|Dev: id Software|
|Pub: Apogee Software|
|Release: May 5, 1992|
|Screen Resolution: N/A|
by Josh Wirtanen
Any list of the best World War video games ever made should focus primarily on games that have offered finely tuned gameplay or excruciatingly detailed historical accuracy, but only a select few games on that list will have completely revolutionized video games forever. In fact, with the exception of maybe the original Medal of Honor, only one World War game is worthy of making that claim: Wolfenstein 3D.
Wolfenstein 3D was actually a reimagining of an earlier game, Castle Wolfenstein. Castle Wolfenstein wasn't all that revolutionary or anything; it was a 1983 top-down shooter that had you run through mazes and kill Nazis. Wolfenstein 3D took the basic formula, but applied some brand new technology to make the Wolfenstein world a 3D one. Now, I use the term 3D lightly here; Wolfenstein 3D still used sprites, after all. But this was one of the earliest examples of 3D gameplay, and more importantly, quite possible the first application of first-person perspective to a 3D video game world. This was basically the genesis of the FPS genre.
Though it was based around some darker subject matter, Wolfenstein didn't take itself all that seriously. I have a feeling that even back in 1992, the developers realized the campiness of the whole thing, throwing historical accuracy out the window in favor of jetpack Nazis and a robo-suit-wearing Hitler. The sound effects were pretty hilarious as well, as killing a Nazi caused him to let out a groan that sounded more like a Muppet having a slightly bad day than a Nazi dying. Wolfenstein 3D had a lot of fun with its content. It never meant to offend anyone, but it did tend to throw around swastika imagery willy-nilly. To this day, it's still banned in some places because of these swastikas.
Players would take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, a stereotypical muscle-bound protagonist who very well could have been a prototype version of Duke Nukem. The game starts with Blazkowicz standing over the corpse of a dead guard, armed with a Luger and a knife. Presumably, from this scene we are to gather that Blazkowicz had taken the down guard bare-handed—in true action hero fashion—and acquired the aforementioned weaponry. In an era where narrative was almost nonexistent in video games, this was actually a clever way to kick off the story. I think in modern times, too many developers underestimate the effectiveness of this sort of subtlety in their storytelling.
Once free, Blazkowicz would explore 60 floors of Castle Wolfenstein, killing Nazis and collecting treasure along the way. In traditional video game fashion, eating food would increase your health, and the game's Nazis had a tendency to leave plates of chicken lying about. In fact, in an interesting twist on this idea, you could even steal the guard dogs' food. Apparently one should never underestimate the healing power of dog food.
You started out with three lives, but you could earn extra lives by finding power-ups or scoring 40,000 points. As your health dwindled, you would see an image of Blazkowicz's face on your HUD grow more and more bruised and bloody. Of course, the bruisedness of Blazkowicz's face may not have been the most accurate way to judge your current condition, so your health was also displayed as a numbered percentage.
For such an early title, Wolfenstein made fantastic use of its 3D space. Littered around the castle were secret passages that led to troves of loot. Many of these were hidden so well that you either had to already know they were there or come up with some sort of systematic approach to searching for them. These secrets, along with the mazelike castle layout, kept us drawing crude top-down maps and sharing our discoveries with our schoolyard friends.
If nothing else, Wolfenstein 3D will be remembered as the game that introduced the world to first-person shooters, and its influence can be felt in several early classics, including Doom and Quake. In turn, these two games eventually influenced GoldenEye 007, which in turn influenced Medal of Honor. And thus the genre came full-circle, landing right back in World War II.
It may be incredibly outdated almost twenty years later, but Wolfenstein 3D laid the groundwork for what would become one of gaming's most successful genres. In the entire history of video games, very few titles have left an impact as large as Wolfenstein 3D's, and that's why it takes a well-deserved number one spot on our list of the best World War video games ever made.
CCC Editor / Contributing Writer