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Return to Castle Wolfenstein

Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Action to Make you Quake

by Jim Bray

A classic shoot 'em up computer game has a new, state-of-the-art incarnation.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein ($49.99, for Windows) updates the game that gave me my first experience with "first person" games and forever hooked me on that type of adventure. These are the games where the action takes place from your point of view as you walk or run (or jump or whatever) with your weapon of choice extended in front of you.

The old Wolfenstein 3D game was primitive compared to today's version, with only flat levels and heavily pixilized backgrounds, but it paved the way for Doom, Duke Nukem, Quake, Jedi Knight and many more such funfests.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is built on the Quake 3 Arena game engine, which means it's about as up to date as you could need. Graphics are terrific and, unlike the old game, you really play in three dimensions - so you can go up and down stairs, jump from level to level, shoot up and down at enemies.

In short, you not only have to watch your back, you have to watch everywhere.

The new look includes lifelike smoke and fire effects, excellent character animation (unfortunately, because this means your opponents move more efficiently), and wonderful textures, lighting and shadow effects.

As with most of these games nowadays, you can choose single player mode or an online version that lets you play with/against your friends. I prefer single player mode because I generally live longer than when I go against real gamers.

There are four difficulty levels, from "Please Don't Hurt Me" to "I Am Death Incarnate." As of this writing I'm still on the third mission on the "wuss" setting, not because I have a virtual yellow streak down my back but because I only have limited time to review these things and I like getting as far into them as reasonably possible.

No, really!

Anyway, you play B. J. Blazkowicz, a U.S. Army Ranger recruited into the Office of Secret Actions. Your mission is to infiltrate the Third Reich to stop a Nazi research project aimed at raising the dead and creating an army of Supersoldiers.

The action takes place around 1943 and, other than the zombies and mutants et al who periodically populate the program, it's pretty realistic. I found it more enjoyable than many of the competing games which, while realistic in their own way, are set in worlds of total fantasy or sci-fi settings that don't connect with you the way this "pseudo authentic" game does.

Activision, the game's distributor, says each of the game's buildings and locations has been based on real world buildings, materials and environments, and it shows. One of my favorites is a cable car gondola you commandeer and use to descend a mountainside, shooting your way into stations along the way.

As with most games of this ilk, you can pick up weapons and other supplies, like medicine and food, as you wind your way through the hallways, corridors and streets. I found a big machinegun on one level and, though I never figured out if I could take it with me, used it to clean out a bunch of Nazi soldiers congregated on my chosen route.

You can also find (so my son tells me) a scope for your rifle that turns you into a real sharpshooter. I'm still looking for that one.

The original Wolfenstein had secret areas you could find that might contain bonus arms or supplies. According to the scoring screen at the end of each level this version does, too, though they're either very well hidden or I'm a complete dunce because I haven't uncovered a single one.

Guess that gives me yet another goal to strive for…

This is a positively addictive game and a fitting sequel to the innovative original.

Microsoft, meanwhile, has introduced "Zoo Tycoon," the latest "Tycoon" PC game. This $35 Windows "sim" lets you design and build your own PETA-disapproved facility, complete with "realistic zoo action."

You choose from 175 exhibits, including animals and enclosures, junk food stands, waterfalls and the like.

I haven't noticed any protesters yet, though.

Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.


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January 31, 2006