previews\ Apr 8, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War - XB - Preview

Castle Wolfenstein.  That name means more to 3D gaming than any other.  Castle Wolfenstein launched one of the most popular video game genres in the world: first-person shooters.  It changed the way games are played by putting the player "inside" of the game's character.  In first-person shooters, only your hands and the weapon they're holding could be seen.  The rest is out of view, giving the player the sense that they are actually inside of the game.


Now, more than a decade later, Castle Wolfenstein has been reinvented for the latest generation of high-powered PCs and game consoles.  Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the long awaited PC sequel, blew gamers away with its stellar gameplay, superb enemy AI and gorgeous visuals that took advantage of the super-expensive graphic cards.


This May, Xbox and PlayStation 2 owners will get a taste of Return to Castle Wolfenstein in the form of two different games: Tides of War and Operation Resurrection, respectively.  Did I say taste?  It's more like a meal with desert.  The final version of Tides of War will include exclusive content (seven new levels and an online multiplayer mode).


Enemies hid all over the place in the factory level.  They were very well hidden, enabling them to attack you before you could even react.  It's impossible to react if you don't know they're there, and that was usually the case.  Once shot to death a few times, you'll know to approach that area much more carefully.  Cautiousness won't always get you through though.  More often than not, it comes down to a game of kill or be killed.  The enemy always has the advantage in this case, since you have to cross their path to complete your mission.  All they have to do is wait for you to walk by.


Don't think that you can be Mr. perfect and escape unscathed.  Tides of War's enemies aren't glued to the floor; they can move around, dodge enemy fire and leave an area that they sense is unsafe.  In fact, if a hidden enemy sees you aiming your weapon, he'll leave the area and wait for you to come closer before attacking.  Not all enemies run away -- and even the ones that do may choose to stay and fight.  Enemy reactions depend on the player's actions: your position, how well you dodge fire, how well you aim, etc.  This makes the game so much more interesting than the strafe, shoot and kill-style first-person shooters that have flooded the market.  That gameplay style works for online play, but for single-player games like this, intelligent AI is a must.


Following in the footsteps of Medal of Honor: Frontline, Tides of War's sound effects are good enough to make you dust off your sub-woofer.  If you don't have a sub-woofer, then crank whatever speakers you have and listen to the sweet sounds of explosions and flying bullets.  Listen carefully and you'll notice a distinct difference between the sound of a bullet hitting a piece of metal and a concrete building.  The sound designers went out of their way to accomplish these realistic sounds and it shows.  I consider sound to be one of the most important aspects of a video game, and when one sounds as good as Tides of War, it makes me realize just how dull games would be without it.


Right now, the game's visuals are looking very nice.  Tides of War's textures, shading and usual array of special effects (fire, water, explosions, gunshot marks on various surfaces, etc.) are all in place.  It's hard to say whether or not they match the PC version, but regardless of how close the two games are, Tides of War is an eye-pleaser with one exception: enemy death sequences.  When shot, enemies are unrealistically lifted into the air, and then their bodies just fall down.  The animation is extremely basic, showing very little character movement.  Of course, this is only a demo.  The developers have plenty of time to update the death animation before the game's release.


Due for release next month, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War is set to become one of the best first-person shooters of the year.  It has a lot of the same great qualities that made Medal of Honor: Frontline a success.  The final version will include Xbox Live support, allowing you and 15 other gamers to show off your mad-skills in the ultimate online multiplayer deathmatch.  Combine that with the game’s exclusive content, a two-player cooperative mode and a level difficulty that's challenging, not cheap, Tides of War is bound to find its way into a lot of gamers' homes this spring.

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