Thomas Lee looks at the ‘first’ first-person shooter
Despite now being older than most undergraduates, id Software’s 1992 ‘Wolfenstein 3D’ is so infamous among retro gamers that it’s easy to forget the falsehood in its title – the game is rendered entirely in 2D. Right down to the bucket-headed stormtrooper sprites that started the trend of screaming untranslatable gibberish whilst being hosed down by an American with a BFG: now recognised as one of the proudest traditions of the gaming industry. In other respects, Wolfenstein’s mantle as the ‘first modern shooter’ is well-earned. There had been first-person games before, as well as concepts of HP, upgradable weaponry, and diversity among antagonistic goons. But id Software rolled them all together, creating the basic run-n’-gun template that we know and love, in a hilarious game with enough controversial appeal to put shooters onto the popular market. It was left to id’s next icon, ‘Doom’, to introduce trivialities like visual and narrative realism.
To celebrate Wolfenstein’s 20th anniversary, the entire game is now available in browser at www.wolfenstein.com. Amongst the prolific gore, playing it through again makes you think that in 1992 gamers were deemed intelligent enough to find their own way around a Nazi death camp without linear level-plans and sudden mortar strikes as punishment for leaving the mission area. Every door that you see in Wolfenstein – and several that you won’t – will lead somewhere, whether into an arsenal, a treasure trove, or a room full of hungry Alsatians. The player has free reign to explore a plethora of secret passageways and increasingly convoluted level maps: including one which when viewed from above is clearly a vast maze of interlocking swastikas. In this respect and others (Mecha Hitler), it is hard to beat Wolfenstein in terms of sheer novelty – and it’s hard to undersell its contribution to gaming history.