Thursday, 5 March 2015

Wolfenstein 3D (MS-DOS)

Wolfenstein 3D title screen
Developer:id |Release Date:1992|Systems:DOS, SNES, Mac, Jaguar, 3DO, GBA, Apple IIGS, PC-98, Archimedes, etc.

Today on Super Adventures I have another requested game for you: Wolfenstein 3D, or (Wolfenstein 3-D according to the title screen). And it's got the Nazi Party's theme tune playing right now as its title song, that's just... great.

This of course is the earliest first person shooter ever made, except for all those other ones that came before it. Even if you don't want to count things like 1974's Maze War, 1980's Battlezone, or even 1987's MIDI Maze, you've got id Software's own Hovertank 3D and Catacomb 3D released a year earlier. Granted they don't have assault rifles, but they're so similar in style and gameplay to Wolfenstein 3D that it's hard for me to look at them and say they're not the same genre.

Either way this is definitely the first of the Wolfenstein series; except it kinda isn’t as it was inspired by a 1981 stealthy action-adventure called Castle Wolfenstein and its sequel Beyond Castle Wolfenstein. When id Software realised the trademark had lapsed and was up for the taking, they took it and made their own series out of it. And I don't blame them, as it's a cool title.

Is it the first World War II themed first person shooter at least? I've no idea, but let's say yes. Medal of Honor, Call of Duty... they're all this game's fault. Anyway, I have played Wolfenstein 3D before, but not recently and not for long. In fact I've never even finished a single episode, so that's what I'm planning to do now.

Wolfenstein 3D rating screen. This program has been voluntarily rated PC-13: Profound Carnage.
PC-13 huh? Not sure that’s an actual rating, but okay. The game came out a year or so before all those controversies and congressional hearings that eventually led to the American ESRB rating system being created in 1994, so this is just here for a laugh. It's definitely doesn't show up anywhere on the box, where it might have discouraged shops selling it to pre-teens.

Wolfenstein 3D episode select
Whoa, that’s a lot of episodes. I believe the game originally only featured the first three (or one if you had the shareware version), but later releases threw in the Nocturnal Missions expansion pack, bringing it up to six. The expansion takes place before the main game though, so the timeline was already getting confused even before the sequel, Spear of Destiny, was released and turned out to be a prequel.
So chronologically Episode 3 is the final chapter in the original Wolfenstein 3D saga, before The New Order came out and went full-on alternate history with the series. “Die, Fuhrer, Die!” makes it sound like a 'Danger 5' episode title, but as much as I’d like to gun down Mecha-Hitler and end World War II, I think I should start from the beginning. Or Episode 1 at least.

Nice difficulty select faces you've got there Captain Blazkowicz. Crap, now I'm trying to think of some other games that do this, but I'm coming up blank. I know Doom definitely didn't, as it was far too metal for such childishness.

“Bring ‘em on!” is where the gun was pointed to start with so I’ll take it as being normal difficulty and go with that. This is an old school game so I’ve no doubt I’m going to get my ass handed to me, but there’s no way I’m going down to baby bonnet mode in a first person shooter. This is the genre I'm least terrible at, and I'm not letting some mid-difficulty Nazis beat me.

Wolfenstein 3D Get Psyched! screen

Seems I'm going to have Blazkowicz's face staring at me from Doomguy's spot on the HUD for the whole game, probably functioning as a second health meter. Shame it doesn't work as a rear view mirror too.

Oh, I'm playing as Captain William "B.J." Blazkowicz by the way (pronounced something like Blazz-co-vitch), an American secret agent working for the OSI. Poor Doomguy never got a definite name in all of his games, but Blazkowicz had his identity in place from the very start.

Well here I am incarcerated inside a cell on floor 1 of the eponymous Castle Wolfenstein, with a gun in my hand and a dead Nazi guard at my feet.

There's no cutscene or intro text to explain the story so far, but I think I can figure out what happened here. Especially as I saw it all before at the start of Return to Castle Wolfenstein a couple of years ago.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein (PC)
In fact I remember comparing the games back then and now I get to do it again from the other side!

The biggest obvious difference at this point, aside from the crosshair and a decade of graphics tech evolution, is that future Blazkowicz has much more freedom of motion. In Wolfenstein 3D he can't jump, duck, look up and down or even strafe all that well. Side stepping is a toggle in this, so for the most part I'll be playing this with tank controls. Oh, also neither game has iron sights, regenerating health... or an automap.

