Wolfenstein 3D (also known as Wolf 3D) is one of the most recognized games to come along from the early 90s, as it was instrumental in driving development and interest in first person shooter games. Created by iD Software before Doom, you were a one man army taking on hordes of nazis (and yes, even nazi zombies. Sorry Call of Duty) on your way to taking out the worst criminal of all time – Hitler. This game showed up on various platforms, not just PC DOS, the Atari Jaguar was one of them. So how did the often mocked/despised/hated first 64-bit system handle the game?
Before we dive into the Jag version, here is one of those handy ‘Let’s Compare’ videos that shows the versions of the game that came along back-in-the-day:
The Jaguar version was so good that late in the Jaguar’s sales life, Atari replaced CyberMorph as the pack-in game with Wolf 3D (they called it the 64-bit Power Kit and that is actually the package I picked up back in the 90s…I stumbled across CyberMorph the next day at a pawn shop). I don’t believe it takes much effort to see that the Jaguar version has some distinct advantages, the most obvious of which are:
-Full screen with a simple overlay HUD instead of the HUD taking up the bottom part of the screen
-16-bit color (that’s 65k colors, compared to the 8-bit color of other versions which is a palette of 256)
-No censorship of blood/gore or symbolism
-Blazing fast graphics with clear sound (keep in mind it was running from a cart, not CD)
-Higher game resolution and redesigned, improved textures. Enemies display a unique effect when hit.
-Introduced the flamethrower and rocket launcher
– Difficulties change up more than just how much damage you take, it changes enemy types and placement as well as item placement
The first version I had ever played was the PC DOS build, which at the time ran fine on my 486 machine. I also played other raycasting games that followed a similar pattern – Catacombs: The Abyss, Blake Stone & Ken’s Labyrinth immediately come to mind. While obviously I show a bias towards the Jaguar, I just don’t see how you can argue that something like the 3DO build is superior here. True, the 3DO has the advantage of CD audio but other than that, it is a good port of the Mac version whereas the Jaguar version easily stands out as being a little different.
A good reason for that is Wolf 3D on the Jag was handled by iD Software themselves and not some 3rd party like Interplay for the 3DO version. It was the first of two efforts they made on the system, landing as the 5th release for the console, right after the arcade port of the older Raiden. Who knows how John Carmack might have handled the 3DO version but where he didn’t, we can only judge on what we have.
The nice thing with these ‘single story’ FPS games (i.e. no stairs or platforms to climb/jump onto) is that they worked out well for the controllers of the time. In the Jag’s case it was essentially a Genesis pad with a keypad on it so with only one D-Pad, it handles that fine. The keypad is used to instantly save the game to one of three slots available on the cartridge. It also snubs the blood censorship a little more:
As mentioned, it is important to remember that the game gave us ‘nazi zombies’ long before kids everywhere thought that Call of Duty was totally innovative with that. Granted, they were mutant experiments with chainguns built into their chests and they wielded meat cleavers but still:
As mentioned, the graphics for this are fast and the textures were redesigned for this game, featuring higher color. The game throws plenty of large sprites around and the chaingun looks much nicer in the Jag version that the original DOS build.
Jaguar Wolf 3D did influence a few other Jaguar titles – the famous and popular Alien Vs. Predator; Towers II (the only RPG on the Jag); and some unreleased titles such as Legions of the Undead, Dungeon or Alien vs Predator 2 CD. The system obviously could handle this type of game well and perhaps if developers had focused on improving on the engine for this style of game it would have given the system a bigger sales boost. I’ve always thought that a Jag version of Catacombs or Blake Stone would have been really cool (assuming they would take advantage of what the hardware could do).
The only thing I would have liked to have seen added to this version was networking for some deathmatch play. iD would add that to JagDoom which came out a short time after this, one of the very few games to take advantage of that feature.
Overall, if I had to pick, this is the version of Wolf 3D that I would spend time with if I needed my Wolf 3D fix. It is tough to find fault with it, apart from any issues one would have with the game itself across platforms (it is a basic shooting game; no NPCs or deep story with text to read or clever puzzles or mini-games, etc.). In the confines of the “is the Jaguar 64-bit” arguments, well I’ve already wrote about how bits don’t matter anywhere near as much as Atari or Sega’s own marketing made it seem. What should have been the key was how “next generation” the hardware was. Comparing Wolf 3D between something like the SNES (a later generation development in the SNES lifespan, i.e. developers more familiar with the hardware to be able to push it better) and Jaguar (the title was a first generation, first game effort for this system) shows that the console was a generational leap ahead of systems like the Genesis, SNES or TG-16.
For those that have played this, what are your thoughts?