Friday, December 09, 2022

Replay Review: Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]

While I enjoyed playing the 1993 version of DOOM a while back, I did so partly because it was one of my first PC video games. It wasn't until after DOOM II in 1994 that I played Wolfenstein for the first time and certainly for not as long. Compared to DOOM it was a bit inferior and I felt it was more interesting killing hell-spawn as opposed to just Nazis. However as the DOOM franchise was stagnant by the turn of the century, I welcomed a new version of Wolfenstein in 2001 as my new FPS for the year, even favouring purchasing it above Halo: Combat Evolved as by then killing Nazis was actually a more novel idea (Return to Castle Wolfenstein predated both the entire Medal of Honor and Call of Duty franchises).

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a reboot of the Wolfenstein franchise as far as the loose narrative is concerned but employs similar themes including Nazi experiments such as the creation of "Ubersoldats" similar to MechaHitler from Wolfenstein 3D and occult themes including the appearance of the undead as in Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is set in 1943 and once again follows the adventures of protagonist US Army Ranger William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he navigates through German castles, secret laboratories and ancient tombs on his quest to thwart the plans of Heinrich Himmler’s German SS Paranormal Division from producing a force that could win them the war. 

Built on the id Tech 3 engine, under producers Id Software, developers Grey Matter who would also later make the first Call of Duty expansion delivered a very well received reboot of Wolfenstein. Despite the horror/sci-fi elements of the franchise they created an experience that was 80% WW2 action movie (specifically Where Eagles Dare) with an action movie score delivered by Bill Brown (Rainbow Six) and with a series of very well crafted levels which, while much too linear by today's standards, were certainly among the most superior examples of level design at the time. The game's weapons were also modelled on WW2 weapons including the British Sten gun and the U.S. Thompson M1 although one is most likely to use German weapons such as the FG-42 rifle much more as you eliminate enemies on your one-man-army romp through the game.

I was all set to experience a blend of action and horror, wielding a combination of classic WW2 and fictional, sci-fi-inspired weapons against Nazis, the undead, and experimental mutant soldiers. Unfortunately the Steam implementation of RTCW is buggered and I was given an OGL error on startup. While there were a series for fixes suggested to get one up and running today, I was also directed to a "RealRTCW" a community made Steam mod that not only allows the 20+ year old game run on current state-of-the-art systems, but also in ultrawide resolutions and with a plethora of graphical upgrades. It does make changes to some in-game elements adding several era-appropriate weapons and some combat rebalancing which I felt were worthwhile additions and reduced some annoyances that are common with playing such an old game, but a more vanilla experience exists retaining only the graphical upgrades is available for those who need it. RealRTCW seemed like a no-brainer and its install and setup was as you'd expect from the main game. While a separate entity, the game requires RTCW registered to Steam to avail of it.


Final Verdict: A solid shooter with varied narrative objectives. Despite the sci-fi/horror elements, which are present but not oppressive, the vast majority of the game is a quasi-realistic depiction of "Hollywood Style" WW2 combat and strangely was the most accurate WW2 FPS experience in Multiplayer at time of release. It sits right in the middle of one of the oldest game franchises today which is still beloved and going strong, a testament to how the genre of "alternative" WW2 depictions have intrigued fans for decades.

Technicals: 11.2 hours playtime through Steam using a Nvidia 3070Ti @ 3440x1440 @ 175Hz (capped at 77FPS) with max settings on Windows 11. Windows HDR auto-activated and provided an expected amount of superior lighting.

Bugs: The standard version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein would not initialise after setting  a resolution other than 1024x768 citing an OpenGL error. full ultrawide support with no bugs was delivered through the RealRTCW mod.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein is available from Steam for €4.99 or GOG for €6.19 when not in a sale. Steam recommended for the RealRTCW patch. Review copy purchased from Fanatical for €2.39 in March 2021.


  • Castle Wolfenstein [1981]
  • Beyond Castle Wolfenstein [1984]
  • Wolfenstein 3D [1992]
  • - Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny [1992]
  • Return to Castle Wolfenstein [2001]
  • - Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory [2003]
  • Wolfenstein [2009]
  • Wolfenstein: The New Order [2014] 
  • - Wolfenstein: The Old Blood [2015]
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus [2017]
  • - Wolfenstein: Youngblood [2019]
  • Wolfenstein III [?] 

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