Review: Wolfram

Source

Developer: Chain Studios

Genre: FPS

Platforms: Windows

Released: June 9, 2012

I had a craving for a first person shooter, as I’ve been playing mainly RTS and RPG titles lately. While looking around for something on the menu that I might like, I saw something called Wolfram. Silly title aside, it appeared to be a Wolf 3D remake.

And I know what you’re thinking. Another one? I can’t count how many times I’ve read about Wolf 3D being remade. A few years ago it was being remade in the Source engine, and looked rather good too. Then it was the Doom 3 engine. And not to mention there are several source ports out there, even some which are compatible with high resolution texture packs, like New Wolf. There are even Wolf 3D total conversions for Doom. The developers, Chain Studios, have a point it seems – most of what you see out there are attempts to just get the game working on modern operating systems, and not much more than that. And graphically they aren’t that good, and the ones that are – like the HL 2 and D3 ones talked about above – aren’t even playable, and are likely projects that have long since died.

Wolfram, however, is a free, fully playable remake of Wolfenstein 3D’s iconic shareware episode, “Escape From Castle Wolfenstein”.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Hey, handsome. The engine Wolfram uses.You get a flashlight too!The achievements section where you can unlock... achievements, and feel better about yourself.Going up!
Hey, handsome.
Hey, handsome. | Source
The engine Wolfram uses.
The engine Wolfram uses. | Source
You get a flashlight too!
You get a flashlight too! | Source
The achievements section where you can unlock... achievements, and feel better about yourself.
The achievements section where you can unlock... achievements, and feel better about yourself. | Source
Source
Going up!
Going up! | Source

Starting up the game, you can choose from a whole host of graphical settings to suit your rig, right from low up to maximum. On the highest settings, the game might rival even some of the newer releases out there today in terms of resource consumption.

Having said that though, the game isn’t that impressive graphically, even at higher settings with all the bells and whistles, although it is obviously a hell of a lot better than the original, and doubtlessly better than the high res textures used in New Wolf. You could quite easily put it on par with something like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. So what engine does it use? Quake 3, Doom 3, you ask? No, this is the Volatile 3D II engine, and it sports a lot of features that a developer would be remiss to not include in any first person shooter today: lighting, shadows, and fully 3D objects – having totally done away with sprites, which are so 1990’s. Comparatively, New Wolf’s high res textures are decent enough but the developer is painfully slow at replacing the incredibly dated looking sprites, textures, and character models – and some of them look like they were designed by a 5 year old with a crayon anyway.

Speaking of which, Wolfram has new fully 3D character models for the tan-uniformed guards and blue-clad SS. The only thing that remains the same are their voices, which are powered by the same low sample rate audio files, ripped from the original game. The same goes for the catchy, instantly recognisable soundtrack by Bobby Prince.

But the guards do have new fully 3d modelled weapons too, one of which is new, and that is the MG 42. This replaces the chain gun from the original, and it spits lead just as fast – with the only drawback being that you have to reload every 50 rounds, and the ammunition for this gun is scarce, using 7.92 mm instead of 9 mm, so it's historically accurate too. This helps to balance things out a bit, as we all know too well that in the original, once we had found the chain gun, that was the weapon we stuck with for the rest of the episode. This time you are forced to use one of your other weapons, like the Luger or the trusty MP 40 submachine gun. Other than that you’ve got your knife which really looks more like a bayonet. These weapon models were taken from Day of Defeat, an old mod for Half-Life.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The dogs have changed from German Shepherds to Rottweilers. Still as deadly, though.This scene will become commonplace on higher difficulties.You can use iron sights with weapons. This will slow down your rate of fire with at least the Luger and the MP40.The MG42 at work.A familiar scene.Another familiar scene.
The dogs have changed from German Shepherds to Rottweilers. Still as deadly, though.
The dogs have changed from German Shepherds to Rottweilers. Still as deadly, though. | Source
This scene will become commonplace on higher difficulties.
This scene will become commonplace on higher difficulties. | Source
You can use iron sights with weapons. This will slow down your rate of fire with at least the Luger and the MP40.
You can use iron sights with weapons. This will slow down your rate of fire with at least the Luger and the MP40. | Source
The MG42 at work.
The MG42 at work. | Source
A familiar scene.
A familiar scene. | Source
Another familiar scene.
Another familiar scene. | Source

