With no one exactly being all that pleased about Sony and Microsoft’s announcements that neither of their consoles would be backwards compatible, and with Wolfenstein: The New Order being announced not too long ago, I figured now was a better time than ever to dust off the old Xbox and give Return To Castle Wolfenstein: Tides Of War another go. After nearly a decade of advancement in the realm of first-person shooters, from structure to controls, how does the game hold up? Quite well, actually.
Return To Castle Wolfenstein: Tides Of War tells the story of American special operative William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, who is sent to investigate rumors surrounding occult rituals and strange science performed by Nazi Heinrich Himmler’s SS Paranormal Division. As the game goes on, B.J. makes stranger and stranger paranormal and scientific discoveries, while shooting quite a few Nazis, scientific experiments, and undead ghouls along the way.
The story really isn’t much to chat about, something that isn’t exactly out of place, but developer Gray Matter did use the loose framework that is the narrative to create an atmosphere I still to this day have never experienced in a World War II shooter. Mixing good old fashioned war fiction and espionage with a dash of horror, the RTCW will have your heart pounding because of a gun fight one minute, then because of an encounter with an out-of-this-world creature the next. I was actually spooked on multiple occasions.
Another unique element of the game is its relatively open-ended gameplay. With the levels being designed in a quasi-open-ended fashion, there is almost always a way to sneak your way through missions without being caught, though you still pretty much have to shoot anyone standing in your way. However, with many shooters forcing us down narrow corridors nowadays, this approach was refreshing, and made me feel like I was really carrying out these missions as I saw fit, though there were times that you were, by default, thrust into high intensity gun battles.
Tides Of War takes full advantage of these wide-open levels not only to allow for stealth or a full-frontal assault, but to make them more than just shooting galleries. Each level has hidden caches of weapons or treasure stashed away, and the treasure can be turned in at the end of each level for a special bonus such as full armor going into the next mission or full ammo. I always found myself checking to make sure I got all the secrets, which the game conveniently made you aware of before the end of each level.
Not only are the environments in the game fun to explore, they are also, astonishingly, pretty easy on the eyes, too. Since the game is unchained from the obligations that history can put on games, this gave the developers the freedom to create a wholly-unique art style for RTCW that mixes science fiction, horror, and World War II history all into one. You fight through defiled churches, labs crawling with strange creatures crafted at the hands of mad scientists, haunted Egyptian tombs, and, of course, the titular castle, Castle Wolfenstein, in search of its many secrets. This game is a great example of how art style can lend a game timelessness where graphical fidelity cannot.
The game controlled pretty well on the Xbox Controller S, and it was not often that I was controlling the game and was made privy to the fact that this game is 10+ years old. This was definitely helped by the fact that the controls were fully customizable, so every player can find something that works for them.
I couldn’t test out the online multiplayer because, obviously, the original Xbox Live has been shut down. There is always a LAN option, however, and the split-screen co-op makes the campaign even more fun to play through. The only snag in the co-op is that it does not save your progress, so unless you have already beaten the game in single player mode and unlocked all of the levels, prepare to restart the game if you shut the game off after a few hours of blasting Nazi creatures with a pal.
As for adjustments that modern gamers looking to check this game out will have to make, there aren’t too many, but they are worth mentioning. Those that have grown accustomed to looking down iron sites in Call Of Duty will have to live without them, as it is all done via reticule, unless the weapon has a scope. Then, there is no recharging health, but health packs and armor pickups throughout the levels, meaning that you will have to be extra careful when engaging an enemy. Finally, if you are looking for Hollywood-style set pieces with entire cities crumbling to the ground and explosions rocking every set piece, you will have to look elsewhere. Tides Of War succeeds because of the mysterious atmosphere lent to it by the setting and the story’s occult concepts.
There were a few things worth mentioning that did indicate the game was old, despite all the highlights. For one, the game took a massive difficulty leap at the end of the game, and enemy types that weren’t so challenging before were all of the sudden dead-eye marksmen with MP-40s from 100+ yards. Then, there was the weapon selection. The game lets you carry every weapon at once, but with no weapon wheel to easily navigate them, quickly selecting the weapon you needed for a given situation was a mess, and I died multiple times just trying to get to the weapon that I needed to select.
For those looking for something that most games this generation just plain don’t offer, look no further than Return To Castle Wolfenstein: Tides Of War. The game holds up exceedingly well, and the single player campaign harkens back to the day where it was a priority, not an afterthought tacked on with multiplayer.
Does It Have Holding Power? Yes