I started playing Return to Castle Wolfenstein a couple of days ago, one of the (too many) games I purchased on GOG's latest Big Fall Sale. I've played it before, and had some vague but good memories of it before I started. I assumed it'd be a blast from start to finish, that I'd know the maps like the back of my hand (it's like riding a bike aint it?), and that I'd plow through foes as easily as I do whenever I replay one of the original DooM episodes (via a port, of course, enhanced graphics and all).
Yet the first impressions I'm getting aren't as positive as I remember. It all comes back. All the... aggravation!! All those moments where I was stuck, and died over and over again - countless times, and the victorious end-scene is like a hazy apparition at the end of this long, gray and deadly corridor.
The graphics are better than I remember them. Well, they're surprisingly bad compared to newer games, but considering the age of this game they're still better than I expected them to be. The curtains waver in the wind with utmost realism (you know they want you to pay attention to those since that's where the camera is), fire is HOT, and once in a while - nature is almost as bright and verdant as it was in Serious Sam. Almost.
The bobbing motion is a sign of age though, as are the character motions - how they sometimes just jump right up in the air, stand motionless by a wall, or drop weapons on the edge of an object (like a table) in such a way it seems they are hovering in thin air. There are plenty of other examples. Fuzzy textures. Blocky shapes. Little vectors, and a lack of detail and depth (all very notable in the early water, which resembles a still, thick puddle of azure paint).
As for the level layouts, I can't decide if they are a little bland and blocky, or actually pretty good. There is however a lot of concrete and castle walls so far, and the little scenery you see feels restrictive. The open world that waits on the other side of the stone doesn't seem very inviting somehow, it's cold and bleak, and the mountains are like a wall to limit your view of the world. Even when you venture into the green wilds of the world, you're stuck in a valley from which you cannot look out.
I'd just reached the catacombs when I started writing this, where the castle milieu gives way to a refreshingly hazy and Earthen maze of fire-lit corridors. The enemies aren't anything like the ones I remember, or was expecting. I barely remember anything from this part of the game at all, though I do remember the aggravation of falling into one of the pits hidden in the mist. I fell into one of those yesterday... then I gave up and quit, and when I started today I decided to start anew. Ran through the first three levels once more, with zero casualties this time, and that's all for now. After that: after the castle, is where it gets difficult.
Maybe I'll get used to the snipers though. Maybe I'll get used to sniping, too. It took me a while to realize I could actually zoom-in with the sniper rifle, using the 'alternate fire mode' key rather than the zoom in/out controls. (The scope is only usable after you pick up a 'scope' btw, it's not included with the rifle.) Yet some of the dead guys on this level are so hard to kill I wonder if I'm firing at them during some kind of cutscene, and the boss fight was similar. I wasn't sure I was making any progress at all until, after countless restarts, it died.
Overall the game feels a bit old and unresponsive that way. The silenced machine gun woke up a few memories, but maybe the best memories are the ones I haven't reached yet. When I reach the church and the core of the Paranormal Division (I thought my vague memories of the graveyard and ruins were from Bloodrayne), maybe it'll all come back again. When I remember ruins, and running along ledges of broken buildings in the dusky gray of a fierce yet deceivingly silent war zone, am I remembering a different game? Time will tell!
I reached the Defiled Church since I started writing this post as well btw, and beyond! The church was a refreshing change of scenery, and the elite female troops of Helga von Bulow's guard the most devious foes yet, but Helga herself was a disappointment, as was the monster she unleashed. Great build-up, but not much after that.
What comes after... is like a return to the castle again. Lots of gray after a little bit of green (and aggravating stealth). The chase for the Cobra plane reminded me a bit of Goldeneye, as do the scenes where you creep through air vents, as does the occasional stealth, alarm and... quite a few scenes - like the one where you run alongside a tank.
Other scenes seem inspired by the Where Only Eagles Dare movie, where a group of elite soldiers infiltrate a Nazi castle atop a mountain. And the supernatural aspects of the game remind me of Indiana Jones and Hellboy. Maybe this whole game is a mesh of inspirations found elsewhere? That said, they're all good inspirations if they are, and the game does have its moments. I'll post a recap when I clear the rest of it. Re: Return To Return To Castle Wolfenstein maybe? ;)
I've been sorting through screenshots of other games recently, which reminds me I need to take a few of this. A post with a hundred pictures would be worth a lot more than these these words! I'll keep you posted.