Unique, Eerie, and Atmospheric, Return to Castle Wolfenstein Still Stands Out
On Memorial Day, we celebrate the fallen heroes who have given their life to protect our country. These heroes of war are celebrated in video games by characters like B. J. Blazkowicz, famed Nazi slayer of the Wolfenstein series.
In recent escapades B. J. has fought a Nazi threat in an alternate timeline where they won the war. Long before this, he took it to the Third Reich in a historical fiction set during WWII, with the Allies presumably still ultimately winning but with a very different Nazi war machine at work. In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, B. J. faces a Nazi threat that dabbles in the occult: undead, spirits, and all that great stuff.
The Nazis are exploring old crypts and performing bizarre rituals and experiments. Their ultimate goal is to raise an old king and warrior named Heinrich I. The project is codenamed “Operation: Resurrection,” and there’s even a unit for it called the “S.S. Paranormal” division. It sits alongside other delightful attempts of the Nazis to twist science and nature, like manufacturing extremely powerful “X-Creatures.” However, it’s the supernatural material that really makes RTCW stand out.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s undead enemies and creepy, occult-themed levels are a major part of the game’s intrigue and atmosphere. They add a special flavor to the WWII shooter that even other Wolfenstein games haven’t replicated. It’s a deliciously dark FPS with great atmosphere that is a must-play for anyone who likes spookiness alongside their action.
The Occult-and-Zombie WWII Game Experience
Between Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, gamers have several opportunities to explore WWII stories via the FPS genre. 2017’s Call of Duty: WWII was a throwback to the early days of that series when it was nothing but WWII. Indeed, the first three Call of Duty titles and their expansion packs were all set during that time. There’s so many game interpretations of it one can get fatigued.
But Return to Castle Wolfenstein offers a WWII FPS like no other. It stands out even among the Wolfenstein series.
Wolfenstein 3D is no doubt a classic, but its main draw is mowing down Nazis in what was once a novel, simple 3D environment. It doesn’t tell a suspenseful story or create a thick, spooky atmosphere. The 2009 reboot Wolfenstein included otherworldly elements in its story, but there wasn’t much atmosphere or suspense about it. The main element was a set of supernatural powers that the player could possess and use to do things like slow down time. The more recent Wolfenstein: The Old Blood revisited the occult themes of RTCW, but it did so in a more cinematic manner with a hint of comedy. And, not to be stringently technical, but the undead you fought in The Old Blood were Nazi zombies—a little less otherworldly than the ancient undead.
There really isn’t another WWII-themed shooter with quite the atmosphere of RTCW. Its spooky tale of a grand Nazi occult project and the brilliant atmosphere the game is laced with stand alone.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein's Excellently Eerie Atmosphere
RTCW’s strongest plus is its gloomy, detached atmosphere. If it were just another WWII FPS it likely would be unremarkable. The occult themes drive the game’s grim feel, especially at the start.
At the beginning the player, as B. J. Blazkowicz, is imprisoned in a dank and dreary cell at Castle Wolfenstein. The setting is detached—in the middle of a snowy mountain on an overcast day. The castle environment has hidden treasure rooms with odd adornments. Window curtains blow gently from the chilly outside.
The isolated atmosphere continues beyond Castle Wolfenstein into the quaint village below. There’s not a lot of action going on here, only a few Nazi patrols. So you’re not in a major combat location. B. J.’s mission is out of the way, more detached.
A certain conversation between two frightened Nazi soldiers will lay the stage for the horrors to come. Within this village, they’ve been excavating a crypt and recently sealed it off. The reason is because all the dead are roaming loose, no thanks to Nazi tampering.
B. J. finds himself in the crypt soon enough and now fights undead as much as Nazi soldier. Screams, the undead’s moans, torn up bodies, and ancient sarcophagi set the atmosphere. There are also tricks and traps and ancient loot to nab, lending it an adventurous vibe.
The crypts lead into a ruined church where one S.S. Paranormal officer busts an ancient seal and unleashes a ghoulish beast that B. J. must fell. The boss battle is complete with screaming spirits that can temporarily blind the player. These levels and all their monsters and ghouls make for a suspenseful and chilling introduction to the game. They also make it clear: this isn’t just another WWII FPS.
After the early Castle Wolfenstein escape and plunge into the crypt, RTCW has a couple normal-WWII chapters that involve tasks like uncovering the plans for a secret plane. There’s then a trip to the evil science of the X-Labs. But afterwards, in the final chapter of the game, the occult theme returns for the climax.
The spooky undead showdown involves a nighttime stealth mission through the eerie village of Paderborn, home to magic practitioners. This leads to the titular return to Castle Wolfenstein and the battle with a resurrected Heinrich. It’s all great stuff if you like scary, haunted levels. And even when you aren’t battling the undead, there’s an underlying atmosphere of darkness in the game. RTCW’s Nazis are meddling in God’s domain, and as you have to stop their supernatural plans so too do you brush with otherworldliness.
Return to Castle Wolfenstein | A WWII FPS Like No Other
Video games bring us many delights with several opportunities to kill Nazis (and even Hitler himself) among them. But like all good things, battling the Third Reich can lose its flare if there is an endless amount of “normal” WWII-themed games. RTCW gives you a chance to fight the Nazi war machine that’s also wrapped up in occult rituals, undead, mythological warlords, and eerie, dreadful settings. It’s the atmospheric, supernatural WWII game you need to play and the most unique take you can find on killing Nazis.
So this Memorial Day, as we remember our fallen heroes and pay respect to the soldiers who fought and died in horrifying episodes of our history like WWII, give some attention to the fictional remembrances of their campaigns. Remember good ol’ B. J., a tribute to American heroes, and take a dip into his most bizarre adventure against the evils of the Nazi order.
Header image courtesy Steam.Cryotank.net