The true birthing pool of the FPS.
1984. I’d just entered the wonderful world of disk-based games. A breezeblock 1541 floppy drive was my passport to a whole new world of games, mostly from the US of A. The first disk game I ever saw wasn’t exactly amazing – shocking graphics, jerky movement and a fatal glitch to end all glitches (if you hit the edge of the screen, it rendered your man uncontrollable for a few seconds, usually resulting in death). The game – Castle Wolfenstein by Muse Software.
It’s the grandaddy of modern games. This old fella inspired Id to produce its namesake – the game many regard as the original 3D first-person shooter. Despite it’s glaring inadequacies, it stole hours of my time.
From simple 8-bit gaming to portentous pomp rock.
You play a captured soldier armed only with a handgun and with only one thing on his mind – to escape and blow up the castle in the process. You start off in a cell and after a brief conversation with a fellow prisoner in stereotypical, Eagle comic fashion (plenty of ‘Aaaaarghs’ and ‘Aieeeeeeeeees’) you set off on your quest.
Each level is made up of a series of static screens connected by doors and lifts. Once you come across a guard (swastika on his chest), he won’t be able to see you unless you stray over his line of sight, where he shouts, “HALT!” If you leg it, he’ll say, “SCHWEINHUND!” and will tail you like fuckin’ Jodie Marsh after a Premiership footballer.
If only Jellyhead could get to the chest…
He’ll attempt to either shoot or grab you. You can either run or shoot back (one bullet kills him stone dead). You then search the body, relieving him of his own bullets, food or even an SS uniform which makes other soldiers ignore you. Later levels feature super-guards who pursue you relentlessly until shot.
The basic, functional 2D graphics and non-cluttered layout means planning your next move is easy – although careful navigation is needed. Hiding beneath the simplistic visuals is a game requiring plenty of stealth, tactical planning, resourcefulness and cunning. It draws you in slowly and soon makes you forget the flaws.
“Excellent. I need to go wee-wee…”
Being a kid of the ‘70s and reared on the Eagle and those mini war story books, Castle Wolfenstein lived out my fantasies. It was like a less complicated version of the board game Escape From Colditz.
It’s a short game. I remember the ‘ending’ was just a plain green screen with a few trees and a ‘Well done – you have escaped’ message. If ever a game had action and gameplay which belied its graphics, this is it. But, by fuck, thanks for the journey.