Return To Castle Wolfenstein is a first-person shooter reboot of the Wolfenstein series which much like its predecessor focuses on fast-paced gunplay with a number of improvements made to compensate for the new engine technologies available at the time.
Firstly, unlike Wolfenstein 3D, the developers actually tried to implement a compelling story to a franchise known for not actually having a “story”. To some degree, the story in this game, at least from a concept point of view, brings something new to the table by adding elements of occult. The plot revolves around the American soldier, B.J. Blazkowicz, trying to impede the Nazis from discovering and extracting a serum hidden in an ancient tomb capable of augmenting soldiers into “Dark Knights”, an evil undead army from the 9th Century. Nazis and occult? Absurd ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥, but what’s not to like. However, while the concept does enhance the single-player campaign, the story itself is mostly ignorable since it generally feels like it is there to fill in the space. Blazkowicz, while a total badass, still remains one of the blandest protagonists in existence. He takes orders from his superiors like a puppet with no remorse or personal motives. Even when the Allies want to give him a medal for his efforts and persumably a well deserved break at the end, he is somewhere outside still kicking Nazi butt. Boy, he sure is souless; born with only one scope in life: to kill Nazis for eternity. Plus, it is silly how the Allies' solution to most problems is to send a "one-man army" to take down Nazi headquarters single-handedly without even breaking a sweat. But that is Wolfenstein after all; it purposely does not need to explain how Blazkowicz does it -- and hey, some ancient voodoo magic is involved, so anything is justifiable, right? Fortunately, the story did manage to create the cool villain by the name of Deathshead, who later becomes the franchise’s main antagonist.
The gunplay in here is hasty but satisfying, reminiscent of older games such as Quake, Doom and Unreal Tournament, and unquestionably the strongest point of the game. While it all boils down to sprinting and shooting enemies in quick manners, the game does offer some moments of straightforward stealth where you get to sneak behind enemy lines. Additionally, there is an adequate variety in enemies from the deadly female squads in tight leather uniforms (those butts though) to juggernauts like the Über-Soldats. Different weapons are at Blazkowicz’s disposal too, with the Tesla gun being the most fun one to use, even if the MP40 probably becomes the most practical throughout most of the game, thus making pistols pretty redundant. One problem with the weapons though is the fact you never seem to run out of ammo. Retrospectively now, the gunplay does feel very basic, but mostly thanks to its fast paced action killing waves of enemies does not get dull, surprisingly enough.
The level design has the mentality of most shooters back in the late '90s and early noughties based on maze-like corridors and paths, essentially allowing the player the freedom to pick whichever route to travel back and forth within the somewhat confined space. Exploration is also encouraged and rewarded by finding secret chambers filled with collectables, even if these give no gameplay advantages to the player. Graphically, at the time, the game looked great but as time went by its visuals sure look dated today. On the other hand, the same cannot be said to its soundtrack which even to this day remains memorable and rather ageless. When you can recognise a level/map by a specific track from the soundtrack, then you know the soundtrack left a good impression.
Boasting a strong single-player campaign, (wherther you take the story seriously or not), many probably remember the game for its multiplayer component which at the time was very popular and considered by many superior than the campaign, even as far as being regarded one of the best multiplayer components in a game ever. I cannnot argue with that, although it was not until the highly acclaimed free standalone Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory came out that the multiplayer component peaked in popularity. Featuring a class-based gameplay similar to Team Fortress, two teams (Allies and Axis) fight each other to complete objectives on various maps. Personally, I spent far too many hours in the multiplayer alone when I was younger because it was balanced and had a very enjoyable experience. Currently, the multiplayer from Return To Castle Wolfenstein seems dead. Rest in peace.
In conclusion, Return To Castle Wolfenstein still remains a classic in the eyes of many, including myself, who played it in its heydays online and/or offline, and a milestone on PC. But it definitely lost its relevance and appeal to the general public as years have passed due to more ambitious and realistic shooters showing up years later. More old-school than modern, it still is a solid shooter, nevertheless, which does not spoil the player with today’s regenerative health and cover-base mechanics and can still provide enough hours of fun mindlessly killing Nazis. Pick it up only for nostalgic purposes or if you are curious to see how fast-paced shooters were like more than a decade ago in case you never grew up with them.