Crap, I’ve got corridor on either side of me out there and no way to tell if there’s enemies around.  Not an unusual situation for a first person shooter, but with these controls I’m feeling very vulnerable. It’s like I’m driving a truck here, and any getaway is going to require turning this guy 180 degrees around or lining his ass up with the door to reverse through it.

Good shooting there B.J., you were just a few meters wide. I keep instinctively trying to strafe with the keyboard while turning with the mouse and as they're both actually turn controls the result is a man whose legs are at war with each other.

At least there was only this one guard outside my cell, and he went down surprisingly quick once I got the sights lined up with him. I was worried that my 8 shots wouldn't take me far, but 2 or 3 seem to be enough to get the job done, and with the ammo he dropped plus that blue box of bullets lying over there on this grey void I'm labelling as 'the floor' I should do okay.

Right, those cell doors on the right are painted on, so I'll be turning around and going the other way now.

Oh damn, that’s a lot of doors. I'm sure there's more in this hallway than in the whole of Doom E1M1! Okay let’s get on with this then, starting from the left.

Getting a bit of a Dungeon Master vibe from this place, with all these stone walls, skulls and plates of roast dinner lying around. Which makes sense I guess, as the game is an descendant of those 80s first person RPGs.

I don’t have a hunger bar, but food restores my health so I wouldn't say no to a bite of that delicious dungeon chicken. This is a crappy place to be held prisoner for sure, but it's got a good chef.


Huh, it seems that I take more way more damage when an enemy is close up, so it’s lucky I backed away a little just then. And look, I was only a meter out with my first couple of shots that time! I’m getting better.

Another two exits to this place. These levels are definitely designed to be more of a maze than I'm used to, with plenty of dead ends to get lost in.

Plenty of decorations all over the walls in here too, and any one of them could be a clue that it's a sliding panel hiding a room full of treasure. Only one way to find out which though.

Doom II (MS-DOS)
By the way, this level made another appearance as a secret map in Doom II two years later, with higher res graphics taken from one of the Wolf 3D ports (no more blue doors), and an actual textured floor and ceiling!

Though Doom ceiling textures without Doom ceiling height variation sure leaves the place feeling claustrophobic, which is interesting as this place has actually been scaled up to be double the size of the original Wolf 3D level. I guess now it's canon that B.J. Blazkowicz is twice the height of Doomguy. Also the Doom engine can't do moving panels like Wolfenstein's does, so the secret areas are hidden under rising walls instead.

I find the stage to be kind of bastard hard by comparison due to the fact there's like two or three times as many enemies around, they're the type with machine guns, and I'm using up more ammo to kill them than I'm getting back.

And here's what the level looks like 20 years later, recreated with the id Tech 5 engine originally built to power Rage. Now there's some real MegaTextures for you, with some fat-ass pixels (though they forgot to darken some of the walls).

Anyway, I've got secret panels to find. I'm getting back to systematically pressing space in front of every suspicious looking wall.


A submachine gun, oh that’s way better than a pile of gold! Sliding wall panel did NOT disappoint. Actually I’m a little disappointed that this wasn’t hidden behind the picture of Hitler I searched instead, but I’ll get over it.

This gun is pretty much just an upgraded version of the pistol, even down to using the same ammo which I didn’t expect. It works out well for me though, as enemies only drop the one type of bullets.

Nintendo SNES
Wolfenstein 3D made it across to the SNES as well, but with a lot of the Nazi elements removed. All the swastikas have been replaced, the enemies yell out in English instead of German, and Nintendo wouldn’t let Adolf in until he shaved off that moustache, took off the arm band, and changed his name to Staatmeister.

It has different level layouts to the PC game, a couple of new weapons, a lot less blood, an item count for keeping track of treasure, and it looks like ass. It's also got passwords instead of saves, so there's no mid-level 'cheating' to avoid losing a life. Unless you count having an automap and proper strafe buttons cheating, as they are kind of a game changer.

This was actually meant to be ported across by someone else, but when their Super Nintendo publisher complained that it'd been 9 months or so and they lost contact with their contractor, id had to drop everything and get it made themselves in just three weeks. Which was kind of awkward as they were halfway through making Doom at the time.

You know, these enemies really do like to yell things like “Achtung!” when they see me, which means I can use this to determine how many of them are hiding around the corner. Once I’ve got their attention they tend to come looking for me so I can just gun them down when they walk into view. They don’t have super-human reactions, so it’s very possible that I can still fire first even when they're on alert.

