Loosely inspired by the Castle Wolfenstein series of stealth action games, the game is often cited as the progenitor of the modern first-person shooter genre.
Set in World War II, players control Captain William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied spy imprisoned by the Nazi regime while attempting to uncover the plans of the mysterious "Operation Eisenfaust". After overpowering a guard and stealing his Luger P08, B.J. must traverse the depths of the fortified stronghold (known as Castle Wolfenstein) and find a way to escape. The subsequent episodes in the trilogy deal with B.J.'s pursuit against Operation Eisenfaust (which turned out to be the creation of undead Nazi mutants) and B.J.'s infiltration into the bunker of Adolf Hitler.
The game was originally released in a three-episode trilogy, with the first episode (dealing with the escape from Castle Wolfenstein) as the widely-released shareware episode. A deluxe add-on could have been bought (either separately or bundled with the original trilogy) that added three more episodes (known as "The Nocturnal Missions"), which serve as the game's prequel (as B.J. must investigate Nazi plans for chemical warfare). Commercial versions of the game (released throughout the years by GT Interactive, Activision, Apogee, and id) contained all six episodes.
Over the years, the original MS-DOS game has been ported to a variety of platforms. Early ports (in which major graphical and gameplay differences are common) include the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, the Atari Jaguar, Macintosh computers, the Acorn Archimedes, the 3DO, the Apple IIgs, and the NEC PC-9801. Later ports (near-identical to the original game) were released for the Game Boy Advance, Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), PlayStation 3 (via PlayStation Network), Steam (using DOSBox), and all iOS devices. To commemorate the game's 20th anniversary, Bethesda released a browser-based version of the game (including only the original trilogy). Due to the release of the game's source code in 1995 (a practice id would continue with its later games), various unofficial modifications had been created and various ports have been made for additional platforms (including Linux computers, the Dreamcast, and the Sega 32X).
Due to the extensive references to Nazism (including graphics depicting swastikas and the title screen theme depicting the anthem of the Nazi party), the game is in violation of German criminal code and is banned in Germany. Some versions (namely the Super Nintendo Entertainment System version) removed the references while censoring the game's violence (for instance, removing blood and changing attack dogs to mutant rats). Some later ports (namely the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions) removed references to the Red Cross (replacing the "red cross" of medical items with a heart symbol).
Wolfenstein 3D was followed by a standalone expansion (and prequel) in 1992, titled Spear of Destiny. id has, since then, been a co-developer with several reboots of the Wolfenstein franchise, including 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2008's Wolfenstein RPG, and 2009's Wolfenstein.
The objective of Wolfenstein 3D is simply to navigate a variety of maze-like three-dimensional levels, with the ultimate goal being to find the designated exit point, thereby transporting the player to the next level in the sequence. Along the way, the player must engage in first-person firefights with a variety of opponents in order to ensure their survival, all the while keeping an eye out for new weapons and pickups that restore ammo and health so as to tip the odds in their favour. Many levels incorporate locked doors, which may only be opened once the player has located and picked up the associated Key (either Silver or Gold), and exploration is also encouraged, as secret areas are found in abundance throughout the game. These hidden zones are more often than not tremendously helpful, being filled with health pickups, ammo, weaponry, or in rare cases revealing the entrance to a secret level. The game consists of six episodes comprised of ten levels each, with all episodes culminating in a climactic boss fight. After each level the player is taken to a summary screen where they are rated according to various metrics, including kill count and the percentage of treasures and secrets found in the level.
The game includes a number of arcade-like elements, including lives and a scoring system, with points awarded for kills and collecting treasures within levels. The player begins each episode with only three lives, but can be awarded additional lives for every 40,000 points they amass, or for finding 1-Ups, up to a potential maximum of nine lives. Upon death, the player returns to the beginning of the current level with only their starting weapons, the Knife and Pistol, and must replay it from scratch. If the player loses all of their lives, they cannot continue at all, and must instead start from the beginning of the episode with three lives. These systems are somewhat trivialized by Wolfenstein 3D's save game system, however, which allows the player to save the game at any point and reload that save without restrictions. Thus, players are essentially able to use this system to restart an infinite number of times while also minimizing many of the normal penalties associated with death, such as lost progress and stripped weaponry.
In Wolfenstein 3D, each episode consists of ten floors (one of which is a secret floor, accessible only by finding a secret elevator exit in a specific level of the episode). In the ninth and final floor, players must face a formidable foe (the episode's "boss") in order to proceed.
The Original Trilogy
The first episode, "Escape from Wolfenstein", served as the game's shareware episode, with the remaining two episodes available in mail-order. Commercial versions of the game included all three episodes (as well as The Nocturnal Missions below).
