Back Catalogue: Return to Castle Wolfenstein

What is it about?

World War II and Nazis would ensure that first-person shooter Return to Castle Wolfenstein (RTCW) never features in the hallowed halls of IVG’s Back Catalogue. Throw in paranormal overtones, occult experiments, mutant and robotic foes and it has more than half a chance. It’s a reboot of the classic Wolfenstein 3D. Instead of pixelated graphics, you’re treated to the (erstwhile) glory of the Quake 3 engine. Quite possibly its generation’s first HD remake of sorts.

Why should I play it now?

Well, the gameplay, of course. Released before Halo wowed the world with regenerating health, a two-weapon system, and squad mates to make firefights seemingly easier, there was RTCW, which followed the old school template of health bars, pick ups and a slew of weapons that you could carry at any given time. That would have you wondering how many pockets does protagonist BJ  Blazkowicz have so he can carry everything from a pistol to a tesla gun. Yes, you read right, RTCW has a gun that shoots electricity, aside from a bunch of other weapons that remain faithful to its time period. There’s multiplayer as well. It sported a class-based system similar to most modern FPS games (minus the pretentious perks feature) and was popular enough to be spun off into it’s own title – Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.

How does it hold up today?

Though it rates low on the eye candy scale thanks to the limitations of the Quake 3 engine and you would have to modify the game’s config files to enable widescreen support, there’s very little to stand in the way of what is a highly competent FPS. The guns have a solid, punchy feel to them and the AI gives more than a few current-gen games a run for their money, making this a fun play even in this day and age.

Is it similar to anything else out there?

In terms of old-school thrills, last year’s Rage comes close, what with sporting satisfying gunplay and health bars. This aside, Medal of Honor (prior to it’s 2010 reboot) and early entries in the Call of Duty series focused on the World War II theme almost exclusively. Well, minus the deranged Nazi experiments and plot to resurrect an ancient warlord, of course. There was a sequel, aptly titled Wolfenstein that came out in 2009, but was nowhere close to its predecessor in popularity or sales, resulting in Activision culling staff from the studio, Raven Software.

What do I need to play this?

A 400 MHz processor with a 16 MB video card, 128 MB of RAM and around 1 GB of hard drive space. To put it into perspective, your current smartphone may very well be able to run it without a hitch.

When I played through…

The first time I played RTCW, I was at a friend’s house. I didn’t have a good enough PC to run the game in all it’s glory. Even till this day, seeing it in action on a huge 21-inch CRT at 1024×768 on a beast of a machine running a Voodoo 5 (yes, I’m old) in Glide Mode ranks as one of my fondest gaming moments. It looked great and played even better. Fast forward to eleven years later, I break out my boxed copy of RTCW, install and play it to see how well it’s aged.  The gameplay is just as good as it was and certain sequences, such as descending a cable car, still hold up quite well.  It’s a pity that the visuals look quite dated, making it the only sore point in what was a pretty sweet nostalgia trip.

Is there anything else I should be aware of (i.e. mods, crazy glitches, contribution to pop culture, Internet meme, etc)?

If, like me, you end up searching the vast recesses of the internet in search of a high resolution texture mod, do let me know if you’re lucky. As of writing this piece, I was left high and dry in my attempts to find one, only to find a video to whet my appetite.

Where do I get it?

For $9.99, you can get RTCW via Steam, unless, well, you’re lucky to find a retail copy lying in a decrepit corner of your local retailer (just like this Nazi abomination known as the loper below) for the princely sum of Rs 799 as I did a year ago.

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