When Wolfenstein 3D first hit computers back in 1992, it was the first 3-D, first-person shooting video game — and you could set your sights on a classic enemy, the Nazis, to boot.
A fledgling game-design firm akin to a small independent film studio when id Software launched Wolfenstein 3D, the Mesquite, Texas, developer has gone on to push the limits of game technology and help shape the industry with its games Doom and Quake, selling more than $1 billion in games globally.
Now one of the industry giants, id is entering a new phase. Wolfenstein 3D's gung-ho hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, returns in Wolfenstein, out today on Microsoft's Xbox 360, Sony's PlayStation 3 and PCs ($50-$60, rated Mature for ages 17-up).
The company executive-produced Wolfenstein, while longtime partner Raven Software (X-Men Origins: Wolverine) handled the game's development. Activision is publishing it. Meanwhile, id has tripled in size to 110 employees as it focuses on a new game called Rage and begins resurrecting another of its classic franchises in Doom 4.
And last month, id announced that it was being acquired by ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks (Fallout); ZeniMax will publish id's games. (Under a previous deal, Electronic Arts will publish Rage.)
"The idea is we will basically continue operating as id, as we have done, with just some better advantages and some access to things that we haven't had, being a small, independent team," says CEO Todd Hollenshead. "Ninety percent of the stuff is going to be exactly the same, and the 10% that is going to change will all be better."
A new phase for id should mean good news for its fans. Says Travis Moses, features editor for GamePro magazine: "(id) has all these great franchises that may seem outdated to the current player. I hope we see them all revitalized with today's better graphics, awesome new game engines and amazing advancements in game play."
As for Wolfenstein, he says, "the weapons, the environments and the graphics look really good. I was impressed, and I think fans of first-person shooters will enjoy it. ... It's all about the Nazi war machine and bringing it down."
In the original, Blazkowicz is captured while spying behind enemy lines during World War II, escapes from his prison, Castle Wolfenstein, and thwarts the Nazis' paranormal experiments. Among those he encounters: a robotic, machine-gun-wielding Adolf Hitler and a ghostly German King Heinrich I (in 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein).
This new game "really is a sequel," says id co-owner Kevin Cloud. "What is at the core of all these Wolfenstein titles is great weapons (including a particle cannon and a flamethrower) and almost an arms race to some extent against an unexpected enemy.
The setting is World War II, but it's not what you would expect. That's only the surface. The further the player gets into the world, the more sinister and darker the Nazi enemies become."
In the new game, Blazkowicz, now a veteran in the Office of Secret Actions, is on a mission and comes across an amulet. He discovers its special powers tie into Nazis' experiments aimed at harnessing the power of the Veil, an alternate universe with supernatural powers.
The amulet becomes a way for Blazkowicz to enter the Veil and fight the Nazis on new, otherworldly turf. "When he is in the Veil, he is a little faster, and you can see your enemies easier," says Eric Biessman, creative director of Raven. "It's allowing you to fight differently."
Wolfenstein opens with a nod to the Indiana Jones films, but B.J. is more of a man of action than Indy. Those unfamiliar with B.J.'s back story can watch a four-part online graphic novel at wolfenstein.com.
Those who missed out on the classic Wolfenstein may be intrigued by the new high-definition incarnation, says Moses, who never played the original.
"I never had a PC to play them. I look at the new Wolfenstein and think, 'This is an old PC franchise; why play that?'
"But at the same time, I am curious. I want to know what the older gaming generation that played the first first-person shooters like Doom and Wolfenstein were so excited about."