Release date: 2001
Return to Castle Wolfenstein introduced me to the world of PC gaming. I have my uncle Dave to thank for this. He used to play two games, Wolfenstein and Fighter Ace, and I loved going round his house because he had a gaming PC, curiously built by a company called Gateway… The PC was something so alien and awesome to me that it made my N64 seem like the toy it always was (I still love you, my 64). Wolfenstein became Enemy Territory, a free standalone multiplayer component, but it was the ‘original’ Return to Castle Wolfenstein that dragged me into PC gaming, and I’ve never looked back since.
The singleplayer was all about shooting Nazis, but as soon as the game introduced zombies on about the fourth level, I couldn’t play it any more. I had yet to grow a spine. Multiplayer didn’t have any zombies, though. It was a pure WW2 shooter, Axis vs Allies, no frills first-person combat. It was the first game that I ever played which let you choose a role – you could be a medic, a soldier, engineer, lieutenant, and each class supported each other. Teamwork became an essential tactic; a team full of regular soldiers wouldn’t be able to complete all the objectives in a level.
Let’s take the classic Beach level as an example. First you’d need an engineer to blow up a hole in the wall using TNT and pliers. Lieutenants could dish out ammunition and call in artillery strikes on the bunkers overlooking the beach. Medics, useful in any situation, would run around handing out medpacks and jabbing injured soldiers back to life with adrenaline shots. And finally, flamethrower wielding soldiers were deadly in the tight confines of the trenches and pillboxes, cooking enemies alive with a stream of molten fire. Oh, god there are few games that have a more satisfying flamethrower.
This game started my love affair with FPS games on the PC, and while the accuracy and nimbleness of using a mouse and keyboard helped, I think the classes were a massive part of that. It paved the way for games like Planetside and Battlefield, other excellent examples of class-based multiplayer shooters. Team Fortress Classic deserves some recognition here I’m sure, but I only played the long-awaited sequel many years later. For me, Return to Castle Wolfenstein is where my PC gaming passion took hold. I was 13 when I built my first computer, again thanks to my uncle Dave who showed me how to do it, just so I could play Wolfenstein with him. I have gone through 6 or 7 iterations since then, constantly upgrading it every now and then. Owning a PC is a wonderful hobby, and more than that, gave birth to my entire career as a web designer, animator, writer, and geek… and Return to Castle Wolfenstein was my gateway.