Wolfenstein 3D is a first-person shooter for PC developed by id Software. It’s one of the earliest first-person shooter and it has been ported many times, but this review will focus mainly on the version available on Steam which plays through DOSBox. I’ll also throw in some of my observations from the Game Boy Advance port which is where I first beat the game. The main plot is optional to read, but essentially you play as B.J. Blazkowicz, a soldier on a mission to stop the Nazi regime. This is done throughout six missions total, each one taking down another important part of the nefarious Nazis. You’ll also be greeted with some in-game exposition after each successful mission to clue you in on your plot progression.
Each mission consists of 9 floors of levels. The first eight floors have you going around picking up guns, ammo, health, and treasure as you navigate through the labyrinthine castles, bunkers, and other such strongholds. You can open doors, switch weapons, and sometimes push back walls to reveal secret areas. You’ll also need to shoot the Nazi bastards that get in your way. There are a few variants of enemies and you can find three different guns in addition to your knife. Each gun runs off of the same ammo and they successively fire faster than the last. You can also scavange ammo from the dead. There’s a stealth element to the game as well. Firing your weapon will alert other nearby enemies while killing silent with a knife from behind an unsuspecting enemy can conserve both our ammo AND the element of surprise. The food and medkits restore a fixed amount of health. Treasure, much like defeating enemies, awards you points. These points go towards your mission high score and at certain benchmarks will net you an extra life. You’ll also need to find keys in some levels. There’s a gold key and a silver key which will open certain doors if you have the correct one. At the end of each of the first 8 floors you’ll find an elevator that takes you to the next one. You’ll be shown your results and get bonuses based on your percentages of kills, treasure, and secrets as well as your time. You can save at any point as well. The 9th floor is always a boss floor where you may find more enemies but will for sure find the mission’s true target. These characters tend to take quite a few bullets and dish out some major damage as well. Defeating them awards you with a death scene and some epilogue text. Beat all six missions to win the game, stopping those Nazi mother fuckers once and for all!
This game still holds up as some good, simple fun. I like that all the guns share the same ammo so that you can pick and choose if it’s worth being more precise with one that consumes less but kills more slowly or using a big boy to pump out serious doses of lead no matter how many poor saps step into your line of sight. The stealth vs ammo and safety mechanic is pretty interesting too. I mostly just shot things and then ran and hid when more enemies were alerted, but the option was appreciated. I also found that some of the levels were designed to mess with you in that regard. Shooting an enemy in some spots will make others jump out from the nearby doors and surround or ambush you in a way that doesn’t feel cheap. It’s your own fault for shooting someone you may not have even had to kill. Other times you’ll shoot and it will make someone close enough by try to come after you, but the AI is too dumb to get there so it will be running around through doors on the other side of a wall. I think this was actually worked around to work to the game’s advantage because it makes you paranoid hearing a door open somewhere and not knowing where that is and just who is making it open and close. The colors a often pretty vibrant, which I like, and it even has background music to help keep you sane in some of those mazes. I do think it’s interesting to see how they used the limited amount of models to try and design a variety of different types of rooms and how they played with the simple architecture to keep it looking varied. It’s the little things, man. They go a long way with what they have here. It’s definitely still fun to pick up and play for a while, yet it’s just as easy to put it down and not feel like you’ll forget the story or something important if you don’t keep at it constantly like some other games. It has appeal.
It also has problems. The controls don’t let you look up or down, which is fine since that’s how the game is designed and actually works to its ease of use. The problem with the controls is that you can’t turn and strafe at the same time. You have to hold a key to strafe. This makes it kind of clunky to have fast action and often made me take damage when I panicked and froze up from conflicting key commands. Some of the mazes are just flat out annoying. It’s a maze… I get. Please stop. It just gets tedious once everyone is dead and you just want to get to your god damn destination. It also seems a little inconsistent with damage. Sometimes enemies will flat out miss at close range but do some decent chunks from a distance. An enemy might take a bullet and drop and then the next of the same type will eat a bunch before biting the dust. It’s some calculation I guess, but it can be a bit frustrating as well. There’s no map functionality as far as I know, which only adds to the maze issues stated earlier. It’d at least be a cool secret item to be able to find to give some incentive to find the secrets. The secrets can be good for extra health and ammo, but they are often hidden like bullshit. Some are on odd looking posters or walls, which I think adds to the experience for those paying attention to the level design. But putting false walls in spots that have zero context clues only serves to elongate your playtime by slamming your face against every wall. You’ll eventually remember it by sheer force of habit, accompanied by the thought of how bullshit that wall is. In this day and age you’ll probably just look them up so you make sure you get them all BEFORE finishing the level and seeing your results just to have any idea of what you may have missed. Some of these secrets actually require you to push fake walls in the correct sequence too, or else you fuck yourself out of the good. In one level I did I found out you not only NEED those secrets just to beat the damn level, but you ALSO have to do them in the right order or you are stuck forever. You could just reload your game, but since you can save anywhere it’s highly possible you’d save after fucking yourself and remain fucked unless you replayed all of the previous levels again just to get back there on a new run. The saving system also makes extra lives meaningless. Who is going to restart from the beginning of a floor with just the pistol and base ammo when they can reload their save with their full loadout? And why get points if those lives are so meaningless? These are vestigial elements of the times, I guess. That doesn’t exactly excuse them. I guess if you want your name on that score page or if you just want to collect everything there’s that appeal, but it seems rather antiquated. The whole thing is so formulaic that you could easily get bored of it after plaything through the first mission. It’s fun to see what it does to change things up, but it’s mostly a lot of rinse and repeat gameplay.
As for the GBA port, it’s great that it’s portable and almost completely the same. It sports the same pros and cons for the most part. There’s no high score section to bother with, and there’s unfortunately no music in the game so get used to gunshots, door sounds, and Nazi screams, but it only lets you save between levels which solves that problem of being totally fucked. It’s mostly just a handheld version of the game that I played a ton.
Wolfenstein 3D is a hard one to recommend. It’s not a must-play classic FPS like Doom, but it does still have its charm. If you’re interested in it, the history of FPS, and you think it looks or sounds fun then go ahead. You’ll probably like it. If you’re just generally looking for good games to play then it might not be your cup of tea with its primitive problems. No matter how much people will defend it as a game for its time, the fact is that it’s not the dawn of FPS anymore. You need an active interest to make it worth your while. I think in general, five bucks or less is very doable. I believe there’s even a free browser version for you to check out if you’re on the fence about a full purchase. A Steam sale will easily make it affordable for the amount of content you’ll get with this one, provided you end up digging it. The GBA version is great for pick up and put down play on your own time, but it may run you a few more bucks and again… no music. Still, this is one of those games that is important to the history of first-person shooters, so any big time FPS fans owe it to themselves to at least see what they’re missing and how far the genre has come. Now I just need to see what the followup Spear of Destiny is like since I’ve never actually played it before. Will it be to Wolfenstein 3D what Doom II was to Doom? I’m excited to find out, and I hope you are too. And remember, above all else, kill Hitler.