Hey, an exit lift that actually looks like an exit lift! That’s one thing the game has over Doom.

Wolfenstein 3D level complete screen
Only a minute over par, could’ve been worse with all those doors around I suppose. Then again I apparently only found a fraction of the treasure on that floor, so it’s seems that there’s plenty of doors I didn’t find.


Oh, poor doggie! I didn’t know I was opening up the kennels, they really need to put some signs on these doors. Things like "Exit" and "Secret Wall Panel" would be nice.

At least now I'm free to finish off their dog food. No seriously, you can eat dog food in this. Well, except for in the heavily censored SNES version where the dogs were replaced with giant mutant rats, and the dog food with rat food (aka. cheese).

Seriously, again? Man, this game really does love its doors.

Any one of these could lead to the exit, so I gotta try them all! And once I'm inside I have to press ‘open’ on every bit of every wall looking for secrets. I miss how Doom would often make the wall a slightly different shade or whatever.

Oh man, I was worried for a second when the door slid open revealing a guy with a machine gun staring back at me. Fortunately I fired mine first, and it turns out that this thing just destroys people at close range.

The poor guy shouted out “Mein leben!” on the way down, which literally translates to “My life!"; a pretty astute assessment of what I've just taken from him. Shame there’s nothing behind him in the room worth taking. There's nothing in any of these side rooms actually, except a bit of ammo.


Wow, there’s all those tables and chairs they nearly added to Doom but didn’t (because they were getting in the way of the fun apparently). I can kind of see their point, as I keep getting caught on the things as I’m walking around.

It's a nice dining room, but why have all these tables if they leave the plates of food on the floor? Also what’s with the barrels? I don’t have a problem with them being here, it’s a first person shooter so I get how this works, but I don’t understand why they don’t explode when I shoot them!

Catacomb 3D (MS-DOS)
Speaking of first person shooters, here's what Wolfenstein 3D's immediate predecessor looked like. You can see what I meant earlier about it being kind of similar.

One big difference between the games is that Catacomb is stuck with the tiny 16 colour EGA palette, while Wolfenstein uses VGA and can put a full 256 colours on screen on once. Though you perhaps wouldn't think so because of all the EGA-looking cyan doors. Oh, also there's no doors in Catacomb, besides the occasional locked wall. None that I found anyway.

Shit, the game has locked doors! This means that I have to backtrack and go check every door all over again until I spot the key. It’d help if I had a map, but I don’t.

Oh, the key's just over here! That didn't take long.

Now I just have to make my way back to the locked door and I… fuck, I have no idea where I left the locked door. I don’t know where I am, I don’t know where it is, all I know is that everything in this game is brick walls and doors. It can't do floors, or ceilings, or angles other than 90 degrees, but brick walls and doors it has covered. Sometimes there’s non-exploding barrels and foodless tables as well, but I can’t remember where they were either.


We’re really doing the doors again, huh? Long corridors full of doors, all of them potentially leading somewhere (like a long corridor full of more doors for instance).

This is the 3DO version of the game you're looking at here, with its higher resolution artwork and brand new soundtrack. It almost sounds like the Danny Elfman Batman theme right now actually. It's apparently based on the Macintosh port and shares the same graphics, which was apparently based on the SNES port and shares the added strafe keys. For a clone of a clone this actually isn't bad, and it's definitely nice to be able to move from side to side properly. I just wish I didn't have to use the bloody shoulder buttons to do it.

The game was ported across to so many other system that I'd be a fool to list them all, and I'd be even more of a fool to list all the systems that got unofficial ports as well. But I will mention that if you want to play Wolfenstein 3D on a computer, then the ECWolf source port is likely your best option, as it supports widescreen resolutions, current operating systems, and modern control schemes. Oh, plus it has an actual automap!

Whoa, I caught someone unaware! This is nowhere near the stealth game id originally planned it to be, but there’s still a bit of potential for occasional sneaking. Well, unless you're playing one of the ports that took out these extra sprite angles; it's a bit hard to sneak up on enemies that always face the camera.

Whoa, I think I've wandered into a vault. Golden jewelled chalices, chests full of treasure, roast chicken… I’ve hit the mother lode! I have to be honest, I care a lot more about the chicken than I do about the treasure, because I’ve got 50% health right now, and I can lose most of that with one unlucky shot from close range.

