Before DOOM shook up the gaming world in 1993, id Software stunned players with its World War II-shooter Wolfenstein 3D. For the time, this was a technological breakthrough – smooth-running gameplay, ultra-violent combat, and mazes filled with mysterious secret areas. This 1991 first-person shooter popularized its genre for decades to come.
After the release of the Spear of Destiny expansion pack in 1992, the game’s publishers – FormGen Entertainment – released a duo of ‘accessory packs’ two years later. Basically, they were expansion packs for the pre-existing expansion pack. It sounds like a sleazy cash-grab (something that EA pulled off in modern-times with their Sims Pets DLC), but, surely there is some lingering essence of fun to be had here in the Lost Episodes?
Return to Danger takes place after the events of Spear of Destiny, where our all-American hero B.J. Blazkowicz acquired the aforementioned holy relic that pierced the flesh of Christ in a raffle after a series of hilarious–oh, you know what really happened. Well, it looks like the Nazis stole the spear a second time, and you need to retrieve it again. In Ultimate Challenge, the damned Jerry’s swiped the artifact yet again (which makes you wonder whether the US Army basically placed it within an unguarded tent with a ‘do not steal’ sign stuck to it), only this time Hitler has called for some help from another realm, and has even obtained information on futuristic weapons development as a result
Both accessory packs contain 21 new levels each, with new appearances for items, weapons, enemies, and much more thrown into the mix. Most of the levels are ludicrously complex and bloated, with some keys being hidden within secret areas along with enemies who seem perfectly chilled about being trapped behind a wall. One boss level even contains a maze filled with tables, blocking off almost-every corridor. Thought navigation was tough enough in the original game, no thanks to a lack of an in-game map? These ones will make you cry.
Also, a side note. Keeping up with the Nazis’ obsession for absurd, flamboyant interior decorations, the Lost Episodes is also decorated with an abundance of blue walls. This begs the question: why? You’ll be stumbling across pictures of Hitler pulling silly faces (see previous question) quite a lot in this, too.
Expect a lot of sprite-swaps that do not actually change the gameplay. Weapons are painted blue, which makes them look like cheap plastic toy guns. Enemies are given a makeover, but otherwise act the same as before – they run, they shoot, and will still react to noise if nearby. Some of them look pretty good, with a few exceptions, like the blue dogs and the bats which hold guns with their feet holding guns. Bosses act the same as they did in Spear of Destiny, despite their new appearances, and the final level will always teleport our hero to Hell for the final battle. Been there, done that.
Collecting items, killing bad guys, beating levels with top-marks – all of these will contribute to your score, if you really care about that. Items can still be collected for points now look like collecting radios, swastika-labelled rockets and time bombs for points, if you actually care about that (why are there time-bombs scattered across the Nazi bases? And, more importantly, why is Blazkowicz collecting 300 metric-tonnes of them?) At least you still get an extra life and health refill when you reach a certain amount, then again saving and loading eliminates the need for the archaic life system. Not like any of this is new.
The new sounds are OK, at best. While the audio quality for enemies is much clearer than in the original game – providing you have a basic understanding of German, you won’t need to argue whether the SS troopers are exclaiming “Achtung!” or “Hot dog!” like fans did in the nineties – some of these death screams go on for too long. Other sounds, like wall-pushing noises, are pretty loud and annoying. At least the guns have a meatier sound to them.
No new music is to be found here. Bobby Prince’s mix of ambient, funk and orchestral-inspired MIDI tunes are still appropriately-moody and enjoyable, but the music tracklist remains the same as Spear of Destiny in both episodes, e.g. level 1 in both Return to Danger and Ultimate Challenge will always play the song “Tiptoeing Around”. It just feels lazy.
The Lost Episodes feel like an unnecessary addition in more ways than one. Both of the packs were released in May 1994, about six months after DOOM was released. Wolfenstein 3D’s game engine was already showing its age, and nothing in either of these packs could prevent the game from feeling stale. The new levels were more irritating than fun. The sprite-swaps are a mixed bag. The lack of new music is disappointing. To summarise, FormGen’s attempts to make the game look and feel fresh with a new coat of (blue) paint was slapdash at best. Advice to Wolfenstein fans: just avoid these like they were full-priced copies of Wolfenstein II: The Colossus.