Review: Wolfenstein 3D (iPhone)

Wolfenstein 3D doesn't need much of an introduction. Most people remember the game for its pioneering spirit. It brought the first-person shooter into the public eye and paved the way for successors like Doom to follow. It also stirred up its fair share of controversy for its abundance of Nazi symbols, featuring a rendition of Adolf Hitler as a giant fighting cyborg -- including chainguns for arms. State-of-the-art entertainment, ca. 1992.

It was a simpler time in gaming. Of course, that was nearly twenty years ago, and now we're playing the game that once required a sturdy personal computer on our mobile telephones. What a difference a few presidencies makes!

When a game has been ported countless times to every platform under the sun, purchasing it again has little to do with whether the game is fun to play start-to-finish. In terms of content, this is the exact same Wolfenstein 3D you remember; all six episodes arrived intact. But that's not the reason Wolfenstein 3D was brought to iPhone.

Instead, it's a proof of concept -- an inquiry into the viability of taking a time-honored game and rebuilding it for a platform it was never intended to exist on: a mobile phone with an exclusively touch-based interface.

B.J. Blazkowicz, in all his shirtless glory.

If nothing else, Wolfenstein 3D on iPhone proves that a first-person shooter can function accurately and make for an enjoyable experience on a touch-driven device. John Carmack, co-founder of developer id Software, personally labored over the iPhone port of Wolfenstein 3D. He admits the game isn't going to stand toe-to-toe with the latest innovations to spring forth from id, but Wolfenstein still has its moments:

The game is definitely simplistic by modern standards, but it still has its moments.  Getting the drop on a brown shirt just as he is pulling his pistol from the holster.  Making an SS do the "twitchy dance" with your machine gun.  Rounding a corner and unloading your weapon on ... a potted plant.  Simplistic plays well on the iPhone.

-- John Carmack, Wolfenstein 3D iPhone development notes

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Realistically, you're not going to play this game start-to-finish. Castle Wolfenstein is as treacherous and unforgiving as ever, even on easier difficulty settings. Fortunately, a newly-added map function helps compensate for the maze-like level construction, and being able to immediately jump into any level from the title screen is a blessing when frustration sets in after twenty minutes of scouring the same corridors looking for that damn gold key. Fully customizable controls allow for simplified or complex movement schemes, and they even allow players to arrange the virtual movement buttons as they wish. No one arrangement is perfect, but there's fun to be had in exploring the flexibility of the iPhone's touch screen.

But Wolfenstein is not the mind-expanding "three-dee" experience it once was. It's a relic -- a cherished piece of gaming history, and rightfully so. And thanks to the care and thoughtful decisions behind this latest iPhone adaptation, it's a glimpse at greater things to come. Who better to bring an innovative approach to a radically different platform than the guys who practically invented the first-person shooter?

Wolfenstein 3D is available for iPhone and iPod Touch from the App Store for a discounted price of $1.99 as of this article's publication (regular price: $4.99). A trial version is also available, which offers the first three levels of episode one for free. This review was written after playing the first episode to completion and skipping around to the more interesting levels in the later episodes.

Recommended for:

  • The palpable, distinct brand of satisfaction that can only be obtained by gunning down Mecha-Hitler as one-man army B.J. Blazkowicz
  • Long-time Wolfenstein 3D fans who will appreciate modern additions like the map, selectable levels and customizable control scheme

Not Recommended for:

  • Endless hallways of homogeneous Nazis, Nazi dogs, Nazi treasure and the occasional bowl of dog food
  • Sixty levels that all boil down to: Kill the bad guys, find the key, exit the level

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