The world can change so much in a generation! Twenty years ago, playing Final Fantasy didn’t involve paying $5 every few weeks so your character could wear a sparkly dress. Twenty years ago, online multiplayer meant talking to your buddy on the phone while speeding through Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Twenty years ago, the biggest shock in the world was Mortal Kombat’s fatalities. Twenty years ago, there weren’t a billion different first-person shooters. There was only one that mattered: Wolfenstein 3D.
To celebrate Wolfenstein 3D and B.J. Blazkowicz’s 20th birthday, Bethesda and id Software have posted a free browser version of the game online. All three original episodes are included, so anyone who feels like shooting Robot Hitler in the face instead of getting work done should have at it.
Unfortunately, this version of Wolfenstein 3D doesn’t include the 815 additional maps that came with the 1993 expansion Wolfenstein 3D Super Upgrades. Just imagine: If Wolfenstein 3D had been released in 2012, we could have paid $1 for every extra map ZeniMax decided to release as DLC each week! Oh the joys of modernity.
The free version of the game isn’t the only way Bethesda’s celebrating though. id Software co-founder, and mastermind behind the revolutionary Wolfenstein 3D Engine, John Carmack actually recorded a director’s commentary to go along with footage of the original DOS version of the game. “The core essence of what’s in a first-person shooter—navigating an environment, picking stuff up, shooting at enemis—really was there from the very beginning,” says Carmack.
He goes on to reminisce about id’s early attempts at first-person games and the aborted sci-fi shooter from that era he calls It’s Green and It’s Pissed. Frankly, someone should get on making that game today.
Anyone who takes the time to play through Wolfenstein 3D in this release will find that there’s still much to admire. Carmack’s right: All the essentials are there. What’s more, there’s an excellent sense of freedom in Wolfenstein’s small levels. Here’s a shooter that’s as filled with narrow corridors as today’s big games like Call of Duty, but there are also secret rooms to discover and breathing space between enemy encounters. A “par” time to complete the game’s first chapter is just one and a half minutes, but in that time, the game nicely captures tension, excitement, a sense of discovery, and good action.
They just don’t make ‘em like they used to.