Have You Played… Catacomb 3-D?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

It’s the first first-person shooter, you know. Don’t listen to those blowhards who talk about Wolfenstein: they know nothing, John Snow. Even then, it depends on your definition of first-person shooter, but if we’re going with ‘you can see a hand and that hand fires things at enemies’, then bingo.

The thing about Catacomb 3-D is that it’s actually more elaborate than its follow-up, Wolfenstein 3D, in some ways. Id Software’s earlier take on maze-based 3D shooting is less slick and less technically impressive (or landmark), but there’s a little bit more to pay attention to. This is a fantasy setting (albeit one with ‘nukes’) rather than a military or sci-fi one, and it has you worrying about stockpiling heals, replenishing spells and even destroying bits of wall to progress. Don’t get me wrong, there ain’t a lot to it, but it’s fascinating to revisit some of the stuff that the grandaddies of the FPS were experimenting with before they decided to double-down on guns, guns, guns. I think it’s moodier and paicer than Wolfenstein too, though maybe I’m just romanticising EGA.

You can play it streamed in your browser on Archive.org, though the legal status of what they’re doing with all those olden DOS games has a hundred million question marks hung over it, so don’t blame me if this is a dead link by the time you click on it.


  1. Xen Monkey says:

    Oh wow. I’d forgotten about this game, I used to play it with dad (God rest his soul) – my job was to administer potions so his health didn’t run out iirc.

    To be honest, I don’t recall an awful lot about the game other than it bring nausea inducing much of the time

  2. Ross Angus says:

    I haven’t pressed alt to strafe in many a year. +mouselook 4eva.

  3. FroshKiller says:

    I remember playing this game in our wood shop/technology class in 6th grade. Our teacher exposed us to Scorched Earth, Catacomb 3-D, and Wolfenstein 3D. We actually played this before Wolfenstein. He also turned us on to DOOM, but he wouldn’t let us play that in class.

    We referred to the games by their executable filenames. Catacomb 3-D was cat3d, Wolfenstein 3D was wolf3d, and Scorched Earth was simply scorch. Good times.

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    Arnvidr says:

    Played this not too long ago. The whole series can be had for scraps over at GOG. link to gog.com

    • ansionnach says:

      Had fond memories of The Catacomb Abyss from back when I got it on a magazine coverdisk. Got it on gog a while back and have to say it has aged horribly. I do like gog but they’re charging quite a bit for the creaky old shareware “classics” when you consider what you can have for the same money. As Alec says, there isn’t a lot to this one. Trouble is that while this is true the games do outstay their welcome by the majority of their length. Ignore the less rose-tinted reviews on gog (my own included) by all means, but it’s definitely worth trying out seven or so levels before committing to even more repetition. This one’s definitely not for those of us who got sick of negotiating samey mazes back in the day… as that’s the whole game! For my money, Ultima Underworlds 1 & 2 are a far more worthwhile prospect. Revolutionary early first-person games with still unequalled gameplay.

  5. SlimShanks says:

    Hmm, technically, wouldn’t real life be the original first person shooter? Mind you, I really wouldn’t recommend trying that out… the respawn time is atrocious.

  6. LaurieCheers says:

    Wow, old-school. Tomorrow you should recommend Ken’s Labyrinth.

  7. Kaeoschassis says:

    Actually replayed this about a year ago (one of the Cat3Ds, at any rate, may not have been the first one), and it’s funny, I actually had a real good time? I remembered it fondly, and expected it to be all nostalgia and… well, it was. I was constantly aware of its flaws – the movement feels effing awful compared to Doom, the combat has very little to it and the level design is just all nonsensical mazes – and yet I played it from start to finish and came away glad that I had. Apparently sometimes nostalgia alone is enough not only to make a game good in your memory, but also to make it good to PLAY.

    EDIT: I’ll take Blake Stone over this or Wolfenstein, though.

  8. schuubars says:

    looks legit to me…me

  9. Timberwolf says:

    I played this back when it and Wolfenstein 3D were current, but it never grabbed in the same way that Wolf3D did. I’ve lots of Wolfenstein memories (hell, could probably draw a reasonable map of some levels) but Catacomb is just a wide void with the occasional scrap of something about EGA graphics and wizardy nonsense, maybe.

    It’s interesting to note that iD originally intended Wolf3D to be far more complex – stealth elements, dragging guards’ bodies to hide them from view – and all of that got pared back into the simple but enduring FPS template; a few tiers of weapons, a few tiers of mans* to apply them to, and some set piece boss fights. I think it’s the simplicity and purpose that works, and what complexity you find is emergent; like learning a particular guard’s patrol route so you can shoot him in the back and conserve precious health.

    I suspect that kind of impact on memory space is why Wolfenstein is remembered as the progenitor of the FPS and Catacomb Abyss is merely a footnote.

    * – well, mans’n’hounds in this instance. That yelp the dogs make when you shoot them :-(

  10. Spacewalk says:

    Catacomb 3-D is boring, …Abyss is much better. You should’ve told people to play that instead.

  11. vorador says:

    Very old school, but the gameplay basics are solid so it’s still fun after so many years.

  12. Haborym says:

    I played, I think it was Catacomb Abyss. You start off in a graveyard with zombies.

  13. April March says:

    Why are those orks cosplaying as Doomguy?

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      I suppose technically Doomguy’s cosplaying as the orks…

  14. TheCze says:

    *Jon Snow