In the history of video games there are many titles that stand out as definers of a genre. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong invented the arcade. Starcraft defined the real-time strategy. Mario showed us how to make a proper platformer. For the shooter genre, though, Doom stands out as the dominating title and its roots can be found in 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D. Filled to the brim with Nazi-killing fun, Wolfenstein 3D showed us how to play in the first person perspective far better than any game ever before. It holds a special place in this reviewer’s heart and for many of you out there as well. This year’s semi-sequel, simply titled Wolfenstein, keeps the hero, the Nazis and the premise, but attempts to recreate it as an open-world game. But can this be done?
William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is your typical American super spy, able to wipe out entire legions of Nazis with a handful of weapons and whit. Picking up some time after the events of 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the Office of Secret Actions agent is sent aboard a Nazi cruiser to stop a missile attack on London. Disguised as a now dead Nazi general he is quickly discovered and a chase ensues. Cornered, his life is miraculously saved by a strange medallion he finds inside of a German coat. Making his escape as the ship explodes behind him, he returns to OSA headquarters and is quickly routed to the German town of Isenstadt (based on the real Eisenstadt in Austria) where the SS Paranormal Division, B.J.’s arch nemesis, is performing experiments and archaeological digs in the same place the medallion came from.
This is where the gameplay begins. Blazkowicz’s journey takes place almost entirely in Isenstadt and the surrounding countryside, allowing players to explore places like SS bases, dig sites, farms, and even a castle. And by ‘explore’ I mean ‘destroy the Nazi horde with reckless abandon.’ B.J. almost immediately meets up with the local resistance group the Kreisau Circle as well as the Golden Dawn, a group of scholars seeking to learn more about the ancient Thule technology the SS are uncovering and developing. Performing missions between the two groups drive the story forward and gives you access to new weapons and abilities just like any other game on the market.
When you are eventually asked to compare Wolfenstein to any other FPS title on the market you might find yourself leaning in the direction of Crysis or Quake. Would it surprise you to learn that the game has more in common with last year’s exceptional Far Cry 2 than anything else? It should. The city of Isenstadt is an entirely open world to explore, consisting of four separate sections (the second half available later in the game). And when I say explore I do mean it as there are quite a few collectables to obtain throughout the game including gold, intelligence and tomes. Collecting these will make the game easier for the player as gold obviously allows you to modify your weapons at the local black market while tomes and intel unlock upgrades and power enhancements. The streets of Isenstadt are a war zone so naturally the player will run into resistance fighters and Nazis as well. Naturally, the number and variety of Nazis increase as you progress through the story. While the streets of the city may feel a little claustrophobic at times, there are several open areas that serve as battlefields as well as sewers and rooftops to explore, making Isenstadt surprisingly believable.
There are a few let-downs to Wolfenstein however. While the story has great set-ups for nods and moments from the previous games, the opportunities are rarely utilized outside of the difficulty selection screen. Offhand mentions of events from Return to Castle Wolfenstein but other than B.J. and the SS Paranormal division there really is no reason to call the game Wolfenstein given the fact that it doesn’t even occur near the castle the game is named for, nor does it really tie into the previous game other than for a short cameo. NPCs that you will be interacting with don’t necessarily develop in an impressive manner and the story and bosses are predictable.
Combat in Wolfenstein is comparable to that of games like Time Shift or Crysis wherein players utilize their Thule medallion to manipulate themselves and their surrounding environment. The medallion is powered by the Veil, another dimension outside our own that has become infused into the city of Isenstadt within our reality. Activating the Sight ability allows players to enter the Veil and see hidden paths and Veil pools (which recharge the medallion) and it also increases your speed. The Mire ability speeds up the player in a manner not unlike bullet-time, slowing everything down around you. The Shield ability protects you from enemy fire and the Empower ability increases the power of your weapons and lets you shoot through enemies’ shields. Using these powers is a necessity, though you will find yourself more often than not relying on Sight’s ability to highlight enemies from the surrounding environment.
Weapon variety is what can make and break some games (or, in the Ratchet & Clank series for example, a characteristic) and luckily Wolfenstein has a decent variety of weapons at your disposal. While you won’t be bringing along any weapons on your trip to Isenstadt you’ll come to rely on the German weapons you acquire in the field. The variety consists of three German infantry rifles (KAR-98, MP40 and MP43), two heavy weapons (Panzerschreck and Flammenwarfer) and three paranormal weapons that I won’t name because each of them is awesome in their own right and are worth the surprise of discovery. Surprisingly, two of the staples of the genre, a pistol and a shotgun, are absent from the game, though that is not necessarily a bad thing. Upgrades for all your weapons can be purchased at the local black market and give you enhancements that are well worth the purchase. Everything from silencers to scopes can be purchased (and should be) though it is hard to find enough gold in the game to purchase all the available upgrades.
Good campaign to play through, open world gameplay.
Horrible multiplayer component.