Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Its hard to believe, but it's been two decades since the original Castle Wolfenstein hit the Apple II, and more than 10 years since id's Wolfenstein 3D revolutionized PC gaming forever. To celebrate this milestone, id and Activision have brought back the series with Return to Castle Wolfenstien: Tides of War which is based on the PC title released last year. While many PC-to-console translations suffer greatly, the developers have done an excellent job with this title. It translates the outstanding graphics, intuitive interface and addictive gameplay perfectly to the Xbox. The single-player mode is fantastic, but the superb online mode is where the game really shines. Join us as we go inside these walls and tell you why this return trip is one well worth taking.

As Return to Castle Wolfenstein begins, you are cast as BJ Blaskowicz, an allied soldier fighting against the Nazis. Your task of uncovering what a group of Nazi scientists are doing at a deserted temple, then following these evil-doers to the legendary Castle Wolfenstein where you'll have to destroy their fearsome army of mutant and undead soldiers. The initial levels make a good introduction to the gameplay with fairly standard maps, but things get interesting as you progress through the levels and uncover the reasons behind the Nazi presence in this desert outpost. You start with just a pistol and a knife, but can gain more ammo as you kill soldiers. One interesting technique allows you to sneak up behind a guard and slice them with your knife without being detected. This definitely adds to the strategy and makes you feel less vulnerable when you run out of ammo. Another aspect of the game involves finding and reading posts and journal entries, which helps to propel the plot forward. These pages can be found in many of the soldiers' quarters or nailed to the walls. You'll also need to perform other tasks such as destroying all the radio equipment or finding a switch before you can move on to the next area. There are also several hidden or secret areas where you can find ammo, health packs and other items. These areas become increasingly difficult to find as the game moves on.

Like most FPS titles, RtCW offers an impressive selection of weapons even on the earliest levels including your standard issue pistol with more advanced and experimental weapons becoming available later on. These include flamethrowers, grenades, silenced weapons, sub-machine guns and sniper rifles. Players can also find special items that will give them shield and make them invicible for a short time against the zombie enemies. Players can also use their binoculars to locate and take out enemies quickly without being detected. Additionally, some of the more advanced weapons include powerful sights and even night-vision, to make you an even more efficient soldier. The enemies you face initially are standard issue Nazi soldiers, and some of their henchmen. The soldiers are smarter than you expect them to be and attack in groups, making it much harder to kill. They'll also be able to duck for cover and use other techniques. While they're hard to kill initially, there isn't a lot of variety to them which makes it easy to anticipate their moves and formulate effective counter maneuvers. While there are adjustable difficulty levels, no one who has played a FPS should find the early going overly difficult. Fortunately, this repetitiveness is compensated for by a gradual increase in difficulty. Once you reach Castle Wolfenstein itself, all bets are off because you'll face a much deadlier army of zombie soldiers, undead experiments and powerful mutants who are much harder to kill. While the later enemies and levels can become quite intense, the game does an excellent job of gradually upping the intensity and difficulty. RTCW includes several interesting missions where you are joined by another computer-controlled player named Agent One in cooperative play. Here, the goal is to cover another soldier or meet up with them at another point at the end of the level. This cooperative mode adds a new dimension to the gameplay, making the storyline that much more immersive. This goes beyond anything seen in the original game and makes you feel like you are playing with a living comrade in arms. In addition to the characters that help you directly, other members of the Allied forces appear from time to time to help you. Shooting them is a bad idea, and you also have to look out for civilians in the game as well, but since the mission ends if they're killed.

