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Wolfenstein – A History

For those of that were born in the early days of computers and gaming, Wolfenstein has to be one of the franchises most gamers will remember from an early age. One of the first games I ever played was Wolfenstein 3D, and still sticks in my mind as one of the games that turned me into a gamer as a young boy.

With the latest iteration in the series just over a week away from launch, I thought I would take us away from the hype around Wolfenstein: The New Order and take us on a journey as to why this franchise is the success that it is today, spanning over 30 years of gaming history.


The Wolfenstein franchise first appeared in 1981 on PC’s of the time, being the Apple II, MS-Dos, Atari 400/800 and Commodore 64. The original game, Castle Wolfenstein, was a top down 2D adventure game that contained some real-time action elements, and was a level based game at heart.

Castle Wolfenstein, 1981. (Courtesy of GameDB)

The game was exceptional considering the time it was made, and had you killing two different kinds of Nazi’s, SS Stormtroopers and enemies marked with the SS insignia. The game featured destructible terrain if you used grenades, and featured 50 rooms on five different levels.

Stealth was already a factor even in the earliest Wolfenstein games, and was a major part of both Castle Wolfenstein and its subsequent sequel, Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, which was released in 1984. These two original Wolfenstein games became the prototype on which most stealth games got their original ideas from, and are considered to be the first games in the “stealth genre”.

It was these two games from Silar Warner that would set the standard for all future Wolfenstein games, and would eventually be the basis on which the game launched itself into the 3D generation in the 1990’s.

Beyond Castle Wolfenstein, 1984.

Wolfenstein, The Second Generation

Wolfenstein 3D was released in 1992, and was the first game to feature the main protagonist as Allied spy William B.J. Blazkowicz, who also happens to be the protagonist in the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Order.

The original shareware release from ID Software and Apogee Software contained just one episode, consisting of 10 levels, and had Blazkowicz escape from Castle Wolfenstein, where he was captured and being held prisoner, and features the Nazi killing now expected from the Wolfenstein games.

The commercial release came with an additional two episodes, each with 10 levels and was titled “The Nocturnal Missions”, and had you carry out a series of missions against the Nazis. The game was set in a fantasy version of the Nazis, and eventually had you fighting against Adolf Hitler as a boss, something that I remember to this day.

Wolfenstein 3D, 1992.

Wolfenstein 3D was a commercial success, and is widely regarded as one of the games that helped popularise the PC gaming genre, as well partnering with Doom to create the archetype on which most first person shooter games are based on to this day.

Later in 1992 came the release of Wolfenstein 3D: Spear of Destiny, which acts as a prequel to Wolfenstein 3D. Once again taking up the role of Blazkowicz, players are set the task of recovering the Spear of Destiny after it was stolen by the Nazi’s from Versailles.

Spear of Destiny was a single episode, but contained 21 levels, 19 of which needed to be completed in order to beat the game. There were two subsequent episodes to the Spear of Destiny, now called the “Lost Episodes” due to its poor sales, each with its own 21 levels to complete.

Wolfenstein: Spear of Destiny, 1992.

These original Wolfenstein 3D games were my introduction to the computer gaming genre, and games that are still dear to my heart as a nostalgic gamer, and were at the forefront of technology at the time. Wolfenstein 3D cemented the Wolfenstein franchise as an integral part in gaming history, and moved the game forward into the 2000’s.

Wolfenstein in the New Millennium

It would be almost ten years until the world saw another Wolfenstein game, and it would be an entirely new epoch in gaming by the time Return to Castle Wolfenstein debuted in 2001. This is the first Wolfenstein to be released on the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 as well as PC, and can be seen as a reboot of Wolfenstein 3D in a now immersive 3D platform.

Once again the game will put players in the role of Blazkowicz, as you escape from Castle Wolfenstein yet again. Return to Castle Wolfenstein also features a multiplayer option, which was later released as a free to play standalone game, Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein, 2001.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was originally planned to be released as an expansion to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, but due to problems with the single player portion of the game, was released as a freeware standalone game in 2003.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory were the first games that allowed you to play the Axes in multiplayer, and put Allies and Axes against each other as you defend or destroy mission objectives.

The success of both of these games were mediocre due to the success of the Call of Duty franchise at the time, which was in its infancy(and arguably most successful) stages, but still had a decent amount of support from the community.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, 2003.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein would eventually sprout a sequel in 2009, entitled Wolfenstein, and has B.J. Blazkowicz investigating the town of Isenstadt, which is under control of the Nazis. The game features quite a large paranormal aspect as you discover exactly what the Nazis are up to, and was the most unsuccessful of all the Wolfenstein releases.

Wolfenstein’s sales were so bad that Activision eventually had to lay off employees from Raven Software who developed the game, and can be seen as the dark ages of the franchise.

Wolfenstein, 2009

Wolfenstein, The Next Generation

This brings us all the way to the present, and up to the release of the Wolfenstein: The New Order, which is set to launch on 20 May for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4, and marks the ninth instalment in the Wolfenstein franchise.

Machine Games and Bethesda have given the franchise a whole new look, and takes place in a fictional universe in which the Nazis won the war. Waking up from a coma in the 1960’s, you once again take on the role of B.J Blazkowicz as he tries to launch an “impossible” counter-offensive against Nazi’s who have now taken over the world.

The latest instalment looks like it is going to be the breath of fresh air that the franchise needed, and incorporates all the integral ideas that make Wolfenstein franchise what it is today, while not forgetting where it has come from.

Wolfenstein: The New Order, 2014.

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