Oh, that golden chandelier has brought my attention to how weird the lighting is in this game. It’s clever how the floor is defined by patches of light and the occasional shadow, but the walls on the other hand are lit by magic. See how the walls on the sides are bright, but the back wall is dark? That’s what every room in the game is like, even though the light sources are usually near the centre.

Honestly, I didn't expect to be able to hit them from here. If I can keep enemies at a distance like this as much as possible, the poor little pixel smudges won't stand a chance!

Oh shit, these blue guys don’t fuck around. I'm at 13% health now after being shot point blank, and there isn't any food in here to heal me. There's nothing much in this part of the floor at all really, no keys or locked doors. Bit of a waste of time me coming down here.

Oh thank fuck, I’ve finally reached the exit! I thought this floor would never end.

Wait, shit… that’s the entrance! I was wondering why the enemies were all pre-killed in this area. The trail of dead is the only way I can really navigate this place, but sadly I can’t pin any corpses to the doors so I know which ones I’ve searched. The doors eventually shut themselves by the way (I keep hearing creepy metallic slam and lock sounds in the distance), and they don't leave any clue to tell me which rooms I’ve already checked. Then again with 13% health I should probably be checking them all again anyway.

My final playtime for this level when I finally reached the exit was an incredible 13:43 (par time 2:00) and I didn’t find a single secret in all of that. Though to be fair I did get distracted several times and left the game running for a minute or two. Enemies can open doors if they know you’re there, but until their alerted you can stand there in a corridor all you want and you’ll be perfectly safe. Speaking of enemies, I did get at least get all the kills for once, which earned me a nice fat 10,000 point bonus and an EXTRA LIFE!

Out of curiosity I decided to open the map for that level in an editor, and it’s like the game is made out of Minecraft blocks instead of walls and sectors. Each of those squares has the same texture on all four sides, and I hadn't even noticed.

Rise of the Triad is built from the same engine, but feels much more open somehow. Probably because of all the see-through fences letting you look into other areas, and the fact that ceiling isn't right down on your head all the time.

Here’s the third level of Doom for comparison, showing how much more interesting the level designs got when they broke free of blocks. There’s staircases leading down to rooms, bridges across pits, windows overlooking other parts of the map, angles both greater and lesser than 90°... it's just a far more varied and enjoyable environment to explore.


Damn, shot in the back! That door behind me wasn’t open a second ago; he must have heard me shooting his friend and popped out to relieve me of my 3% health. I can't really cry bullshit here though, as I was being careless. If anything I'm glad it turned the camera around so I at least know where I went wrong.

That’s the first time I’ve got Blazkowicz killed in the game so far, and I haven't even been loading save games along the way to undo stupid costly mistakes (which is why I had 3% life in the first place). I’ll totally be loading one up now though, because I’m not losing one of my 6 lives for this (or starting the level all over again without my beautiful machine gun).


I think I’m getting the hang of this combat now. At first I feared the doors, but now I realise they’re actually my ally. I can pull the classic Diablo ambush, and lure enemies through the narrow bottleneck instead of walking outside into their sights. I know how many to expect by the number of “Achtungs” I hear when I get their attention.

Aww shit, I finally found a secret room behind a Hitler picture. I’m satisfied now, I could turn this off and be happy. Well after I've used my new CHAIN GUN I mean, obviously!

It’s a bit of a shame that I can’t wreck the painting like I could in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but being able to shoot up Hitler himself later kind of makes up for that (plus I’ve got the right gun for it now). Not that I’ll be shooting him today, as he turns up in episode 3 and I’ll only be playing to the end of episode 1.


That… was far easier than I expected it to be. Of course things would’ve gone very different if I’d started with 30 health or 87 bullets, but I didn’t, so suck my chain gun exhaust Hans Grösse!

This Gatling gun is basically just another upgrade for the pistol it seems, dealing damage faster but using the same ammo (a lot like the one in Doom in fact). And that's it for the weapons, I've got them all. The ports would add a flamethrower and a rocket launcher, but in the original DOS game it's just three varieties of bullet shooter and a knife.

And with the boss dead, I can jump to freedom! And that's it for this castle, I'm done with the place now. There really isn't as much Castle Wolfenstein in the Wolfenstein games as you'd expect really.

