Although it was to be bettered (perhaps even battered) a few months later by Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, our memories of Return to Castle Wolfenstein are probably fonder. Thinking about it, it might be down to clarity of recollection. Set-piece Nazi clashes bled through an MOH stencil into a dozen successors, but RTCW was the Serious Sam of the Second World War: a brutal, relentless tour of late-'90s FPS clichés, preferring rooms full of baddies to more fashionable scripting. We miss that. So, inevitably when we sit down with the newly-minted Wolfenstein from Raven Software, it looks completely different.
It's self-conscious about its contemporaries, anyway, promising cover-minded enemies, realistic physics, branching levels, upgradeable weapons, optional objectives and gameplay-influencing alliances with local resistance fighters. There's even slow-motion gunplay thanks to special "Veil" abilities that allow you to harness the Nazis' occult research. When we point out to Kevin Cloud, id Software's lead artist and our Wolfenstein guide at QuakeCon, that it sounds like a Zeitgeisty franchise reboot, he half-agrees.
But then we get to see the QuakeCon trailer again, and we change our minds. Jetpacks! Ghostbusters! Mad scientists! This is much more like it. "Yes, you're a soldier and you're fighting other soldiers, but you're also facing the unexpected," Cloud points out. "You've got the occult, you have this Nazi science and over-the-top villains, and of course for you these over-the-top kickass weapons." Alright, so they've still gone with slow-motion, but then we've seen surprisingly little of that in the FPS genre - even since F.E.A.R. - and slow-mo, id-style gibbing and modern physics code make for a pleasantly disgusting recipe.
On the surface of it, the fiction behind the new adventures returning protagonist BJ Blaskowicz is a bit contrived (the Nazis have tapped into something called the Black Sun, opening a rift between our world and another, which they can exploit to military advantage), but having rooted itself in Wolf's traditionally bonkers setting, Raven's designers can go anywhere they want with it. "Safe to say, for this universe, there is an unlimited set of options," Cloud confirms. "There's this whole occult and sci-fi universe we can pull from, so there's a lot of neat things the player is going to be able to get his hands on."
"That's one of the cool things again about the Wolfenstein universe: we go back and we pull some of these things from real history and spin this what-if story for some of it, and some of it just kind of blows out," he adds. "So like the Kreisau Circle originally is more of a group of aristocrats working behind the scenes in hopes to overthrow Hitler. Here, they're gun-toting resistance forces fighting on the streets. But it's kind of nice to take those elements, have a framework of reality, and build it out."
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