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.
For a long time, I tended to look at the more community side of these games, looking towards the mods and user-created levels people made. Even for something like Wolfenstein 3D, which is nothing but 90 degree angled floors, there was some charm and enjoyment from them. Hell, I even found some amount of enjoyment in the third-party Spear of Destiny mission packs that FormGen put out.
Wolfenstein 3D is a fairly simplistic shooter by modern standards, but it started laying the groundwork for what made their games tick: Exploring areas, defeating enemies quickly, and strafing around arenas in a quick pace. It’s operatic ballet but with guns and nazis. What happens when you try to make it work in an actual 3D engine and try to shoehorn in awkward mechanics that just don’t fit? You get Wolfram.
I have to give a shout out to the Video Game Music Preservation Foundation, which for some reason has an article dedicated to this game. Being a fan of the Wolfenstein games, I had to see if this was the remake of Wolf3D that would be better than the original, like how Black Mesa to Half-Life. Sadly, I was in for a world of disappointment.
Wolfram recreates all of “Escape from Wolfenstein,” the shareware episode. Levels are the same blocky shapes as they were in ‘92, the wall textures are a mix between remastered versions of the originals and ports presumably from other versions of Wolf3D, and the music is ripped straight from the original, but somehow sounds like it was ripped from somebody recording it off their speakers or something.
So you’re probably thinking, “Hey, this sounds like a pretty cool remake! 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 some of the 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 modern shooter. Enemies try to do maneuvers like crouching and trying to move towards you, but for the most part they’re fairly stupid. Enemies never reload or take cover if low on health, they don’t flank or chase you, they’re rather static and don’t move. Wolfenstein 3D might not have had the most complex AI, but it was a lot less boring than this.
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 compared to the standard hip-firing. There’s an awkward stealth mechanic where enemies won’t attack if you’re in the dark, but I never got it to work right. There’s even a flashlight, which isn’t that necessary considering all the excess colored lighting everywhere.
Hell, 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 compared to how he looks in the original. But, at least there’s an easter egg that features Fluttershy from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, which I guess might be worth the price of admission.
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 recreations of Wolfenstein levels without understanding what makes Wolfenstein 3D work. Thus you end up with a Wolfenstein 3D remake that feels fairly amateur, and ends up being frustrating to play through. Wolfenstein 3D is an exciting game, and somehow this saps all the fun out of it. It’s a shame, really.
Now I’m not expecting a one-for-one recreation on a modern engine, but even if you’re gonna remake one of the classics, you have to understand what makes that enjoyable, if it’s fun to play, that sort of thing. Copying assets from other games and forcing in game mechanics that don’t fit can ruin the game considerably if not done well. There’s a reason the original kept it simple: Because it works.
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 better homages to Wolfenstein 3D as both The New Order and The Old Blood have nightmare segments where B.J. goes through those original levels. Those seemed more fun than what’s available here.
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, trying to make a modern game out of a classic. If you want to see this for yourself, here’s their ModDB page. Perhaps you might enjoy this. For me, though, I’m better off with playing the original. Remakes are nice, but sometimes the original article is good enough.
Wolfenstein 3D screenshots courtesy of Mobygames.