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'Wolfenstein 3D Classic': Quick and Dirty iPhone Fun

By Paul Hartsock MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Apr 9, 2009 4:00 AM PT

'Wolfenstein 3D Classic': Quick and Dirty iPhone Fun

"Wolfenstein 3D Classic," a game by Id Software, is available for US$4.99 at the App Store. The first-person shooter (FPS) game genre has done relatively well for itself in the nearly two decades it's been around. From "Doom" to "Duke Nukem 3D" to "Half Life" to "Crysis," it seems that any action-oriented game that involves shooting at mutants, aliens or other ugly entities (no shortage there) falls into either the FPS category or its close cousin, the third-person shooter.

Unlike those eggheaded strategy games that require constant consultations with phonebook-sized manuals, there's almost no learning curve for an FPS. What button is shoot? What button is move? Where's the rocket launcher? OK, go play now.

"Wolfenstein 3D" was originally released as a PC game in the early '90s, and it's often considered the granddaddy of FPS games. It takes place during World War II, but it's not exactly a direct ancestor of the "Call of Duty" franchise. Sure, there are Nazis, but also three-armed mutants, ridiculously overbuilt underground complexes, and a mechanized Hitler as a final boss.

No Spit-Shine Here

Id Software clearly made no attempt to polish "Wolfenstein's" graphics up from their 1992 levels. The iPhone is capable of much better imagery (check out "Brothers in Arms"), but the music is just as MIDI-tastic and the pixels just as blocky as they were in the days of Crystal Pepsi.

That's not a complaint, though. This really is a faithfully rendered version of the original, complete with all six episodes, all levels, and even the secret maps.

The plot concerns the adventures of prisoner of war BJ Blazkowicz as he escapes from his captors, foils a bioweapons plot and single-handedly takes down the Third Reich, all the while battling a narrow variety of guards with a narrow variety of weapons and picking up obligatory ammo and health bonuses (who knew a plate of chicken heals bullet wounds?)

On the initial menu screen, your options are simple: Start a new game, continue an old one, adjust the controls or go to the game's Web site on the Safari browser.

Continuing the last game you quit is as much of a save function as you get. That's just as well, though, because starting a new game gives you the option to begin at any episode and any level you choose. If you want to jump straight into the showdown with the fourth episode's final boss (a very large milkman armed with a blow dryer, it appears), go right ahead.

I like that this option is available. By today's standards, "Wolfenstein 3D" is incredibly primitive in just about every respect -- depth, story, play control, sound, variety of weapons and enemies, etc. Anyone playing it is doing so on a very casual level. The way it's presented on the iPhone, you don't have to wander through the same level forever until you solve it just to explore a new map. Just start it up, pick a level, waste five minutes running around a castle with a chaingun, and put it away.

Control Issues

As this was the first FPS game I've tried on an interface that lacks actual buttons, I was interested to see how exactly the controls would work out. The way "Wolfenstein" tackles the issue may not be perfect, but I can't think up a way to improve it.

You get four layout options, all of which put control pads in the corners of the screen and some of which involve tilting the iPhone to maneuver:

  1. Pivot/forward/back on left, fire on right
  2. Fire on left, pivot/forward/back on left
  3. Forward/back/strafe on left, pivot on right, fire in upper right
  4. Pivot on left, forward/back/strafe on right, fire in upper right

You can also set speeds and sensitivities for tilt-to-move and tilt-to-pivot.

I found option 3 to be the most intuitive, though I didn't like having to take my thumb off the pivot control to fire. But like I said, given that all you've got to work with is a touchscreen, I can't exactly suggest a way to improve what's there.

Bottom Line

"Wolfenstein 3D" for iPhone is a literal translation of the original -- blocky, graphics, choppy action, and repetitive mazes. But to some people, that will be part of its appeal.

Those who want a simple, classic action game designed for quick, casual play rather than intense, cross-country-flight sessions, this game fits the bill and comes with a nice twist of nostalgia.

On the other hand, if you'll settle for nothing below the level of "Half Life 2" when it comes to FPS games, "Wolfenstein" will feel like a creaky antique.

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