Released back in December 2001 on the PC, the PS2 version of Return To Castle Wolfenstein has been a long time coming, but instantly distinguishes itself as the weakest of the three versions currently available, missing all the components that made it worth owning in the first place.
Set in various parts of the world during 1943, Gray Matter has attempted to revive the ancient Wolfenstein franchise with a fantastical tale of an occult obsessed group of Nazis, led by Himmler, who are attempting to create the ultimate killing machine by resurrecting a 1,000-year old dead warrior. Sounds laughable, but in the context of the game it makes a change from the usual vain attempts at authenticity, and gives the developer room to experiment with some superb concept weapons and hideous hellbound creatures. Doom meets Medal Of Honor? Not a million miles away.
Memory lane, where good ideas hadn't been invented yet
However, the single player campaign was roundly criticised on its initial PC release and again recently on its Xbox release, and the same criticisms apply to this version. In a nutshell, it's like playing an old pre-Half-Life era shooter, with none of the innovations that countless titles have featured since. That's not to say it's a bad experience, because it's patently isn't, but it's just been usurped in far too many respects to recommend to any great extent.
But despite this rather vanilla single player experience, the superb multiplayer mode made it a firm favourite with online gamers, and it is now arguably the finest game on the Xbox Live service. Even offline, the Xbox version offers split screen or system link options, so it's a major selling point for the game.
With this in mind, it's almost unforgivable that the multiplayer component has been stripped mercilessly from the PS2 version, the developer citing frame rate issues and other half-arsed excuses which go further to suggest that they couldn't be bothered than anything. The fact that the EA-developed PS2 conversion of Quake III two years ago managed four-player split screen is a moot point, especially when you consider that Wolfenstein is based on the Quake III engine. Yes, that's right; you don't even get two-player split screen. How very kind of them.
Technical woes of the worst kind
And that's not all, PS2 sufferers. The lack of a 60Hz mode wouldn't necessarily be a big problem, but in this case we're presented with arguably the worst borders we've seen since Devil May Cry, which in this day and age is equally unforgivable. In addition, the lack of widescreen mode is embarrassingly noticeable during the cut scenes, which make the cast look like they've been eating too many fish suppers.
Aside from these visual faux pas, the game has been converted relatively faithfully, complete with the usual PS2 related jaggies, loading times and corresponding lack of texturing. Playing the game itself is much the same as the Xbox version, with the controls following the standard configuration, albeit without the simple ability to invert the viewpoint (infuriatingly you have to entirely reconfigure the controls manually to achieve this). At least the framerate holds up for the most part.
Despite this bizarre complexity in the controls department though, Raster clearly thinks that PS2 owners need leading by the hand, and has included a Medal Of Honor style hints system that gives you the choice of pressing select if you're too clueless to work out what to do. In such a linear game it's hardly necessary, but there you go.
To add the final nail to the coffin, the audio - such a strong feature of the Xbox version in all its 5.1 glory - has suffered a vile downgrade in quality, with a distinctly lower sample rate than usual.
Even if you can forgive the technical cock-ups and lack of multiplayer action, all you're left with is a fairly uninspired single player campaign that'll take you all of 12 hours to finish. If you've got the choice, go for the infinitely superior Xbox version, or better still, get the PC version - it'll be cheap as chips by now.
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