The history of Wolfenstein
The name ‘Wolfenstein’ is now synonymous with Mecha-Hitlers, Panzerhunds, and handing out straight lefts to the far right. Since 1981 it’s switched from top-down adventure to mobile RPG, has pastiched movies in The Great Escape and political coups in Operation Valkyrie, and has been banned in Germany on several occasions. We round up four decades of Wolfenstein in our über-cool series guide.
Dev Muse Pub Muse Year 1981 Achtung! Before the days of William ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz, you played an unnamed Allied POW who had to elude Nazis, sniff out secret war plans, and escape the titular castle-turned-prison alive. You could sneak past foes, force them to drop their weapons at gunpoint, or simply shoot them in the back. There wasn’t an incentive not to end every encounter violently, really. The reward for completion was a Microsoft Paint-esque screen showing a figure crossing a moat with the words ‘You escaped!’ underneath. A 1983 hack for the game, named Castle Smurfenstein, replaces Nazis with Smurfs, and is credited as being one of the world’s first mods.
Beyond Castle Wolfenstein
Dev Muse Pub Muse Year 1984 Operation Valkyrie, a real-life plot by Wehrmacht officers to blow up Hitler using a bomb in a briefcase, gave this direct sequel its objective: traverse a Berlin bunker, find the Führer’s meeting room, and place explosives outside the door. Stealth improved with the ability to drag bodies for concealment, the substitute of grenades for daggers, and the pass system in which guards demanded to see your papers (although you could offer bribes). Finishing the game earned you an in-game telegram from Allied HQ confirming “Hitler and most of cabinet dead”. Well done you.
Dev Id Software Pub Apogee Software Year 1992 Doom creators John Carmack and John Romero, along with Id Software, popularised first-person shooters with this groundbreaker. Allied agent BJ Blazkowicz explored uniform rooms in his quest to destroy the Nazis’ zombie research program. Consisting of three episodes disseminated through shareware, the final act culminated in a battle with what is unmistakably Hitler in chunky armour carrying chainguns. That proved too sensitive for some countries, and it was banned in Germany. For a later SNES release, Nintendo changed its attack dogs to slightly less vicious attack rats.
Spear Of Destiny
Dev Id Software Pub FormGen Year 1992 Wolfenstein 3D proved so successful it got a bonkers expansion following BJ on an Indiana Jones- style mission to recapture the Spear Of Destiny from the Nazis. This artefact is said to have pierced Jesus’s side in his crucifixion. At the end of the game, old Billy Boy was sucked into Hell where he battled the demonic Angel Of Death. Doctor Schabbs, the mad scientist from the previous game, also retured alongside his Übermutant, a monster with four cleaver-wielding arms and a chest-mounted chaingun. In a later mission pack, Hitler used the spear to summon the Devil who, disappointingly, just fired orbs at you.
Return To Castle Wolfenstein Dev Gray Matter Pub Activision Year 2001
Wolfenstein re-emerged after an almost ten-year hiatus powered by Id Tech 3, the engine behind Quake III Arena. Once again, Blazkowicz discovered the Nazis were trying to buff the Third Reich by resurrecting corpses. You battled everything Hitler coud throw at you, from Lopers (cyborgs whose lower body parts have been replaced with Tesla generators) to Übersoldaten (behemoths with lightning guns and rocket launchers). Wilhelm ‘Deathshead’ Strasse had been busy. This Minister Of Advanced Research loved a bit of experimental surgery, and would go on to become Wolfenstein’s primary villain.
Wolfenstein RPG Dev Id Software Pub EA Mobile Year 2008
The weirdest entry in the series yet contained enraged chickens, mega zombie warriors, and toilets to smash people with. Here Allied command sent BJ on a mission to investigate the Paranormal Division of the Axis military and stop it once and for all. While primarily a first-person, turn-based adventure with a crap virtual D-pad, the game came with a score-based mini-mode called Chicken Kicking, which was all about booting a poor feathered egg-layer into foes. As you can tell, it was more playful than other Wolfensteins. Take paintings of Hitler that, when punched, caused the dictator’s toupée to fly up.
Wolfenstein Dev Raven Software Pub Activision Year 2009
A direct sequel to Return To Castle Wolfenstein, BJ finally got his official title: Operative For The Office Of Secret Actions. It only took 17 years. Upon learning of a Nazi scheme to obtain a mineral called Nachtsonne that allows access to new dimensions, the OSA sent its best man. It was clearly looking to develop the Wolfenstein mythos. For instance, Hans Grösse, first boss of Wolfenstein 3D, appeared here as a towering engineer with dual rocket launchers. Strasse got his baddy moment too, running away at the end shouting “Damn you, Blazkowicz!” when BJ exploded his zeppelin.
Wolfenstein: The New Order Dev Machine Games Pub Bethesda Year 2014
After a botched Allied assault on Strasse’s Baltic Sea compound left BJ paralysed, he woke from his vegetative state in a Polish asylum 14 years later to learn Nazis had discovered new technologies and conquered the globe. They not only controlled Europe, but had bases on the moon too. At the end, BJ killed Strasse and dealt a blow to the Nazis by hitting a key fortress with his U-boat’s nuclear cannons. The New Order also featured an easter egg that let you play through the first level of Wolfenstein 3D, presented as one of BJ’s nightmares. Well, he’s been through a lot.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood Dev Machine Games Pub Bethesda Year 2015
This standalone expansion took place before the events of The New Order and followed Blazkowicz as he returned to Castle Wolfenstein to retrieve a folder containing the location of Strasse’s compound. It was like the Rogue One to New Order’s The Force Awakens, the Death Star plans substituted with a paper binder. Standing in his way was Nazi archaeologist Helga von Schabbs (any relation to Wolfenstein 3D’s Dr. Schabbs?), and Rudi Jäger, a sadistic dog trainer who fed prisoners to his mechanically modified canines. “One last time. Then I can rest,” said Blazkowicz, which is depressing when you consider he’s got two games to come.