BJ Blazkowicz, the heroic OSA agent who stopped a spider-Hitler in the first first person shooter ever made is back, along with Nazis trying to create an Ubermensch by using powers from an alternate dimension! Can’t be bad, can it? Well, with Raven Software behind the steering wheel of this shooter, my attention was quickly caught when the original announcement was sent into the world, but first a bit more about the story.
BJ Blazkowicz is sent to the German town of Isenstadt where the Nazis are doing some strange things at a nearby archaeological dig. With the help of the resistance and an underground group of scientists you find out that the Nazis are tapping into so-called Black Sun energy from a parallel dimension called The Veil and are trying to use it to create unstoppable Ubersoldiers and ultimately a weapon that has enough power to make the Third Reich strong enough to dominate the world. World domination… haven’t we heard that before?
The feeling you get when reading the above text on the story is probably one of familiarity and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. Familiarity in this case means we’re going back to the old days of first person shooters in a bad way. The storyline is pretty standard, the graphics – still running on a modified Doom 3 engine – can’t compete with current-day shooters, and you get one loading screen after another when running around the town while trying to complete the linear missions. It truly is like the old days have returned!
There are some nice things in the game, though. Several “powers” are at your disposal like Veil Sight which allows you to discover hidden passages or enemy weak spots and makes you run a lot faster. Mire allows you to slow down time (yes, bullet-time) while Shield does what its name suggests, it gives protection while hostiles are emptying their bullet clips on you. Finally there’s Empower which makes your shots extremely accurate and do more damage. When upgrading it, you can even make it so good that you can f.i. shoot through concrete barriers and stuff.
Speaking of upgrading, not only your powers can be improved but also your weapons. Throughout the town there are black markets where you can use the gold you find all around Isenstadt to buy upgrades. There isn’t enough gold present to improve everything you can at the same time, but when you need to make choices, you can always sell back some of your previous upgrades at half price and use that money to improve your preferred weapons.
Making choices seems necessary as there are plenty of weapons present and you don’t know in advance what upgrades will be most useful. At least, that’s what you may think in the beginning. You’ll quickly find out that some weapons (the MP40, KAR98 and MP43) are dropped plenty and refilling their ammo is never any issue. Getting ammo for the other weapons is a bit harder but you’ll rarely need them except for boss battles but before you get into one of those, you’re sure to run into a ton of ammo. Add to that the fact that you constantly run into geysers or nazi containers filled with stuff to replenish your Veil energy and you understand that the entire RPG element in the game is quite useless. A shame seeing that other games have managed to implement a similar system quite successfully.
The AI of the German soldiers is quite good. The Nazis will be taking cover, try to flush you out of hiding with grenades and try to even escape the blast if you throw a nade back. Nice, up to the moment that you meet some of the stronger baddies who seem to have exchanged their intelligence for better weaponry or special skills. They tend to run up to you in a straight line, making them easy targets for a quick kill. The Boss monsters aren’t any better in that respect, they just have some additional firepower at their disposal and can take some more damage. The endboss is probably even the worst as he just stands there like a statue, emptying clip after clip, hoping that at some point you’ll be as dumb as him and stop running around and taking cover.
The music and sound effects could help make this game better and up to a level they do, but not enough. The score nicely shows you when combat is at hand and perfectly recreates that WW2 feeling, but it never manages to immerse you enough to stop the frustration caused by other parts of the game. The effects of the weapons are pretty realistic for the basic ones (like the MP40 or KAR98) but tend to lack punch in others. The voices of the Germans are typical for this type of shooter, the Nazis all sound like the Germans in the old BBC TV series “Allo Allo”.
Wolfenstein is a multiplatform game and as so many these days, it suffers from consolitis. You constantly have the feeling you’re being guided by the hand, in this case a compass that perfectly shows you where to run to, and the menus are overly simplified. Having to confirm three times you really want to quit eventhough the progress you’ve made in between auto-saves will be lost is quite irritating if there’s no “save” option present. Add to that the constant loading screens and the inability to lean around corners and you can wonder why people start developing for consoles to later on port to PC. Isn’t it easier to cut things for a console version than to add stuff for PC?
In total you can spend between eight to ten hours playing Wolfenstein and that’s when trying to find all hidden objects and talking to just about everyone you pass by. To prolong that a bit there’s a multiplayer mode present but it’s quite basic with only three modes present (Team Deathmatch being the only “popular” one apparently) and doesn’t really manage to compete with others like the latest Call of Duty or even Enemy Territory: Quake Wars.
Raven Soft are known for their skill in creating games and with Wolfenstein they have again created a craftly made shooter. Unfortunately the game doesn’t seem to have much of a soul and never manages to truly catch your interest. Instead of getting grabbed by the balls, you run around town shooting at just about anything that moves and hardly ever wonder what’s going to happen next.
There’s nothing explicitly wrong with the game, but it’s too simple, lacks depth, doesn’t have a compelling storyline and overall doesn’t stand out of the crowd in any aspect. The PC version also suffers from simplification compared to other offerings on the platform and for a Triple-A title this game just comes short. If you really want to check this one out, wait for it to appear in bargain bins.