- Episode 1: "Escape from Wolfenstein" - Sent in on a reconnaissance mission to find plans detailing Operation Eisenfaust, B.J. is captured and imprisoned in the depths of Castle Wolfenstein. After overpowering a guard in his cell and taking his pistol, Blazkowicz must escape from the fortified stronghold to continue his mission. Chief among his concerns is Hans Grosse, the fearsome head guard stationed at Castle Wolfenstein.
- Episode 2: "Operation: Eisenfaust" - After escaping from Castle Wolfenstein, B.J. continues to investigate reports of Operation: Eisenfaust, only to find out that the Nazis are creating an army of undead mutants deep within Castle Hollehammer. B.J. must now fight his way through hordes of the zombified Nazi soldiers (alongside normal guards) and stop the plan at its source (by eliminating the demented head scientist, Dr. Schabbs).
- Episode 3: "Die, Führer, Die!" - After the downfall of Operation: Eisenfaust, B.J. is sent to infiltrate a heavily fortified underground Nazi bunker deep under the Reichstag, where he must find and eliminate the head of the entire Nazi regime: Adolf Hitler.
The Nocturnal Missions
Formerly an add-on trilogy to complement the original game, The Nocturnal Missions serve as a prequel to B.J.'s imprisonment at Castle Wolfenstein. All commercial versions of the game include the trilogy.
- Episode 4: "A Dark Secret" - Intelligence has uncovered a horrifying Nazi plot to begin large-scale chemical warfare against Allied armies, tied to a chemical weapons manufacturer. B.J. must infiltrate the weapons research facility and hunt down the manufacturer: Dr. Otto Giftmacher.
- Episode 5: "Trail of the Madman" - With Giftmacher dead and the Nazi supply of chemical weaponry cut off, B.J. must now pursue General Fettgesicht, the man in charge of the Nazis' chemical warfare initiative, as the chemical bombardment has already commenced. Traveling deep within Castle Erlangen, B.J. must find documents which detail the specifics of the coming "Giftkrieg" (Poison War) and discover the location of General Fettgesicht. However, these documents are heavily guarded by soldiers led by fearsome head guard Gretel Grosse.
- Episode 6: "Confrontation" - After recovering the "Giftkrieg" plans, B.J. determines General Fettgesicht's location: Castle Offenbach. To ensure that the Nazi's chemical warfare is well and truly defeated, B.J. travels to Offenbach personally in order to assassinate Fettgesicht.
The original PC release of Wolfenstein 3D features four weapons: a knife, a pistol, and two automatic weapons. All three of the game's ranged weapons are hitscan, and all three of them use the same ammunition (vaguely referred to as "bullets") with the only difference between them being rate of fire. This makes it very important to monitor ammunition levels and refrain from being too trigger-happy (especially with the ammo-eating Chaingun), since running out of bullets renders the player unable to use any firearms (forcing them into the unenviable position of having to attack ranged opponents with only their knife).
All normal hitscan weapons deal a random amount of damage per shot from 0 HP to 16 HP. Close-ranged attacks deal 4x the amount of damage, while long-ranged attacks have a chance to miss (proportional to the distance away from the player). Attacking an enemy when they do not notice the player further doubles the damage for the initial shot.
One of the player's two starting weapons, the Knife is the only melee weapon in the game (and the last case scenario after running out of ammo).
Because of its reliance on close-quarters, slow stabbing speed, and low damage output (anywhere from 0 HP to 16 HP a stab), attacking most enemies with the knife is very risky (as gun-wielding enemies can deal greater damage in any range). It can be very useful against Dogs, however, as they die to a single stab.
One of the player's two starting weapons, the Pistol is semi-automatic (requiring players to press the Fire button for each shot). Due to its slow rate-of-fire, it is easily surpassed by the Machine Gun once it is acquired.
Not too difficult to find throughout each floor (especially since it can be retrieved by a fallen SS Officer), the Machine Gun surpasses the Pistol in its rate-of-fire (allowing the player to fire away by holding down the Fire button).
Despite being fully-automatic, its steady firing rate allows for easier ammo conservation (in comparison to the ammo-eating Chain Gun below) while being formidable against all but the toughest of enemies.
The very pinnacle of Wolfenstein 3D's ballistic arsenal, the Chain Gun unleashes a torrent of bullets at anything directly in front of the player with double the firing rate of the Machine Gun.
While it can take out any modest threat in short order, it can be wasteful as it burns through the player's ammunition at an extremely rapid pace. Despite this flaw, it is useful both against very dangerous groups of enemies and against bosses.
The first projectile weapon of the game (added in most ports), the Flamethrower fires a continuous stream of fire as the Fire button is held down. These clouds of ember can travel through enemies (allowing multiple targets to be hit by each projectile) in a straight line until it reaches a wall. Like the Chain Gun, it has a very high rate-of-fire.
