As one of the forefathers of one of gaming’s favorite genres, the first person shooter, Wolfenstein’s debut had a lot to live up to as its predecessors set the bar astronomically high when they made the first person shooter (FPS) genre popular back in the early nineties. Wolfenstein’s next-gen debut probably couldn’t ever live up those lofty expectations, but it certainly gave it its best shot. Does the game and its abundance of Nazi zombies (another of gaming’s favorite sub-genres) stand up to the high bar set by modern shooters like Halo and Half-Life? Find out as I take the plunge into the newest installment in one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.
While it might not be fair to compare this game to the likes of Half-Life and Halo, there are definitely certain elements all shooters much have, and Wolfenstein manages to get the basics done right and done well. The controls shouldn’t stray too far from the proven path (unless it’s done well, like in Killzone 2) and the button layout in this game will certainly be familiar to anyone who’s played a shooter before. There’s a regenerative health indicator, a popular (and welcome) trend in modern games.
When I first sat down to play this game I expected to run into the problem of linearity that plagues the genre (or most games for that matter). For the most part I was correct; this game wants you to go somewhere and you will follow this set path hindered by the occasional puzzle or gaggle of enemies. Thankfully, a small level of exploration was thrown into the mix to break up the point-and-shoot gameplay a bit. In between shooting countless Nazis you are allowed to do some minor exploration to find the gold and Intel hidden throughout the game’s levels. The Intel helps expand the game’s story and the gold can be used to purchase upgrades at the various stores in the game.
At these stores you can upgrade your weapons and Veil abilities (more on that later), and there’s actually a very good selection of upgrades to purchase. You can make your weapons reload faster with stripper clips (try not to giggle), increase their damage, or even purchase silencers if you’re feeling extra sneaky. It’s also important to note that if you decide you’re not happy with a specific upgrade you can sell it back for half of what you paid for. For those who can’t make up their minds (like myself) this is an exceptionally useful feature.
The ability to upgrade the weapons really helps in several ways. It adds a feeling of progression, so by the end of the game you’re a noticeably stronger character than you were when you first started, it makes searching for gold useful, and it helped me in particular because I’ve never liked the feel of WWII weapons. One of the major reasons I’ve never really enjoyed WWII games is that I don’t like using the weak and extraordinarily slow to reload weaponry. I’m not saying that every game needs to have assault rifles, plasma cannons, and BFGs, because if they did those weapons would lose their exoticism. But I enjoy more advanced guns because they make me feel less like my granddad and more like a kickass soldier. Fortunately for me, Wolfenstein has a strong selection of weapons from that era mixed with some rather crazy (and extraordinarily fun to use) Nazi weaponry. One weapon in particular is the Particle Cannon can be used to disintegrate your foes.
Now for the game’s biggest selling point, the Veil. If you didn’t know this already, Wolfenstein isn’t just another WWII era shooter; it also deals with the occult. The game tends to drag a little until you get your powers and your enemies transform from Nazis to evil shaman guys. This is the type of game that you should sink a couple of hours into before you make a decision on it, because it literally just keeps getting better the farther you get into the game. It starts off as another WWII shooter with dull weapons and a plethora or Nazis, and a few hours later you’re slowing down time, going between the real world and an otherworldly realm, and fighting magical enemies.
The Veil is the name of the realm you can enter and exit at will; with a simple button press the world transforms into this very cool blue and green world with floating blue beetles that I suggest you don’t shoot. In it you move faster, enemies glow, and as you upgrade your powers (which can be upgraded at the same store as your weapons) you can actually stop time, create a defensive shield, and see enemies through walls. It’s fun, and a little trippy. The Veil abilities like the Mire can also be used to get past certain puzzles in the game like collapsing bridges and other similar events that require BJ’s powers.I’m not a big fan of the main character’s design or his name. Throughout the game characters will constantly refer to him as BJ, and while that inspired a giggle or two at first, by the end of the game it was just annoying. Why can’t his name be Bob, or Chris? Both are respectable names that I don’t mind hearing many times over the course of a ten-hour game. BJ looks like the reporter from Dead Rising, with a little more action hero thrown in, and while it may be a step forward from the generic space marine, it’s a baby step at most.
Have I mentioned that the game looks good? I’d like to say great, and there are definitely some excellent set pieces, but I never stopped to take in the gorgeous scenery or stunning bump maps. The cinematics look similar to how the rest of the game looks, though they probably spoiled me with the gorgeous pre-rendered intro cinematic, while everything that followed was in-game. For the control freak, there are plenty of customization features for you to mess around with, including four difficulty settings ranging from “Can I Play, Daddy?” (Easy) to “I Am Death Incarnate!” (Hard). I also like the ability to see my stats at any time, whether I’m in the game or in the main menu. Whenever you want you can see how many Nazis you’ve slain, your favorite weapon, etc. This is a great feature that I really hope catches on in more games.
I also really liked the gore. While it’s not at the Gears of War level of chainsaw brutality, this game has some rather magnificent carnage. One of the more memorable examples happened when I shot a Nazi in the throat causing him to drop his weapon so he could stop the blood flowing from his jugular. I actually stopped and watched as he desperately tried to halt the blood flow before dropping to his knees and dying soon after. This moment proved two things to me: the first being that I need serious help, and the second is that as long as the death animations look that great, I don’t care how frail my weapons might feel.
Oh yes, this game also has a multiplayer. Unfortunately, it feels a bit like it was just tacked on so they could include Online Functionality amongst the other features on the back of the box. I’m not saying the multiplayer is bad, but it definitely doesn’t stray from the familiar skirmishes that games like Call of Duty and Halo have and have done better. But when you finish the game’s meaty campaign, it’s certainly a feature I suggest you check out.
In the end, this game is actually a lot of fun. It’s never plagued by major problems, for me it was the lack of innovation and overall content that bothered me. Throughout the game you can read Intel, arm bombs, and pick locks. Sounds interesting, right? It would be if to perform these tasks didn’t require that you hold a button down for a few seconds. If they would’ve added a short mini-game (like what BioShock and Fallout 3 did with hacking and lock picking respectively) to make these tasks more interesting it would’ve broken up the gameplay a bit more and made the game much stronger overall. This is a great game, it’s a fun, intense, first person shooter that brings a few new ideas to the table while managing to follow the tried and true formula proven by other games in its genre. For any fans of the genre, this is a game you shouldn’t miss.