It's been a very long time since we last saw a Wolfenstein game. Wolfenstein, sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, promised not only a solid and engaging single player experience, but also an expanded and improved version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein's multiplayer component: Wolfenstein Enemy Territory. Did it succeed?
- Worth The Time?Yes, it mostly is.
- Things LovedThe gameplay is great and feels varied and tactical, there's a unique feeling to the game, the setting is really cool, it's immersive, the Veil is an awesome feature, the supernatural elements are well realised, pretty graphics with vibrant level design.
- Things HatedThe enemy AI is easy to beat on any difficulty. there are too few Veil powers, Wolfenstein's online component just can't compare to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and neither can it match up to the current competition.
- RecommendationThis is a good treat for Wolfenstein fans or FPS gamers looking for something unique.
- Name: Wolfenstein
- Genre: First Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: Online and LAN (1-12 players)
- Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360
- Developer: Raven Software, id Software, Endrant Studios, Blur Studios
- Publisher: Activision
- Price: R350 (PC), R550 (PS3, 360)
- Reviewed On: PC
It’s been a very long time since we last saw a Wolfenstein game and it was quite exciting to hear about the plans for the return of the franchise. Wolfenstein, sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, promised not only a solid and engaging single player experience, but also an expanded and improved version of Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s multiplayer component: Wolfenstein Enemy Territory. This was definitely no easy task, as ET was one of the greatest, class based online first person shooters ever made, but in the end results are always more important than reasons, so let’s see if Wolfenstein of 2009 delivered on its promises or if it’s just another miss-able title.
Wolfenstein takes place in the World War 2 era in a fictional town named Isenstadt during the year 1943. Despite the Allied forces’ success in the stopping of the growth of Hitler’s Third Reich, the Nazi’s still have their hands tied around the throat of mainland Europe. The threat in Wolfenstein is an occult force known as Black Sun which Heinrich Himmler’s sovereign SS army opt to bring under their control. Utilising the mysterious and dangerous powers of Black Sun, the Nazis have become close to unstoppable. In the main plot the game is pretty standard in terms of its setting. The good guys, in this case the Allies, are up against an immensely powerful force, the Nazis, and the status quo is that only one man, agent B.J. Blazkowicz, can stop them, where failing to do so will lead to complete Nazi domination.
The story of Wolfestein is told using three elements: cutscenes, B.J. Blazkowicz’s diary entries at the closing of missions and collectible “intel” documents scattered throughout the game. For the most part the story is pretty interesting, but it never really feels important in the actual game. Part of the problem regarding this is that things are not always explained clearly and you’ll often be told important things in a “by-the-way” manner which really dampens the value of the main plot. The result of this is you’ll often negate the plot and instead focus entirely on killing Nazis instead. The upside regarding the storytelling, however, is the intel documents, which are actually nicely done. These documents are fully voiced over information sheets that provide small details, depending on your current mission or situation, and they always manage to deliver small bits of intriguing information to keep you interested in them, if not the main storyline. There’s plenty of interesting things to see and discover throughout the game, but sadly the main plot just can’t be considered into the larger picture of things because, while it is definitely there, it just isn’t told well enough for you to recognise.
Wolfenstein, at first glance, is more or less your run-of-the-mill World War 2, first person shooter. Since the game’s background is that of World War 2, you can expect some common weaponry from the time such as the Mp40 sub machine gun and the Kar98 rifle. At the basic level you’re going to be killing a lot of Nazis in the usual WW2 manner, except in Wolfenstein it’s not an entirely linear experience. Wolfenstein adopts an open world style of play, encouraging exploration, player adaption and navigation in the different areas. In a nutshell, you’ll basically receive a mission from one of your contacts in the city areas and then head out to do said mission, utilising the open world environment to plan your route to your target. However, the downside is that Wolfenstein is not true open world and the mission structure is quite linear itself. To elaborate, the areas are relatively small in size so you’re always going to pass through the same area multiple times as you can traverse an entire area in mere minutes (or seconds). Your missions are always quite straight forward in their nature and the game consistently tasks you with completing a mission, returning to a faction to receive another, heading out to do that one and so on. You’re basically an “errand boy” that is forced to carry out every task without a say in the matter.
The game world, that is the various battlefields and locations, is designed very nicely, ultimately allowing the game world itself to become your tool in order to gain an advantage. Not only does the “semi” open world setting bring in player choice regarding how you want to tackle an area, but it also adds stealth gameplay into the mix. For instance, if you’re not up to the task of being rambo, you’d might want to find a way onto the rooftops to play sniper, picking off a threat before an alarm can be raised. Aside from gameplay alone, the open world environment also serves to create a fantastically immersive warzone setting. The game manages to capture the feeling of being in a miniature war as you traverse across the city encountering Nazi patrol groups or small battles between your allies and the Nazis, where you can then choose to either aid the fight or carry on with better things.
However, it must be kept in mind that this is Wolfenstein so you can expect dark science and paranormal undertones. In the early stages of the game, B.J. Blazkowicz gets his hands on something known as the Veil. The Veil is an item that he carries throughout the game which allows him to, at will, step in and out of this alternate reality. At the simple push of a button you can activate the Veil, transforming the entire area into an eerie, green-coloured underworld. While in this reality you gain bonus abilities, such as the ability to see in the dark, spot enemies easier (they become highlighted in light green) a speed upgrade, clear sight of objects of interest and a visible grenade arc to better your aim when throwing. Aside from these passive upgrades, you’ll also gain access to certain supernatural powers, which are progressively unlocked through the story, that enable you to gain a solid advantage in battle. For example, one of the powers you obtain is called “Mire” which allows you to slow down time in an area allowing you to dodge bullets and take out large amounts of enemies. Be cautious in your use of the veil, however, as all uses of it will drain your veil energy (powers drain it much faster than just having it activated) and since the energy bar recharges at a very slow rate, you’ll have to find veil energy spots scattered throughout the areas in order to refill your energy bar.
