one tough game at first. No matter what the difficulty you've chosen at the New Game menu, it ain't easy getting by with an inaccurate pistol and a crappy knife. Part of the game's challenge lies in B. J.'s inability to maneuver as skillfully as some players are used to, however. Our hero can lean around corners to scope things out, but for some reason he simply can't figure out how to shoot while leaning. This becomes increasingly annoying throughout the game when snipers can't see you while peeking around a wall, but have no problem pumping a round into your skull as soon as you move an extra inch into the open. A 'crawl' ability (a la Soldier of Fortune II) would have been nice to counter this occurrence, but B. J. can unfortunately only crouch in the face of danger.

Game Mechanics:

Since he can't perform a lot of actions by himself, Blazkowicz isn't exactly a nightmare to control. His extra 'Sprint' feature is nice, giving the player a rechargeable boost of speed for when it's time to run like hell, but it would've been cool to be able to interact with more objects in RtCW's environment, rather than 'push this' or 'break this' assigned to nearly everything you come across. I mean, I enjoy kicking chairs into pieces just as much as the next guy, but it would also be nice to throw the chair into a fireplace and watch it burn. Maybe they'll get to that in the sequel.

Hey, at least they got the opponent AI just right! Enemy soldiers will ambush you, throw your own grenades back in your face, coordinate timed attacks and hide at the perfect times to keep you on your toes. Hell, with enemies coded so suitably, it's a surprise that no multiplayer bots were featured in the full game. My only complaint: the final boss took less effort to defeat than the very first soldier I encountered in the game. Not only did he never hit me, but his visual representation was also pretty underwhelming, considering the huge plot buildup leading to the confrontation. But, you'll find no spoilers in this review, friends! Play the game to see the disappointment for yourselves.

Other than that, and a few more problems here and there, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Game of the Year Edition establishes itself as a solid title in any First-Person Shooter fan's collection, if not only for the multiplayer experience. You probably won't play it ever again once you complete the final mission, but there's weeks of fun to be had online with your buddies for a few Saving Private Ryan-style reenactments of the Normandy invasion! Goooo Allies!

-Ben Monkey, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ben Lewis

Minimum System Requirements:

3D Accelerator card w/ 16 MB VRAM and full OpenGL support, Windows 98/ME/2000/XP, Pentium III 400 MHz or Athlon processor, 128 MB RAM, 1.1 GB HD space, 4X CD-ROM

Test System:

GeForce 2MX400 card w/ 64 MB VRAM, Wndows 2000 Professional, Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 32X DVD-ROM, Soundblaster Live! Platinum

Sony PSOne X-Men Mutant Academy 2 Windows Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated