At the last E3 exhibition, Bethesda presented Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a new portion of the adventures of the brave soldier William «BJ» Blazkowicz, who constantly fights against the Nazis in a completely different, sometimes even fantastic, form.
The 1992 title, Wolfenstein 3D, developed by the legendary id Software studio, is considered to be the one that gave the gaming industry first-person shooters. However, few people know that in fact the history of the franchise begins much earlier, namely in 1981.
Castle Wolfenstein (1981)
The life of the series was given by the American programmer Silas Warner, who founded his small studio Muse Software with friends. The developers tried to make sure that each of their next project was different from the previous one. Among the company’s games, one can recall Escape!, where the player wanders through a maze in a first-person view, or RobotWar, a kind of educational application in which you need to program the behavior of units yourself. Also worth highlighting is The Voice, one of the first games to record and play audio on the Apple II.
At some point, Warner came across a Berserk arcade machine. The game was a top-down shooter in which the protagonist fired on robots while running through labyrinth-like levels. Warner was very fond of the concept of the title, but he considered the topic of sci-fi to be rather hackneyed. Inspired by the movie «The Guns of Navarone», the programmer set about creating Castle Wolfenstein.
The game was originally developed for the Apple II, but was later also released for MS-DOS, the Atari 8-bit family, and the Commodore 64. Castle Wolfenstein was one of the first in the stealth game industry to establish key elements of the genre. In the game, the nameless protagonist needs to get out of the fascist castle and to do this, go through ten levels filled with German soldiers. At the same time, ammo was very limited, and the player had to proceed carefully. Among other things, Warner used the work of The Voice to get opponents to talk in the game.
Muse Software ended up selling 20,000 copies in less than a year. Castle Wolfenstein proved so popular that Warner decided to develop a sequel.
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984)
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein has become a kind of improved first part of the series. This time the player didn’t have to escape from the castle, but on the contrary, get into his heart and destroy Adolf Hitler. There are many new gameplay elements typical of the stealth genre. Warner added the ability to deal with opponents with melee weapons without attracting too much attention, give bribes to patrolmen, hide the bodies of dead enemies, and more.
Unfortunately, the fact that minimal progress has been made regarding the graphics has done the game a disservice. Also, critics scolded Beyond Castle Wolfenstein for its low level of difficulty. At each level, it was enough to know the access code, and the enemies ceased to be a big problem.
All this, together with the lack of promotion of Muse Software titles in the market, led to the closure of the studio in 1987.
Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
In the early nineties, id Software successfully broke into the market and its key players changed the industry forever: John Carmack, Adrian Carmack, Tom Hill, and John Romero.
Their hallmark is a 3D engine that allows the player to explore levels from a first-person perspective. id Software first put the engine to the test with their Hovertank 3D game, which, for all its innovativeness, looked poor with monochrome walls.
After learning from colleagues working on the Ultima series about a new technology for applying textures to flat polygons, John Carmack decided to implement a similar idea in his engine. Thus, Catacomb 3D turned out. The game looked much better than its predecessor, but still suffered from such nuances as the lack of doors on the levels, and enemies that only looked in the direction of the player.
id Software was ready to fix these issues, and they needed a new idea to showcase an improved version of the engine. Romero offered to make a remake of one already forgotten game, for which he spent a lot of time as a child. It was, of course, about Castle Wolfenstein.
What gave the players Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, it was difficult to describe. For an industry dominated at the time by strategy games and slower games in general, id Software’s whirlwind gameplay was a revelation.
At the same time, the game was surprisingly provocative for its time. Adrian Carmack did his best to ensure that Wolfenstein 3D was filled with skeletons, a sea of swastikas and portraits of Hitler. A separate mention is the level of bloodiness of the game, which, along with references to fascism, has caused a lot of criticism.
In addition to founding a new genre, the success of Wolfenstein 3D also strengthened the shareware model of game distribution and gave mod lovers a new platform for creativity.
Spear of Destiny (1992)
A year later, id Software released Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny, a prequel to Wolfenstein 3D. While the core gameplay remains unchanged, the developers have added new levels and enemies to the game. According to the plot, Blaskowitz must recapture the Spear of Longinus from the Nazis, a Christian relic, which, according to legend, the Roman warrior Longinus plunged into the hypochondrium, crucified on the cross, Jesus Christ. Now Adolf Hitler has taken possession of the artifact and hopes to become invincible with it.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001)
Wolfenstein 3D gave the industry a new platform, which other developers immediately began to develop. In 1993, id Software built on their success with their biggest hit, Doom, and in 1996, Quake, finally wiping out the critics who predicted the imminent death of first-person shooters.
