This was the game that inspired a first-person revolution from id Software who sent players around the world into a Nazi den armed with only a liberated Mauser. And in many ways, Castle Wolfenstein by Silas Warner was just as revolutionary as the game inspired by it.
It was published by Muse Software in ’81 for the Apple II and was later ported to other platforms like the Commodore 64, and it was awesome. I found an old copy in beat up condition but it was intact even if the box looked like it had dug itself out of a trench.
The setup was simple – you are tasked with escaping Castle Wolfenstein. While doing so, you must also retrieve the secret plans for Operation Rheingold hidden somewhere in the Castle. Standing between you and freedom are several floors of loyal guards and SS troopers with itchy trigger fingers.
Wolfenstein was also something of a stealth precursor and would use a few ideas that wouldn’t reappear until much later in titles like Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid. You started out with a pistol and navigating the floors via the top down view, you had to watch guard patterns and seek out chests of ammo and food to help tilt the odds in your favor.
If you got close to a guard before they yelled an alarm and started shooting, you could hold them up and search them as they held their stick arms up. You also had to shoot them afterwards unless you had a death wish.
SS guards were particularly vicious because they had “SS” on their body and were armored with a bulletproof vest. But they could also be held up. I usually took their vest and then shot them, though if I had drunk schnapps earlier in the game, it would probably take more than a few tries.
Schnapps also muddled your movement for awhile and not every chest was open. Some required you to shoot the lock off and if there was a guard on the screen that you hadn’t dealt with yet, they’d come right on over to investigate. You didn’t have to kill everyone, though, and conserving bullets was often the best way to make it through alive by just running past everyone and hoping no one saw you. That was because even if you stepped into another screen, the SS might decide to step in anyway.
At the same time, finding those plans meant searching through every chest and the game randomized the layout of the castle and the placement of everything else, including the chest, every time you started a new run.
But perhaps the most innovative thing at the time was the inclusion of voice samples. Guards would yell out German phrases which the manual translated. Hearing “SS!” yelled out always chilled the blood, regardless of whether I had read through the instructions or not.
Successfully escaping garnered you a “rank” and sent you back into another castle to try again and reach the next one. This was an amazing game and trying to weedle my way through its hordes, rooms, and simply trying to escape with only a handful of bullets and the SS roaming the halls made it amazingly challenging and fun. When id Software created Wolfenstein 3D, it was like experiencing that kind of thrill all over again – though I missed being able to hold up the guards I ran into.
The game also had a sequel, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which added things like alarms that you could turn off and false papers that you needed to use to pass checkpoints. The mission in that one was to “Stop the Fuhrer!” as the small print on the front of the box suggested beneath Hitler’s face. You had to sneak into the bunker and assassinate the Fuhrer with an explosive surprise that you had to find first. Then you had to escape before it went off. No sweat, right?
The first ad is from around the end of ’81 and the next done in the comic-panel style is from around the beginning of ’82. As was typical of a lot of ads at the time, both didn’t show any screens from the game but did their best to convey what it was all about with solid art and enough text to get you excited over the possibilities it offered. The box itself did have screenshots, though, so once you found it you could at least get an idea of what it would look like on your chosen platform.