Back before Doom took the PC gaming world by storm, id software released the grand-daddy of the first-person shooter genre. It didn't set the world afire as the demonic fps did a year later, but it certainly garnered itself a following. So what's it about? Read on.
Inspired by the games Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein by Muse in 1981 and 1984 respectively, Wolf 3D is set in the 1940s during World War II. It puts you into the role of one William "B.J." Blazkowicz, who is forced to take on the Nazis single handedly in order to escape the castle, and bring the Nazis to their knees. Through a total of six “episodes” (featuring 10 levels and a boss for each), you'll have four types of weapons to dispose of the Nazis. Your basic weapon is a knife, but you can pick up a pistol, a machine gun, and a heavy-duty chain gun to make taking down enemies much easier. Speaking of enemies, they range from simple soldiers and guard dogs, to mutants and officers, and there will be plenty of them. The levels you'll be shooting these bad guys in start out small and simple, but get larger and more complex as you make your way through the game. The levels are also laid out in a basic, blocky format, like they were designed on graph paper and translated directly from that. Even so, there are still plenty of hidden areas with health, ammo and treasures to find.
Obviously, the graphics are very simple by FPS standards these days, but what else would you expect with the game that basically started the genre? The music is pretty minimal, yet nicely done, as are the sound effects which consist of various digitized door, gun and German speech samples. There are no ceiling or floor textures, and things get very blocky when they get close to you. But, it's hard to hold these traits against the game, as this kind of “3-D” stuff was extremely new back then. It also helps that the game moves along as a brisk, smooth speed, so the action doesn't suffer from the early technology limitations. You'll also find that the game gets quite hard as the levels progress, making it a good challenge.
If there are any downsides to the game, one would be that the mouse makes you move forward and back when it's moved up or down, and strafing is done by holding down a button, and moving the mouse side to side. It's not a game breaker, but it will likely take players a little while to adjust to the set up, and it would have been nice to have been given more control options to choose from. One other would be the lack of a mapping feature. Doom really helped the player out by including auto-mapping, which shows were you have and haven't been. Wolf 3D would have benefited a lot from this, as the later levels can get very confusing at times due to areas looks so much a like thanks to the level and graphic designs.
So... what can be said about Wolf 3D? It's the game that kicked off a genre. You blast Nazis, have only a few weapons at your disposal, rely on the extra lives system (a rare thing for FPSs), and the levels can trap you in a “Have I been here before?” scenario. Even so, it's simple origins and occasional stumble don't hold back the fun you can have bringing Hitler's plans to an end. If you can move past the early graphics (which aren't even real 3-D) and the basic options available, you'll likely have a good time.
DOSBox runs it fine, but putting the cycles up to 6000 will ensure smooth movement.