However, the company was not interested in developing a sequel to Wolfenstein and refused to consider any proposals in this regard from third-party developers. The situation changed when, thanks to cinema, the theme of World War II came into fashion.
Id Software licensed the development of the franchise to Activision, who in turn assigned the process to two studios: Gray Matter Interactive (single) and Nerve Software (multiplayer).
Players were presented with an even darker and gloomier action than in 1991. The military setting was skillfully woven with occult themes and fantasy expressed through mutant cyborgs and other monsters. Also, the developers have not forgotten the roots of the series and added to the game the ability to complete missions quietly, along with the usual skirmishes.
Multiplayer was another strong point of the title. Its well-considered class system, consisting of a soldier, medic, lieutenant, and engineer, impressed the players so much that many of them liked the online mode more than the story campaign.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein successfully breathed new life into a series disappearing from the radar and sold a multi-million copies
Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003)
At first, Enemy Territory was conceived simply as an addition to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. After some time, it was decided that the title would become a separate game. Mad Doc Software developed the team single for Enemy Territory and the multiplayer mode for Splash Damage. Eventually, after the campaign stalled, id Software decided to release Enemy Territory’s multiplayer for free.
Borrowing the multiplayer mechanics from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Splash Damage added many elements to it, such as experience points, new weapons, and larger locations. The game quickly found its way into the hearts of players who compete in it to this day.
Wolfenstein RPG (2008)
Wolfenstein RPG was one of John Carmack’s attempts to improve the quality of mobile titles. The game is the ideological successor to Doom RPG, released in 2005, and is a first-person turn-based strategy game. Compared to the main parts of the Wolfenstein RPG series, it is characterized by a slow pace of passage, due to the peculiarity of the game mechanics and its fullness with all sorts of secrets.
It’s safe to say that Carmack did not lie and presented a mobile game that was a class above most of its competitors. Critics unanimously praised the controls, art, and abundance of content in Wolfenstein RPG. Unfortunately, future proceedings between the copyright holders ended with the fact that today the game can no longer be found in official stores.
The sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein was developed by Raven Software, which had previously worked with id Software on Quake 4. The initial idea was to create an open world with a non-linear storyline and multiple endings. However, after two years of development, Raven Software realized that the game had lost the spirit of the series. After another two years, the game, simply called Wolfenstein, was finished.
On this one, a magical medallion belonging to the German occult society Thule fell into the hands of BJ Blazhkovich. Actually, the main gameplay innovations are centered around the use of this very artifact. With it, the player can slow down time, find secret rooms and paths, create a protective bulletproof field, and detect weak spots on the body of robotic opponents.
In addition, some sandbox elements, such as weapon upgrades or non-linear levels, still reached the final version of Wolfenstein.
Critics received the game quite warmly, but agreed that the franchise needed something more than just a solid action game. We need new blood.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014)
In 2009, Carmack, citing publisher fatigue, sells id Software to ZeniMax Media. At the same time, former employees of the Swedish studio Starbreeze Studios, responsible for The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness, founded a new company, MachineGames, and actively promoted ideas to various publishers.
When the Swedes found out that ZeniMax had acquired id Software, they contacted the latter and pitched them the concept for a new Wolfenstein game. id Software were thrilled. In 2010, ZeniMax took over MachineGames, which gave players Wolfenstein: The New Order four years later.
This time the events of the game take place in 1960, in a world in which Germany has subjugated all other countries thanks to the cybernetic developments of their scientists. After lying in a coma for 14 years, Blaskowitz joins the resistance to rectify the situation and overthrow the Nazis. For the first time in the history of the franchise, a strong emphasis was placed on revealing the character of the main character, just like on secondary characters, as well as on the cinematic nature of the game as a whole.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was an incredible success and has gone down in history as one of the most successful reimaginings of the franchise. The developers managed to create a completely fresh shooter, while somehow maintaining the atmosphere of the classic parts. It sold 400,000 copies in its first month, and MachineGames immediately set about developing a sequel.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood (2015)
According to tradition, The Old Blood was originally conceived as just an addition, but later the developers saw in it the potential for a full-fledged sequel. Unfortunately, this time around, MachineGames may have stuck with the original plan.
Despite the fact that the amazing gameplay of the last part remained in place, and even became even more bloody, critics could not turn a blind eye to the plot of The Old Blood, which is much inferior to The New Order.
As a result, the media unanimously came to the conclusion that The Old Blood is an excellent stand-alone game, but a step back compared to the punchy last part.
The trailer for The New Colossus, shown at E3, clearly demonstrates the desire of the developers to further develop the series towards a bright cinematic action. Whether MachineGames will be able to do this without losing the brand spirit of the series along the way, we will find out on October 27, 2017.