id software’s amazing run of first-person shooters in the ‘90s are in some of my top games of all time: Doom, Quake, even Quake III Arena was pretty good in spite of Unreal Tournament’s more fun, absurd nature. But one game I had a fondness for was Wolfenstein 3D.
Wolfenstein is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies, and strafing around arenas like operatic ballet. What happens when you take most of that away and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that don’t fit? You get Wolfram.
I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which introduced me to this game. Being a fan of Wolfenstein and some of its other games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original. The answer is no. Not by a long shot.
Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode of Wolf3D. Levels are the same blocky shapes they were in ‘92, wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, even the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds worse.
So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds pretty cool! What’s your problem with it?” Well, let me explain.
Wolfenstein 3D’s combat is fairly simple. Outside of some bosses, all the enemies are hitscan – once the enemy shows a certain frame of animation, the game determines if that was a hit or a miss, and if it hits, it calculates for how much damage you take – As you progress, you learn the better tactics of the game involves ducking inside rooms and strafing back and forth at an opened door to avoid getting hit as much. It’s fairly simple and arcade-like these days, but it worked well in the era when Wolf3D came out.
Wolfram, on the other hand, plays more like a conventional shooter. Enemies have more “complex” AI that crouches, tries to move towards you, but for the most part they’re fairly stupid. Enemies never reload or take cover if low on health, and seem to have fairly questionable AI in the first place.
There are several mechanics that Wolfram introduces that are baffling and don’t make sense in Wolfenstein 3D’s landscape. You can now jump, even bunnyhop around the landscape. Weapons have iron-sights which are slow to use and have little benefits than hip-firing does. There’s an awkward stealth mechanic where enemies won’t attack if you’re in “the dark.” There’s even a flashlight.
Had Wolfram made levels to make use of these mechanics, it would work out better; but here it just seems like the designer learned to make these in a 3D engine and slapped them into Wolfenstein levels without understanding what makes Wolfenstein 3D work. Thus you end up with a Wolfenstein 3D remake that is fairly amateur, and ends up being frustrating to play. Wolfenstein 3D is an exciting game, and somehow this saps all the fun out of it.
While I can forgive this a little for being just a fan project, there’s many many better Wolfenstein homages out there. Free Lives’ Super Wolfenstein HD is a better game overall even though it barely has anything to do with Wolfenstein. Even MachineGames made a better homage to Wolf3D in both The New Order and The Old Blood having remakes of Episode 1 levels in their game.
Now, I don’t hate remakes. In the right hands, a remake can be better than the original. But this particular remake is what happens when you put a remake in the wrong hands. If you want to see this for yourself, here’s the mod page. But I can’t blame you if you don’t want to.
OTHER THINGS THAT I NOTICED BUT COULDN’T FIND A SPOT TO PUT IN THIS ARTICLE:
- Wolf3D screenshots courtesy of Mobygames.
- I’m pretty sure most of the models are ripped wholesale from other games. The enemies look like reskins of models from another game. Even B.J. Blazkowicz is ripped straight from Counter-Strike: Condition Zero, where B.J. now has gray hair and a combat vest.
- One secret I found had a surprise guest: