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Having recently played through the entire Doom series, I had the itch revisit id’s FPS breakout success from 1992, the legendary Wolfenstein 3D. I had played some of the console ports of Wolfenstein 3D – mainly the horribly censored SNES port and the glorious Jaguar port – but I’d never played through all six episodes start to finish. After a friend of mine heard this and took serious offense at the prospect of my playing a console port, I had an e-mail to redeem a gift copy of Wolfenstein 3D on Steam. The next eight hours were filled with Nazi killing and my own screams of frustration at the massive two-dimensional mazes that make up the game.
Because I had played Wolfenstein 3D before I played Doom back as a kid, it never struck me just how different these games play. Doom had always just been “a better Wolfenstein with demons instead of Nazis,” but going back as an adult and playing Wolfenstein 3D after recently playing both Doom and Doom II, the differences are FAR more stark than I realized as a child. Despite being “3D,” Wolfenstein is an entirely 2D game, just from a first person perspective. There are no stairs, no elevators, no ramps, no higher or lower levels. Unlike Doom, each level is just a large maze on a single plane. Somehow this aspect of the game had faded from my memory, and that aspect leads to a VERY different gameplay experience than Doom.
The other thing that struck me about Wolfenstein 3D is how primitive the game is compared to Doom. The visuals obviously are much more primitive, but the game itself just feels and plays a lot more primitive. You’ve got four weapons – a knife, a pistol, a submachine gun, and a chaingun – but you’ve really only got two weapons – knife and gun. That gun has three different firing rates depending on what you choose, but they all use a common pool of ammo, and there’s not really any point in using anything below the fastest firing because they all do the same damage per shot from what I could tell. The game just doesn’t feel quite as smooth or fluid, either. Maybe that’s because the version I played was the original DOS release running in Steam via DOSBOX whereas I played a Switch port of Doom that probably had some smoothing under the hood, but it felt like a more radically different experience than I was expecting. Not bad, per se, but definitely different.
In my Doom review, I said that the gameplay was still just as satisfying as ever even if the graphics hadn’t aged well. I’m not sure I can say the same about Wolfenstein 3D. To be clear, I still had a blast playing Wolfenstein for the most part (Episode 5 Floor 7 can die in a fire, though), but as a whole product, it definitely hasn’t retained all of the playability that Doom has. It’s ABSOLUTELY still worth experiencing and playing, especially if you love to kill Nazis (and if you don’t, get the hell off my blog), but it’s clear that id learned a lot and improved a lot in the year between Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.