[Review] Catacomb 3-D


REVIEW # 00000000  00101110

Go ahead…battle the dark lord…make your day!

Catacomb 3-D, also known as Catacomb 3-D: A New Dimension, Catacomb 3-D: The Descent, and Catacombs 3 (as shown in the featured image) has an important place in the video games history, while it’s a semi-obscure shooter lost in the FPS world of eary 90’s. Even if it suffered the huge and worldwide fame of Wolfesntein 3D, claimed as the first 3D FPS, it’s still a good onl niche games for the old farts like me 🙂

In every field there’s always a widely known milestone and a small loser always mocked. This is what happens with Wolfenstein 3D and Catacombs 3-D, even thought nowadays its role in the development from 2D to 3D games is undoubtable. Actually Catacombs 3-D served as a kind of beta test for the Wolfenstein 3D graphic engine: we can define Catacombs 3-D as the one who did the dirty job.

My heart says…


I cannot lie, I’m not a long time Catacomb 3-D player. I’ve discovered it in my adulthood, in the last years and only in the last months I deepened my researches around it. Then I decided finallt to play it and I have to tell that, even though obviously in 2016 a game like this sounds a lot like a deja vu, the gameplay and also the difficulty level aren’t so bad. Really. So this would be a game I would recommend to a retrogames lover and especially to a gamer who would like to explore the world of the FPSs.

Splash screen


The title screen reminds me a lot the one you see in the early 90’s Apogee titles such as Secret Agent, which I reviewed in the past, or the first two Duke Nukem chapters. So, obviously I like it so bad. Too easy maybe, maybe too pixellous but always good.


One thing I have to confess is that the box art makes me puzzled. Besides the fact that it looks like it has been drawn by a 6yo boy, why the wizard here has black hair while in the game has brown hair? And then, why the f**k he’s carrying a gun if he’s a wizard and he uses only fireballs. And finally what does the mushroom cloud in the open sky has to do with the game, set in a catacomb? Ok, one of the spells it’s “nuke” but for sure it won’t make the world explode. And don’t let me talk about that horrible lizard-like monster…



For sure the most important part of the game, since it has been released almost only to test the new Wolfenstein 3D engine.


The engine was build in 1991 by id Software’s John Carmack and was optimized for the 80286 processor using EGA graphics (was later updated to run also in VGA. While W3D engine wasn’t the only 3D engine, it was faster and lighter than some of the others engine, such as the Underworld engine we can see in Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992). The polygon number is very limited and it’s possible to render only walls with right angles. Not so much but a great improvement from the 2D games; there are no textures in the ceiling nor in the floor, while the walls are coloured depending on the set (e.g. moldy ans slimy walls, solid bricks, tar…).

All in all an excellent graphic to be in ’91…



The story is that of Petton Everhail, the most powerful wizard of Thoria kingdom. He has to fight against the evil Grelminar who captured Nemesis, the only one who can acces to the Wildaways, the only enchanted paths to access to other dimensions. Nemesis is prisoner in the island of Garacy and the task of Petton is to find and free him.

Okay, the story it’s a bit surreal and confused, but in my honest opinion, it’s only an easy way to put on the screen the new 3D graphic engine.

Moreover there’s a big issue: in some of the tutorial I found online (I promise I watched them only after completing the game, just to see if I missed something) the good wizard is Grelminar and the evil one is Nemesis (and this is a reasonable choice), however the game I played has swithced roles: the good is Nemesis and the evil is Grelminar. Actually calling one of the “good” Nemesis is not a great choice…



Catacomb 3-D, as its more famous successor, Wolfenstein 3D, it’s commonly named as the first or one of the first 3D FPS, even though someone today consider this a 2.5D game since a 2D protagonist moves in a 3D environmeng and face 2DS enemy sprites.

