Wolfenstein Review: Who Ya Gonna Call?
The name “Wolfenstein” stirs up nostalgia in even the most hardened gamer, as well as fear in the hearts of video game Nazis. It was the franchise that brought first person shooters to the masses, and changed the way that many people thought about video games. For many gamers the name still means a lot, and the release of a new game is likely to garner a little extra attention in the crowded games market. But, nostalgia is a tricky thing, and some longtime fans have been previously let down by some of the other prequels and sequels in this franchise. Fortunately, this time around, the title “Wolfenstein” really means something.
“Wolfenstein” for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC is the eighth game to fall somewhere in id’s second most beloved franchise (“Doom” is first, and “Quake” is third, sorry), and this time around B.J. Blazkowicz gets the call again to tackle more of the supernatural aspects of the Nazi army. He is tasked with investigating suspicious activity in and around the German town of Isenstadt, where the Nazis are supposed working on something big. That suspicious activity turns out to be part of Heinrich Himmler’s SS, and they are working to harness the powers of an ancient civilization that once existed near the town. It’s up to B.J. to come in and save the day by helping the resistance, and destroying any and all of the technology that the Germans were testing in the area. While the story may be a little more “outside the box” than your traditional WWII game, the “Wolfenstein” games have always pushed the limits of reality… and besides, the last “Call of Duty” had zombies in it.
The game plays out like your standard first person shooter, with you taking control of B.J. and the arsenal that the teams at id and Raven have provided for him. There’s a solid selection in the way of guns in this game, with everything ranging from your standard issue riffle to a Tesla gun that lets you harness the awesome power of electricity. Additionally, the game allows you the ability to purchase multiple upgrades for each of your weapons with gold that you find throughout the game. Not only does this allow you to tailor your experience to the weapons you prefer to use, but it also gives you a reason to seek out one of the game’s abundant collectibles. The upgrades are a very nice touch, but they all seem to be very similar across the board, with only one or two specific to each weapon.
On top of the nine guns that Blazkowicz has at his disposal, you also acquire four veil powers as you make your way through your missions. Their existence are tied closely to the story, and you’re rewarded each power by completing missions over the course of the first half of the game, as you confiscate their corresponding stones back from the Nazis. These four powers allow you to see hidden passageways, run extremely fast, turn on your own personal bubble shield, and super-power your weapons; collectively they basically turn B.J. into a superhero. Each of them can only be used for a limited time before the veil essence needs to be recharged, or recover on its own. This mechanic is a great addition to the game, as it really helps you in tight spots, and is absolutely vital when battling the game’s bosses. At the same time, it seems to take some of the fun out of the game, because you get the sense that B.J. is superhuman and can’t actually die. Fortunately, no matter what difficulty you play the game on, the Nazis are happy to prove that particular theory wrong.
There was one design choice that I found a little frustrating, and it kept coming up, over and over, specifically after every mission. Isenstadt acts as a hub for B.J., and he returns there after every mission that he completes to get his next one. However, in order for him to get his next mission, B.J. usually needs to head to a separate safe house, all the way across town - then head to an entirely different spot to actually start it. At the beginning of the game, its frustrating, because you have to travel so far between missions, that it really breaks up the flow of the game. Later on, these jaunts are full of Nazis who are ordered to shoot B.J. on site. This additional action at least makes it feel like there’s less downtime, but the majority of these trips usually involve their own, separate, load screen as you go from one section of the town to another, and they’re just long enough to become really annoying. While I understand that this mission initiation method creates a more “open world” feeling, it really breaks up the action of the game, and occasionally makes it feel like game is dragging on for no real reason. On the upside, if you enjoy exploring German towns circa WWII, you can go pretty much anywhere in the village, whenever you want.
“Wolfenstein” won’t be the most challenging game you play this year, but it will definitely give you a run for your money. There isn’t really a huge assortment of enemies (that’s because most of them are just different Nazis soldiers), the developers did an impressive job of making each enemy feel like an individual, and not just a series of carbon copies. Add to that the bosses, and you have a nice mix of standard and intense fire fights, spread out over a relatively good selection of environments, with each mission having its own breadth, and length – something not many FPS games get right. As you progress through the main story line, as well as the occasional side mission, there was an obvious feeling of variety, whereas many FPS titles, even some of the best, give you similar missions that always feel like they all have a standardized level design – “Wolfenstein” avoided that trap.
Unfortunately, one trap that “Wolfenstein” wasn’t able to avoid was a buggy multiplayer. Not developed by the same team as the single player campaign, the multiplayer in this game is insanely difficult to play. From the unimpressive menu system to the laggy and frantic battles, it’s just not a welcoming experience. Hopefully the developers are working on fixing this right now so that this game will become more of a complete package, as opposed to just a great single player with a wounded multiplayer tacked on.
Shooting Nazis will never get old … frankly, they deserve it, even the paranormal ones, and “Wolfenstein” delivers one of the best Nazi shooting single players in a while. Every time I shot an enemy, over the course of the entire game, it was one of the most visceral experiences a game has offered me in a long time. When I could see my bullet enter an enemy’s body, I actually felt like I was taking out a Nazi, and not just another cardboard sprite. To top that off, the bodies persisted for longer than normal, and stacked up in the streets, still possessing the wounds I inflicted. To make a long story short, there is more to this “Wolfenstein” than just an update to a genre originator; the developers did an impressive job creating a great experience on top of a franchise that has done so much for games. As long as your happy with just a solid single player experience, and you’re willing hold off on your multiplayer until “Modern Warfare 2” drops, another trip back to Germany for “Wolfenstein” may be well worth your time.
“Wolfenstein” was developed by id Software and Raven Software and published by Activision on August 18th, 2009 for the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.