Unlike most games with flamethrowers, this version contains no splash damage (making it safe for the player to use recklessly, but not making it more effective against wide groups of enemies) and no continual burn damage.
Unlike the original weapons, the Flamethrower has its own ammo source, Fuel, which can only be acquired by picking up Fuel Cans. Since enemies do not drop Fuel Cans, ammunition is more scarce.
Unlike most games with rocket launchers, this version contains no splash damage (making it safe for the player to use recklessly, but not making it more effective against wide groups of enemies) and no additional explosion damage.
Unlike the original weapons, the Rocket Launcher has its own ammo source, Rockets, which can only be acquired by Rocket Boxes. Since enemies do not drop Rocket Boxes, ammunition is more scarce.
The four primary item types in the game are health restoratives, ammunition, treasure, and keys. Any potential benefits an item might bestow are immediately activated upon pickup, and the item itself is consumed; the exceptions to this rule are Gold and Silver Keys, which remain on the player's person (signified by icons in the status bar) in order to be used on locked doors later on in the level (and are inexplicably removed from the player's inventory upon starting a new level). Players cannot pick up any health items once they reach maximum health capacity (100%) and cannot pick up any ammo items once they reach maximum ammo capacity (99 bullets).
If the player is reduced to 10% or less health, each random pile of blood restores 1% of the player's health.
Unavailable in the SNES, Jaguar, Mac, and 3DO ports.
Found near areas with groups of dogs, each single bowl of dog food restores 4% of the player's health.
As dogs are replaced with large mutant rats in the SNES port, bowls of dog food are also replaced by cheese.
The most common health pickup in the game, each single plate of food restores 10% of the player's health.
Found in low quantities, each first aid kit restores 25% of the player's health.
Only found in hidden areas, each 1-Up ball restores the player to maximum health while granting both an extra life and 25 bullets. 1-Ups also count towards the end-of-level Treasure total.
In the SNES, Mac, and 3DO ports, 1-Ups do not give any bullets. In the Jaguar port, 1-Ups only restores the player to 200% health.
Picking up a single piece of treasure in the original version of the game increases the player's score by a certain amount (from 100-5000 points). This is useful for gaining extra lives, as they are found in abundance in special treasure rooms and secret areas.
In the SNES, Mac, and 3DO versions of the game, treasure does not add to the player score. Instead, all pieces of treasure increase a special Item counter by one. When the Item counter reaches 50, it resets and the player is given an extra life.
In the Jaguar version of the game, all pieces of treasure instead give the player 4% additional health. Unlike other health pickups (other than the 1-Up), the player's health can increase beyond 100% by picking up additional treasures (up to around 200%).
Each cross adds 100 points to the player's score.
ChaliceEach golden chalice adds 500 points to the player's score.
ChestEach treasure chest adds 1000 points to the player's score.
CrownEach crown adds 5000 points to the player's score.
Silver / Gold Keys
Both silver and gold keys are required to unlock certain doors, which are usually required to reach the exit in each floor. While they are usually located at fixed points within the floor, the Grosse bodyguards also carry a key. All keys are discarded once the player exits a floor.
Each clip of ammunition found throughout the environment grants the player eight bullets. Clips of ammunition dropped by killing most enemies, however, give only four bullets.
With very few exceptions, enemies in Wolfenstein 3D are typified by hitscan weaponry, and the potential damage they mete out is based on how close the player is to them when they fire. Due to this mechanic, it is almost always preferable to keep one's distance from foes, as this directly limits how much damage attackers can do (though a similar damage scaling is applied to the player's weapons also). In the original PC release, all normal enemies are composed of eight-sided sprites, while bosses are one-sided sprites that face the player at all times. Many ported versions of Wolfenstein 3D convert normal enemies into one-sided sprites as well, which is far from a simple cosmetic change, as the original game allows the player to sneak up on or bypass many unalerted enemies. Without the additional enemy graphics, this mechanic is simply not present in some version of the game.
German Shepherd Dog
Adolf Hitler (powered armour)
Due to its popularity, Wolfenstein 3D was ported to a number of different platforms in the years following its initial PC release. While some ports, such as the Game Boy Advance version, were extremely faithful to the original game, others were wildly divergent, changing many aspect of the game, both cosmetic and otherwise. The release of the SNES version of Wolfenstein 3D marks the genesis of what many Wolfenstein fans refer to as the "Mac Family" of ports, consisting of several releases which are markedly different from Wolfenstein 3D on the PC, though noticeably similar to one another. Some of the characteristic changes in these versions include the addition of two new weapons (the Flamethrower and the Rocket Launcher), dramatic changes to the format of the campaign as well as the structure of individual levels, and the adoption of content (i.e., textures, items, and enemies) native to Wolfenstein 3D's sequel, Spear of Destiny.
