Friday, 12 June 2015

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein

I'm going to kill two birds with one stone here and call both of the original Castle Wolfenstein games done. I didn't complete either of them, but I'm certainly done with them. They're both very similar, and the second game - Beyond Castle Wolfenstein - is very much an evolution of the former - Castle Wolfenstein. In both games, you play a character whose job it is to navigate the maze of rooms in Castle Wolfenstein, avoid guards, find *something* and reach the end. In the first game you're a PoW trying to find the German war plans and escape the castle, and in the second game you're a resistance member trying to find a bomb to plant in Hitler's conference room and then escape. Both games play very similarly, and therein lies the problem. They were undoubtedly very innovative at the time with digitized voices, randomized maps and enemy/treasure drops, stealth gameplay, increasing difficulty levels, and separate movement and firing controls. It's that last one that is the sticking point. It's probably what would now be called 'twin-stick' control, but in those days that meant two hands on the keyboard (there is also a joystick option, which might have worked better, but I didn't use it). It is really hard trying to run around with one hand and aim and fire your gun with the other, especially when movement's so stuttery and if you hit a wall then your weapon is automatically holstered. To its credit, it's not really meant to be a shooter. It's much more about stealth - putting on guards' uniforms and sneaking about undetected. That mechanic didn't really seem to work well for me, though, I also had issues with grenades, which I couldn't get to work at all. You only get one life, as such, but when you die or are captured then you begin again from the start of the level, but all of the dead enemies stay dead. The map is only regenerated when a) you ask it to be, or b) you shoot a crate of explosives by mistake and blow the whole place sky high. The problem is that if you go round shooting guards willy-nilly then the SS start coming after you. These are super-strong soldiers who will pursue you relentlessly and stay in the same place on the map when you respawn. Normal bullets don't seem to have any effect on them (and I couldn't get the grenades to work), so the only way to defeat them is to pull a gun on them and get them to raise their hands in surrender, then search them and remove their bulletproof vest, meaning you can then shoot them normally. It doesn't always seem to work, though, and that led to many of my frustrations. Sometimes you'll search them and not find their vest (even though they're still wearing it), and other times they just won't surrender. Both things mean you're basically stuck because you can't get past them and they remain there even if you die. Ultimately, the games led me to almost Tintin levels of frustration, and that's definitely a sign that it's time to move on. As I say, they're definitely extremely innovative and pretty fun games for their time, but they're a little too frustrating for my modern, shallow tastes.

Next up is Wolfenstein 3D - a game that needs very little introduction. I played the shareware levels a ton when I was younger, but I'm not sure if I ever completed the full version...I'll see how much I remember.

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