Our wizard, as written in the “Narrative” sections have to wander in different environments, all related more or less to a catacomb or to a dungeon. Even though in the following chapters of the Catacomb series will be more labyrinthic but even easier, this game has a set that is, sometimes a bit strange. First of all for some of the enemies: beside of trolls and demons there are some i-dont-know-what creatures that seems more like african pygmy or masai people. Second, the corridor in which out wizard is thrown seems a bit large to be the narrow spaces of a dungeon.


However, despite some limitations and plot a bit “flat” and repetitive, Catacomb 3-D it’s a truly enjoyable game, innovative for its time and deserve to be put again, maybe not on top, but at least in a honorable position in the story of the FPSs.


The player, as we said, embodies a powerful wizard. The only informations we have about him are his health status, represented by the face we see in the top right corner of the screen that turns into a skull everytime is hit by an enemy and the set of the available items and “weapons”, along with the game score. While he has an unlimited amount of fireballs with which he can kill his enemies and destroy some kind of walls to reveal hidden passages or secret rooms (especially in the “Labyrinth”), there are other items an power-ups in the game such as health potions, bolts, nukes, keys and spells, in which can be found some useful informations to proceed with the adventure.

There’s no game map but it’s available a compass, actually not so useful meanwhile you’re lost in the corridors asking yourself who you are. Regarding the enemies you can find vast spaces without anybody to kill and corridors with legion of trolls and beasts that made almost impossible to escape. Especially the red monsters (I don’t know what kind of monsters they are) are terrible and really tough: even with no sound and even though the graphic definition is not the one we use to have in modern games, when you see them coming up at you you’ll feel shivers down your spine and you’l start to throw those magic fireballs all over (you’ll need a hell of them…).

Finally, I don’t want you to spoil the ending sequence, but I can confirm I beat all the 20 levels of the game (strange for me since I completed less than 1% of the games I’ve played in my whole life), I don’t lie:

Yes, benes256 beat Catacomb 3-D!



This is one of the game in which the soundtrack is composed by 3-4 musical notes, but somehow (or maybe exactly for this reason) you can’t help but keep singing or better chunter, this melody. And I have to say that somehow it makes the gaming experience a bit more “horror” and with that bit of tension that the plot requires.

However, even if the music is very catchy, the absence of in-game sound effects, especially when you fight against the creatures, weakens a bit the gaming experience, even because most of the times you’ll enter a section of the dungeon without the possibility to look immediately on your left and on your right and you’ll realize too late you’re hit by an enemy just because you see your face turning into a skull.



The game it’s quite easy and repetitive but sometimes you’ll have more than a hassle to proceed, especially when you’ll be in the Access Floor and you have to decide which room to go (Tar, Horror, Slime or Stone). And despite some hints I guarantee you’ll be wandering around the corridor of the labyrinth for a lot of time.

So, if you consider all the aspects (age of the game, structure of the “levels” and so on) in the end it’s a good balance.

Final score 67/100


Year: 1991

Developer: id Software

Publisher: Softdisk

Genre: Shooter, FPS

Game Mode: Single Player

Original Platform: MS-DOS, Amiga

From same developers:

  • Dangerous Dave (1988) and sequels
  • Commander Keen in Invasion of the Vorticons (1990) and sequels
  • Shadow Knights (1991)
  • Hovertank 3D (1991)
  • Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
  • Doom (1992)
  • Doom II: Hell on Earth (1994)
  • Heretic (1994, as publisher)
  • Hexen: Beyond Heretic (1995, as publisher)
  • Final Doom (1996)
  • Quake (1996)
  • Quake II (1997)
  • Quake III Arena (1999)
  • Doom 3 (2004)
  • Quake IV (2005)
  • Doom (2016)

From same editors:

  • Alien Rampage (1996)

Inspired to:

  • The Super Spy (1991)
  • Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992)

If you liked it you can also try:

  • Blake Stone: Aliens of Gold (1993)
  • Corridor 7: Alien Invasion (1994)
  • Super 3D Noah’s Ark (1994)
  • Operation Body Count (1994)
  • Blake Stone: Planet Strike (1994)
  • Rise of the Triad (1994)

Other chapters of the saga:

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