Super Nintendo Version
Because of inherent limitations in system hardware, the SNES release of Wolfenstein 3D features 32x32 wall textures rather than the 64x64 size used on the PC. This version is also well-known for being heavily censored. Not only were overt references to Nazism and most appearances of blood removed from the game, but the game's enemies also no longer speak German, and religious references like the Cross treasure item were removed as well. Finally, the German Shepherd was completely removed from the game, presumably over animal cruelty concerns, and in its place the game features a giant gray Mutated Rat. The floor color in this version was changed from gray to brown, which some have postulated was done to help the game's gray Rat enemies stand out against the floor.
The game's status bar was redone for the SNES, with a redrawn player portrait and an "Item" section, which tracks the number of treasures collected. The Flamethrower and the Rocket Launcher are introduced in this port, and all of the existing weapons feature new graphical treatment. The single-player campaign itself is pared down to just 30 missions from the 60 featured on the PC, and while the included levels are based on those found on the PC, they are not completely faithful to the original maps. The game is also presented as a single linear progression of levels rather than being broken up into discreet episodes. Bosses from the Nocturnal Missions do not appear in this campaign, however three Spear of Destiny bosses (Trans Grosse, the Ubermutant, and the Death Knight) are incorporated, as are new items such as Ammo Boxes, Fuel Cans, and Rocket Boxes.
While very similar to the SNES version of the game, Wolfenstein 3D on the Atari Jaguar makes several additional changes. The most immediately noticeable difference is a large leap in graphical fidelity above and beyond even the PC version of the game, using 128x128 wall textures, which are accompanied by new enemy graphics. The Jaguar port remains uncensored, though it does retain the same brown floor coloration of the SNES version. The status bar is removed entirely from the game and replaced with a more minimal heads-up display system, showing only the player's health, ammo, and any keys acquired (as well as B.J.'s portrait to the left). The weapon visuals on the Jaguar are unique to this iteration, and a few of the game's armaments, most notably the Pistol, Chain Gun, and Rocket Launcher, are conspicuously similar in appearance to their counterparts in the Doom series.
While the level structure of the Jaguar conforms to the same 30-level campaign seen on the SNES, which includes the new weapons, some of the game's mechanics are changed. Treasure items inexplicably act as a means of health restoration, and though the same four types exist, they all bestow four percentage points of health. Treasure items also have the potential to heal the player above 100% health. The Atari Wolfenstein port was also unique for having different enemy sets for each of its four difficulty levels; in most other versions that have four difficulty settings, the bottom settings share identical enemy placement.
The 3DO release of Wolfenstein 3D takes after the Atari Jaguar, featuring many of the same graphical upgrades and the increased 128x128 texture size over the PC. It also reverts to the classic grey floor colour of the original Wolfenstein 3D while using the weapon graphics introduced in the SNES version. One of the more striking aspect of the 3DO version, however, is its audio presentation. The sound effects and music were redone in a higher fidelity for the port, making it one of the best-sounding ports of Wolfenstein 3D overall. In addition to the weapon graphics, the status bar of the SNES version was also adopted on the 3DO, as were the altered treasure mechanics which tabulate the raw number of treasures collected rather than assigning a point value to the different types.
Like all games in the "Mac Family," the 3DO port features a 30-mission adaptation of the original Wolfenstein campaign commonly referred to as the Second Encounter. Unlike previous ports, though, the 3DO also presents the player with a six-episode Third Encounter, which is more directly analogous to the format and composition of the original Wolfenstein 3D levels. The Third Encounter levels are not one-to-one recreations, though, and furthermore incorporate weapons and items not present at the time of the PC version's creation, but on the whole they are far more accurate representations of the original levels than the maps presented in Second Encounter, which are loose approximations.
The Macintosh port of Wolfenstein 3D is most similar to the 3DO version, incorporating higher resolution graphics and offering the chance to play both the Second and Third Encounter. A demo version of the Mac port was also disseminated, called First Encounter, which allows the player to fight up to the game's first boss fight with Hans Grosse much like the shareware version of Wolfenstein 3D on the PC does. Since this demo is based on the Second Encounter rather than id's original episodes, however, this includes only three levels, whereas the PC shareware release placed Hans Grosse at the end of a full ten-level episode.
PC System Requirements
- IBM-PC and Compatibles
- MS-DOS(R) 5.0 or higher
- 640K RAM
- 3 MB available Hard Disk Space
- 386/33 MHz Processor
- VGA graphics
- Joystick and mouse optional
- Supports Sound Blaster and 100% compatible sound cards