Enemies have new tricks up their sleeves too. They don’t really just stand there firing at you all the time like they would have done before. They can crouch – often for greater accuracy while firing, reload their weapons, and even run away if they feel threatened. They also react to being snuck up on. If you run up to a guard, this alerts him and he will turn around, and is not above taking out his knife and slashing at you with it. Guards can also work together to take you down more efficiently than before. They will signal with their hands and command other guards to attack. While the AI seems to have been improved in some respects, it is still quite dumb and open to exploitation in other cases. You can for instance stand a few metres in front of a guard and he won’t notice you until he has actually been shot and is in the process of ragdolling on to the floor.

The player is also able to crouch, and can even jump, which is handy for circumnavigating the furniture which is constantly in the way, and useful for getting behind cover quickly or making ir more difficult for the enemy to shoot you (referred to as bunny hopping). You can even hide in the shadows where guards can’t see you, or if you're feeling less stealthy you can switch your flashlight on. You can use this independently of which weapon you're carrying, unlike Doom 3, where your choices were: a) fire blindly in the dark and hope you hit something other than yourself, or b) see well enough so you can view your innards on the floor after having been mauled by a demon. And wait for it: yes, you can use the iron sights on weapons, Call of Duty fans. That should at least keep you entertained for a few hours.

There’s also one last interesting bit that is arguably the most impressive new feature here and that is the achievements. It seems as though gamers can’t live without them, and they are here – rewarding you for wiping out all the enemies on a level, collecting a certain amount of treasure, or finding hidden powerups.

Wolfram looks promising, but I can’t help but get this feeling that it’s still too faithful to the original. And then again, it isn’t. Doing away with frankly the game’s most iconic weapon – the chain gun – and replacing it with another was a bold move; one that might not sit well with die hard Wolf 3D fans and purists alike. Putting in new powerups like the Schnapps, which is essentially a megahealth – this didn’t exist in the original either.

It seems as though the developers couldn't decide whether this was to be a full-on faithful, yet graphically enhanced remake of the original, or if they wanted it to be something else; perhaps something better. I’m tempted to think they’re going with the latter. All these subtle little additions to the game make me see things that way. And yet, other than the one new weapon and character models, and the new sounds when you pick up treasure, it’s still the same game.

What's the score?

Pros

+ New engine features

+ Updated AI

Cons

- Not completely true to the original

Graphics: $$$

Sound: $$$$

Gameplay: $$

Controls: $$$

Story: $$

Originality: $

Frankly, if you’re going to enhance other areas of the game, such as gameplay, then why not go all out? I want to at least be able to lean around corners, and possibly hug cover. I’d like to be able to do some of the things that id Software originally wanted in Wolf 3D, like dragging bodies out of sight. I’d like even more of the weapons that were around at the time of the war, like a Karabiner 98k rifle. The game I’m wanting to play is Return to Castle Wolfenstein. That I cannot deny. Because the first two or three levels of that game alone set in Castle Wolfenstein were probably more impressive in my memory – and Wolfram is, as I suggested earlier, at least on par with that game (if it hasn’t superseded it) – technology-wise, anyway. In a perfect world, there would be two different versions of this game. One that is true to the original, and one that just takes it to a whole new level. Maybe Interceptor Entertainment should work on that for their next project, after having remade Rise of the Triad.

Development seems to have stopped with the version 1.1 patch, so there isn’t much hope that a few of the niggles I have with Wolfram, such as only having the first episode with 9 levels plus a bonus level with bloody bronies in it (I swear they’re everywhere nowadays), will disappear. Having said that though, it’s not a bad effort for an indie studio (especially when one considers that Wolfram is only really just an experiment, according to Chain Studios), and if you are looking for a quick old school FPS-inspired run-and-gun affair, then this is worth a try.

What do you think of Wolfram?

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© 2013 ANDR01D

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