The episode didn't start with even a hint of a story, but it ended with far more cutscene than Doom ever had. Though what's all this jumping bullshit about? Everyone knows that Blazkowicz didn't learn how to jump until he returned to Castle Wolfenstein in Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

I only killed 81% of the boss? Oh averages, I get it now.  That EPU code is there to prove that I didn’t use cheats to get the score by the way, though with those pathetic percentages you'd probably have to cheat to get a lower one.

Same shit, different castle I guess. Though it's kind of cruel of them to show our hero holding two chain guns, even though it can never actually happen. I just killed a guy with two matching guns and he wouldn't even pick them up!

In fact players would have to wait another 22 years until Wolfenstein: The New Order before getting their chance to dual wield machine guns. So I don't know why this is still on when I could be playing that instead.


Or maybe no. Perhaps there's minigame hidden around here for me to play. Catacomb 3D and Commander Keen 4 both include a Pong clone in the game menu, but it seems that id got bored with that by this point. Never mind, I can still entertain myself for a bit by seeing all the quit messages I can get out of it.


Well there’s more variation in the quit messages than there is in the gameplay. Okay that's it, I really am done now.


Wolfenstein 3D is a game about doors. You work your way through maze of doors, investigating all the doors along the way until you reach the locked door at the end of the level. Then you work your way back through all the doors to figure out what doors you didn’t open first time around, find the door key and then return through the doors to get that locked door open. But they are pretty nice doors I have to admit, with a good solid resonant clunking sound. Not sure about the colour though.

There’s only three guns in the game, and they’re all just variations on the same weapon, with the same ammo. The enemies have been just as bad, with only two guys and a dog turning up so far (not counting the boss). They weren't the smartest goons in the Reich either, but they did react to stimuli: investigating loud noises and flinching when I shot them in the gut. They also took a second to react and start firing back at me, which is something I always appreciate in my first person shooters. Overall the combat isn't terrible, but there isn't a whole lot of scope for a player to make choices. I was kind of expecting it to be harder as well, but then I suppose there’s plenty of time left for that with 5 more episodes to play through.

It definitely functions as a game and once I got my head around the controls I found the shooting was actually weirdly entertaining for me considering how basic it is; especially when I tried the ECWolf source port with its proper strafing. But when it comes down to it, it's all about those doors and I found navigating the levels to be utterly soul-crushingly miserable. Even ECWolf can't fix that.

You can find ECWolf here (requires the original game files):
Or you can play a slightly janky version of Wolfenstein 3D in your browser here:

Hey look what's finished downloading. Sorry if it's a bit too easy to guess the next game this time, but you'll never be able to guess what I think about the gameplay! Unless you can.

Anyway please feel welcome to leave a comment about Wolfenstein 3D, the Wolfenstein series, first person shooters, my ridiculous website, or anything else along those lines. I've inflicted all these words upon you, now it's your turn.


  1. Any nausea? Did your gut withstand the crosshair-free twists and turns of Castle Greyskull?

    1. I made it through fine, but then it's not exactly Mirror's Edge. The turns are all very sedate and they hadn't managed to implement twists yet.

    2. I played the Jaguar version of Wolf recently and it was very depressing and drab. It wasn't so much nauseating as suffocating. It really wasn't pleasant at all.

  2. For years a friend and I used to shout "Mein Lieben!" whenever something bad happened, because we played too much Wolfenstein 3-D and we thought it was hilarious.

  3. Awesome review Ray, you are a hero of gaming! I played Wolf 3D back in 94 and 95 on the PC and Atari Jaguar, great game.

    I am playing Spear of Destiny on dosbox, on level 4 I got 100% completion and found the secret elevator.

    I am also playing Darkseed, Future Shock, Normality and Ultima Underworld plus Morrowind, again.

  4. I never really enjoyed this game, the zombie enemies who fired the pistol attached to their chests by doing nazi salutes (and if memory serves sometimes with the wrong hand even) where hilarious though,
    but this article reminded me of a rumor I heard about this game back in the nineties:

    If your health is down to less than 10 points you could walk over the puddles of blood found in some levels and lick them up to heal one point of hp :P

  5. Also other games with doors: Any game from Bethesda.

    1. SWAT 4. It's an FPS but everybody drops with one burst, so the whole game's about doors, nature's choke points. You shove an opti-wand under the door for a look, stack your squad up on the door, slide wedges under any doors at your backs, open the door, throw a tear gas grenade through the door, rush through the door and get killed by some jerk who was behind the door to the closet.

  6. And Dungeon Master if you rely too much on the door guillotine trick for killing enemies.


Semi-Random Game Box