The single player mode is quite intense, but Return to Castle Wolfenstein offers several ways to play with or against a friend. Two players can also play using either the System Link or via an excellent split screen approach in the cooperative mode. This is quite exciting and definitely adds to the game's depth and strategy. While the single player mode is addicitive and challenging, Return to Castle Wolfenstien really shines in its online mode that showcases Microsoft's excellent Xbox Live service. The experience of logging on and playing was seamless and lag-free, making play a pure joy. Setting up a match involvbes enterering a lobby and setting up which type of game you want to play. You can set time limits, rules, connection speeds and the number of players on each team. There are two basic modes, a deathmatch where you battle other players to the finish and a cooperative mode. Deathmatches are every man for himself with the last one standing the winner. There are several types of these modes, which support up to 15 players per map simulatenously. More interesting is the cooperative mode, where teams can compete against each other to finish objectives. In the online mode, there are four types of soldiers, each with their own unique abilities. These include the standard infantry soldier, medics, engineers and Leiutenants. You'll need at least one of each type to complete your missions. For example, Medics can revive fallen players, Engineers can fix destroyed items such as machine guns, and the Leuitenants can call in air strikes. These soldiers work together to complete objectives which makes these tactical combat missions some of the most exciting and challenging parts of the game. You can set different rules, such as timers, forward ranks, and can switch sides after each round to add more variety to the gameplay. Another interesting twist is that the game's weapons work differently in multiplayer mode. They may take longer to reload, or have a greater range when fired..

As you'd expect from an id-inspired title, the controls are tight and responsive making the gameplay smooth and intense. While many PC titles have lost something in the translation, the developers have done an excellent job in mapping the PC controls effectively to the Xbox controller. This give you plenty of versatility without becoming clunky or oversimplifying the controls. The interface is very easy to use. Icons appear when you reach a door or hidden area and pressing down on the right analog stick makes an action happen. There are different icons for doors, picking up items and pages. This makes the game much easier to play, since you know almost automatically if a door is active or not. Switching weapons is also easy to achieve, you simply scroll through the weapons and each is automatically equipped when selected. The game's save system allows you to save your progress at any point during the mission and there are checkpoints on each level where things are automatically saved. This makes progression much less frustrating and you won't spend as much time retracing your steps as you could have.

Given the power of the Xbox, it should come as no surprise that Return to Castle Wolfenstien's production values are outstanding, with a smooth polish evident throughout. In fact, Activision is promotion the fact that some of the textures and character models outclass the PC version with added detail and better animation. However, this detail doesn't detract from the gameplay and twitch fans will be pleased to find that the action moves at an incredibly fast frame-rate throughout. The action is brutally fast with no noticeable slowdown, even when multiple enemies are onscreen. The environments are quite impressive with an excellent sense of scale and realism that adds to the game's believability. Excellent light-sourcing and texture mapping give the game a realistically bleak look with sedated coloring. Animations are excellent with detailed character models giving the Nazi's a life-like appearance. While you wouldn't really expect it, there are also some nicely implemented cut-scenes that fill in the details and lend the game a cinematic feel. Adding to the production is the music, which is epic and grand, lending the gameplay an added urgency. The game's character voice-overs further add to the atmopshere, with effective dialogue, good German accents and an interesting storyline further adding to the game's immersion. Overall, this is one of the best looking and sounding Xbox titles to date, and one that definitely showcases the seemingly effortless processing powers of Microsoft's console.

Every element in Return to Castle Wolfenstein shows smart design and implementation, and these highly-polished parts add up to create an outstanding title that truly showcases the power of the Xbox console. It's a brilliant update that adds new co-operative elements and techniques to the classic shooter without losing the essential visceral appeal of the original game. Return to Castle Wolfenstein's enemies are surprisingly intelligent and defeating them takes a bit of brains in addition to brawn. The gameplay is tight and fast, with a well-paced learning curve that allows you to jump right in while gradually becoming more intense. It's controls and interface are excellent and intuitive, allowing you to traverse through the levels easily. The game's maps are well-designed and challenging, with plenty of secret areas to find and explore. Visually, the game is stunning with excellent design and animation making for a realistically gritty experience. The single player mode is quite intense but the smooth online modes really set the game apart from the pack. The propulsive action is addictive no matter which mode of play you choose and gives the game plenty of depth. Return to Castle Wolfenstein is easily one of the best-looking and playing Xbox titles to date, making it an absolute must-purchase that enhances the legacy of this legendary series brilliantly.

- MPalisano

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