The Veil also impacts the gameplay in more than just combat. The Veil also adds various puzzle sections to the game where you’ll have to utilise your powers to, say, get past an array of traps or locate a hidden passageway to bypass a locked door. The Veil powers are really great to use, both in gameplay, as the powers add another layer to the combat, and in the open world environment as the veil reality will also reveal secret areas to acquire collectibles and treasures and grant access to beneficial vantage points. Coupled together with the combat, puzzles and open world environment and the Veil is quite easily one of the game’s largest highlights. On the other hand, the downside to the Veil is that there are only three powers to acquire throughout the game which can make it feel quite limited at times.
Aside from your arsenal of World War 2 weapons, you’ll also come across some super-powered weapons created using the Nazi’s dark science. These weapons are really awesome to use and the fact they don’t completely overshadow your standard, much loved guns from WW2 ultimately brings a good level of consistency to the combat. An example of one of the special weapons is one named the Particle Cannon, which is a gun that harnesses the power of the Veil, firing off a giant laser beam that vapourises any enemies it comes into contact with. This might contradict what I said above about consistency, but you’ll find out that the Particle Cannon, for instance, works amazingly well against infantry and small enemies, but won’t be very effective against heavily armoured units or mini bosses. Furthermore, Wolfenstein also has a Black Market system which not only allows you to upgrade your weapons with extra damage, silencers, scopes, improved accuracy and so on, but it also serves to upgrade your Veil powers as well, making them even stronger. You’ll buy upgrades using accumulated money either received from completing missions or from finding treasures and gold throughout the game. The enjoyable array of weapons, both standard and supernatural, with the inclusion of the Black Market system provides a solid sense of progression in your weapons and powers and you’ll definitely become increasingly more powerful as the game plays out.
Everyone enjoys delivering the hand of justice to their opposition, but in a game the player needs some retaliation, right? Unfortunately, in Wolfenstein the enemy AI is really lacking. Whether you’re playing on normal or the hardest difficulty level your enemies practically surrender themselves to your bullets. Even without securing a good vantage point you can pretty much pick them off one by one without difficulty as they’ll often stay rooted to a spot shooting at everything other than you. Despite you receiving increased damage on the harder difficulties, your health regenerates at such speed that the common enemies don’t really pose much of a threat – and using your Veil abilities only makes it easier. Even the bosses and mini bosses only appear to be tough at first, but figuring out their weaknesses fast proves them to be no cause for concern. The next error with the enemies is that sometimes they’ll stand dead still, unmoving, even when you decide to put a few rounds in them. It’s an odd bug, but luckily it’s a very rare occurence. However, on the upside, there is a welcome variety in the enemies you will face and figuring out how to defeat some can prove to be quite enjoyable.
In the graphics area Wolfenstein’s performance is up to standards. The environments are nicely detailed and designed well, having enough uniqueness in each area to make distinguishing between them really easy. Character models and weapon details are solid, but definitely worth a mention is that of the Veil’s visual effects. The visual effect when shifting between the two realities is great to watch and the transformation really gives the entire area a whole new feel while in the Veil world. Overall, Wolfenstein is a graphically solid game and can fit into today’s standards without trouble. Unfortunately the game does suffer from numerous graphical issues, but other than these there are no gamebreaking bugs to be concerned about, leaving it safe to say that Wolfenstein is also technically efficient. The biggest gripe here is probably that the cutscenes look very weak in comparison to the actual game’s graphics.
Once you’re done with the single player mode, which should take you about 7-8 hours to complete, you have the option to try out Wolfenstein’s online mode. However, Wolfenstein’s online mode, to be frank, simply can’t compare to that of Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. It’s actually very disappointing and shouldn’t be your reason for wanting to give this game a shot. Reasons being is that firstly there are only three classes, namely Soldier, Medic and Engineer. Gone is the covert ops and field ops class from Enemy Territory which is most probably the first thing to get you down. Secondly, unlike ET, classes in Wolfenstein do not have special abilities (e.g field ops had the ability to call in air strikes and artillery), but instead have access to only one veil power each. Thirdly, because the online mode incorporates a Black Market system, similar to that of the single player, online basically equates to mindless killing in order to earn gold and buy an upgrade. However the upgrade menu for online is very limited in comparison to single player and with only 5 weapons to select from, there isn’t much to enjoy here. It’s unfortunately the truth, there are quite a few weapons from the single player that simply did not appear online. You’d might call it interesting, but Wolfenstein’s online mode also does away with the glossy and attractively detailed graphics of the single player, instead opting instead for an oldish look that reminds one of Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Regarding modes, there are three, namely Team Deathmatch, Objective (one team carries out objectives while the other team tries to stop them) and Stopwatch (basically objective with a time limit). The problem is that despite what mode you’re playing, killing seems to automatically be your primary objective in order to accumulate gold and, since picking the Soldier class allows you access to all of the weapons, you’ll most likely stick to the Soldier class to rack up your kill count.
Wolfenstein, while definitely not a memorable title, delivers a solidly entertaining and engrossing single player experience. There is a considerable amount of fun to be had in it and it would be a great option if you’re looking for a slightly different first person shooter to keep yourself occupied for a while. It’s very unfortunate that the online component is such a letdown, but I can’t say it wasn’t completely unexpected. In the end, Wolfenstein could have been so much more (mostly referring to its online mode here) and it’s quite disheartening to see the potential it had whither away into the void of disappointment. Still, in its current state there is a lot of entertainment to be had here and it’s definitely worth a look.