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RealRTCW is a mod for Return to Castle Wolfenstein that aims to improve the game with some new content and gameplay changes. I played a previous version a while back and thought it was good but very frustrating due to increased enemy accuracy. As of this review, the current version is 3.0 and a lot has changed since I played it last. The mod can be downloaded from Moddb and is coming to Steam. The creator reached out to us with a key so I got to play the Steam version early. This version will support cloud saves and Steam Workshop and I am excited to see what kind of mods players will release.
I’ll start by giving a basic overview of RealRTCW. It’s based on the ioRTCW source port which means it supports widescreen resolutions and 64-bit systems. The mod features a new renderer, high quality textures and models, a new difficulty level, and new weapons and inventory items. The story is unchanged and there is a training level where you can test fire many of the weapons.
You’ll immediately notice the cosmetic changes from the moment you begin your escape from Castle Wolfenstein. The weapon models and textures look significantly better than their originals. When I approached the first set of Nazis, I noticed they, too, look better, specifically their uniforms. As I was blasting my way around the castle, I did feel the game was too dark on the default brightness setting so I raised it. I also encountered noticeable frame rate dips and after messing with many of the graphical settings, new and old, I decided to change the renderer to openGL which resolved the issue. There are several new options you can enable and tweak, some of which are categorized as experimental. Many of them will affect the game’s visuals and performance.
The arsenal has been expanded with about a dozen new weapons. They can be found in the environments or will be dropped by enemies. Yes, many enemies now wield different weapons. The new weapons feel like a natural fit. They fit in both thematically and visually. Because all of the weapons use high quality models, none of them look out of place. In addition to new and better looking weapons, a new recoil system has been implemented. As a result, some weapons feel a little different, even better than they did originally.
As you may or may not know, the vanilla game can be quite challenging. Mainly because of enemy accuracy. Paratroopers and Elite Guards in particular can prove to be extremely dangerous foes. RealRTCW claims the AI has been rebalanced and if I’m being honest, I didn’t notice. I did play on the Bring’Em On! difficulty and can confirm it’s definitely not as frustrating as the version I played before. However, the gameplay does feel like typical Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Despite some enemies carrying different weapons, they still can shoot you easily from almost any distance. Paratroopers, Elite Guards, and Lopers are still very deadly and many encounters are still a trial-and-error process. You can go from full health to no health very quickly. Enemies can drop you in seconds if you’re not careful. You can walk into an area and easily get picked off from almost any direction or distance and sometimes before you even have time to react.
RealRTCW doesn’t fix or change any of the more frustrating aspects of the vanilla game like the questionable enemy placements for example. However, the new changes and additions that RealRTCW does provide can make things easier or more tolerable. For one thing, many of the new weapons can make encounters less frustrating and some areas easier to get through. You can now easily mow down the undead in the catacombs with an MG42. The shotgun can take down one, even multiple foes in a single blast. It’s actually a great weapon against the flamethrower guys. You can drop them very quickly. Another reason is the new inventory items; bandages and adrenaline. Bandages can be used to replenish some health and using adrenaline will increase your health beyond the max and slowly decrease. These items are placed near some of the more infamous areas. For example, in The Defiled Church, you can grab adrenaline just before climbing the ladder where an Elite Guard awaits you at the top.
The entire audiovisual presentation is one of the biggest highlights of RealRTCW. It looks great, it sounds great, and as a result, it feels great. The mod features a new HUD and main menu. The high quality textures look excellent and while enemy models still look dated, they also look better. Everything ranging from the pictures on the walls to uniforms and emblems looks excellent. The reload animations for the new weapons are fantastic and blood splatter looks more realistic. You can adjust various aspects of the presentation and even force certain atmospheric effects like rain and snow. As soon as I got into the gameplay, I immediately noticed the improved sound quality. Everything sounds clear and crisp and the mod does feature a supposedly unused soundtrack although you’re still going to hear the same familiar tunes repeatedly. As mentioned earlier, I did encounter some frame rate dips which I resolved by changing renderers and it was a smooth experience from that point forward. I also encountered certain sound effects not playing but it wasn’t often.
RealRTCW is a mod that expands the game while remaining faithful to the original design. That’s what I find most impressive about it. All the new stuff is implemented so well that it all feels natural. None of the new weapons feel out of place, the game looks and sounds better, and yet it still feels like Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Based on my experience, the gameplay feels only slightly altered. It’s still challenging but now you have more tools at your disposal. I had a lot of fun with RealRTCW and most of my complaints are with the vanilla game. I think this is the kind of mod that should appeal to those that really love the vanilla game and just want another reason to play through it.
I would recommend RealRTCW and for two reasons. One; it’s a quality piece of work, and two; it’s free. You can tell the creator put a lot of effort into this and I think it does outshine the the vanilla version. I have no major complaints with the mod, itself. It may not change anything drastically but it does manage to revitalize the Return to Castle Wolfenstein experience. Definitely check it out.