I have a certain fondness for Wolfenstein 3D. Back in the early 2000s when I was just a middling teenager, I was playing a bunch of cool level packs for Wolfenstein. Hell, the first online blog post I ever made was talking about an old Wolfenstein 3D mods website that I thought was cool. Yeah, it’s kinda plain compared to Doom and Quake, but damn it, I still had fun going through mazes killing things.
I’ve played practically every major Wolfenstein game barring the Muse Software prequels and the most recent The New Order. I was even a hardcore Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory player back in the day. But I didn’t know that there was a Wolfenstein game I missed…
Mission Pack 2: Return to Danger and Mission Pack 3: Ultimate Challenge are unofficial third party expansions to Spear of Destiny, developed internally at FormGen and released in 1994. If you were craving more Wolfenstein and were ignoring Doom for some reason, this was one of the few ways to get more digital nazi killing. That, along the Wolfenstein map generator mentioned on the box, gave you seemingly endless opportunities to expand your Wolfenstein 3D experience.
Both episodes have similar stories: Hitler recovered the Spear from B.J. Blazkowicz, and it’s up to B.J. to fight Hitler’s Nazi regime and recover the Spear twice more before he brings hell demons to Earth. It’s corny stuff, but back in those days FPS games were never known for having great stories.
So what’s different in these Mission Packs compared to vanilla Spear of Destiny? Surprisingly there are a bunch of changes in this game. New levels (natch), new sprites, new textures, even the enemies look and sound different. So already this is looking promising, right? Oh, if only.
The best thing about Wolfenstein‘s level design is exploration. The goal is for the player to find the exit, but it’s likely behind a load of guards and often, a locked door. In several levels of the mission packs, exits are sometimes just on the beaten path, and locked doors only lead to more enemies and treasures. It’s great for people who want to run through these games quickly, but terrible for those who play the game normally. Several levels in the game will have multiple exits, all of them leading to the same place. It’s interesting because it gives a choice of easy path or hard path, but much like putting them out in the open, the game’s developers are discouraging exploration in exchange for pure speed and carnage.
The other important thing about Wolfenstein is that the levels are fun to go through. Several levels in the original games had annoying maze parts, but usually those just lead to secrets or cool goodies and weren’t critical to progress in the games. In both Mission Packs, expect to go through annoying mazes to just finish the levels. One boss level has you going through a maze full of enemies and props that block your path just so you can get the Gold key. Another level had a set of doors, most of which lead to a dummy wall. Yet another level forced me to use several secret pushwalls to make any progress, whereas a separate set of pushwalls would take me to a fast exit. It exacerbates a lot of the problems these have over the original Spear of Destiny levels.
The developers of these Mission Packs really loved the pushwall feature, so much so that in one level it’s required to push the right walls to get the gold key. In that level, I acidentally pushed a wall in the wrong place, making the key disappear inside the pushwall. I had to restart the stage and be more careful just to get the key, which is pretty annoying. There’s nothing wrong with putting pushwalls for cool secrets, it’s another thing when you make it a crucial part of the game’s mechanics.
While there were some modifications to everything making it look and sound different, a fair share of the base game hasn’t changed. Even though they introduced new boss sprites, the text still refers to the original boss name at the tally screen (instead of “Submarine Willy,” the game will still say you defeated “Trans Grosse”), the game’s secret levels are hidden on the same floors as in the original, and despite the graphical differences, everything still plays the same way the original Spear of Destiny did. It looks like they put a new coat of paint on the walls, but if you look closely, you can see the spots they missed, complete with the old paint that chipped off. It just feels lazy at spots, especially for an expansion pack.
There isn’t a whole lot else I can mention about these two Mission Packs, except the final level in The Ultimate Challenge has a shoutout to a much superior game…
Nowadays there’s so many custom levels for Wolfenstein 3D and Spear that these mission packs are pointless in retrospect, but they are still an interesting curiosity. Thankfully these are not lost to time, if you buy Spear of Destiny on Steam, it comes with both mission packs. Slap them into a source port like ECWolf and you’re off to the races. Even though I was down on these expansion packs, they’re still an interesting part of Wolfenstein history, and you should give them a try even if they’re not as good as the original. Don’t come into this expecting gold.
Wow, I’ve been on a retro FPS kick for a while. I wonder what other old school shooter games I could talk about…