Wolfenstein Review (Xbox 360)

Wolfenstein Is A Fun, Addictive Title That Sports Excellent Single Player Shooter/Horror Action

When I began playing Wolfenstein I felt a bit sleepy. I was tired of Nazis at this point. After all, over the past decade it feels as though nine out of every ten shooters stuck it to the Nazis. Hearing the coarse German accents hovering in the air and seeing their swastikas everywhere reminded me that I was once again stuck in World War II Europe. Frankly, the beginning lulled me into believing that Wolfenstein would be a run of the mill, adequate shooter. I did not expect it to suck me in as it did. I didn’t expect to enjoy taking on Nazis again. But the truth is that Wolfenstein succeeds because it is different from other World War II shooters. It’s the Indiana Jones of World War II shooters – fantastical and over the top.

And it is a hell of a lot of fun.

Wolfenstein adds an exciting (and much-needed) twist to the World War II genre

Wolfenstein adds an exciting (and much-needed) twist to the World War II genre

Gameplay

Wolfenstein tells the story of BJ Blazkowicz, an operative for the OSA (Office of Secret Actions), which is a division of the US Army. The game begins with BJ escaping a Nazi ship that is preparing to fire on London. He sinks the ship into the sea while avoiding (and killing) swarms of Nazis and is protected during a sudden ambush by a mysterious medallion he has come upon, the Thule Medallion. Soon after this cinematic, you arrive in Isenstadt, Germany, a fictional, small town that has become the center of occult Nazi activity.

The Nazis have discovered ancient ruins beneath the city that harbor powerful crystals and gateways to another dimension, the Black Sun dimension, which is a teal-colored world inhabited by creatures called Geists. The Nazis are trying to utilize the gateways to this world to harvest otherworldly powers in order to defeat the Allies.

BJ finds himself delving not only into the ruins, but also into a secret factory, a hospital that is being used as a testing grounds for cruel experiments, and, of course, a castle, because, what would Wolfenstein be without a castle?

The action begins slowly. You arrive in a train station where the Nazis seem to have been alerted to your presence. However, you soon blow up one of the trains to reveal a strange substance inside, one that levitates enemies into the air, making them literal floating targets.

After escaping the train station, you arrive in Isenstadt. And this is where Wolfenstein throws in a twist. Isenstadt is a relatively big, kind-of open city. It’s divided into different parts that have to be loaded when you pass through doors, but it is a pretty well designed city that utilizes all the power the iD Tech 4 engine can handle to recreate World War II era Germany. The city is pretty dead when you arrive. You are led to an underground group’s headquarters and they begin leading you in the direction you’ll take the rest of the game.

The first couple of missions are kind of ho-hum. You escape a train station. Then, you go into the ground, to an excavation site where the Nazis have dug up ruins. There, you discover crystals that give you the power to see into the Black Sun dimension, and one that slows down time. Once these crystals have been acquired and you can harness their powers, the game really starts to pick up.

The third mission finds you traveling to a seemingly benign farmhouse in the countryside. There, a group of German soldiers are bunkered down. You kill them only to find that beneath the barn on the property is a gigantic underground maze of laboratories. And there the action really picks up. You gain some pretty cool weapons, the powers actually come in handy, and in general, the action is fast paced and exciting.

The crystals make for some fun gameplay innovation. While they aren’t revolutionary and really are just cover-ups for your typical shield, night-vision, and time-slowing abilities that come with lots of shooters these days, they are tied into the story through the crystals and the Black Sun dimension, which makes them quite okay. They also really help in difficult situations. One of the four abilities strengthens the power of your bullets and allows you to shoot through shields that enemies put up – which is good news, because, crawling through most spaces in the game are Nazi Priests who chant in a deep, scary voice and who put up protective shields around the average-Joe soldiers firing at you. The first ability you gain, Mire, allows you to basically see your enemies as bright green targets – kind of like night vision, which really comes in handy because often they can meld into the surroundings with their dark uniforms.

Nazi Priests sound terrifying and are tough opponents

Nazi Priests sound terrifying and are tough opponents

Beyond the crystals, another great addition to the gameplay is the ability to upgrade your weapons. For every mission you complete you can earn a certain amount of money, and you also can get money from bags of gold that you’ll find lying around the different maps. This money can be used at the black market in the town of Isenstadt, and the upgrades to the weapons are actually really cool and useful.

For instance, the Kar98 begins as a simple bolt-action rifle. But, with a few thousand dollars of upgrades you can make it act like a M1 Garand by upgrading the ammo capacity, and you can make it more powerful and add a sniper scope and add a silencer and voila – you have a serious weapon for sneaking around and killing from a distance.

The addition of the black market is fantastic because of the upgrades it allows you to have and also because it doesn’t allow to have all upgrades. It isn’t possible to buy every upgrade for every weapon, and so you have to choose wisely, and this makes it both fun to choose, and it encourages you to come back and try again, making changes to the weapons the next time through.

Wolfenstein’s enemy AI is nothing revolutionary. In fact, in this regard, the game really isn’t next-gen at all. The AI doesn’t have too much in the way of smarts. They hide behind objects and shoot at you at random. They rarely flank you and they certainly don’t try to save themselves. What they lack in smarts they make up for in sheer numbers. On easy difficulty, you can usually just bullhead your way through missions, especially in the latter half of the game with more powerful weapons at your disposal. But, the enemy numbers can be pretty difficult to deal with on normal and hard difficulty.

The crystals you acquire allow you to see the world in a different light, among other things.

The crystals you acquire allow you to see the world in a different light, among other things.

Wolfenstein is an interesting game in that as it went along, it got better. The further I dove into the game, the more immersed I became. BJ’s presence in Isenstadt awakens anti-Nazi sentiment among many of the villagers. At the beginning of Wolfenstein, there were few Nazi soldiers on the streets of town and still fewer people fighting against them, but by the end of the game, the entire city is a battlefield. Resistance fighters run past you and hide behind cover. The rattle of gunfire echoes throughout the city as you make your way from one objective to another, and explosions jar the senses as you cross squares amidst a hail of bullets.

Wolfenstein’s gameplay is fairly similar to many shooters from the early to mid 2000s. You, for the most part all by yourself, fight off a large army, killing thousands along the way. As the levels progress, the enemies get harder and at the end of each mission is a boss of one sort or another.

So, the gameplay is tough to judge. Is it fun? You bet. Is it revolutionary? No. Definitely not. Is it next-gen? No. Most next-gen titles don’t even have bosses any more. But, Wolfenstein has to be rewarded for doing several things right. Firstly, it stays to true to its roots. Return To Castle Wolfenstein, BJ’s last outing, was fantastic. It was action packed, exciting, and the locales were fun to explore. Wolfenstein is exactly the same. It’s action packed, the locales are varied and unique, and it offers a twist on the typical World War II game. Usually, Nazis are pretty despised in games. They’re your enemy. But here, they’re utterly horrifying. They experiment on humans, they drench themselves in the occult, and they grin with shark teeth as they say, “You’re going to die, BJ.”

In fact, that’s why Wolfenstein is so similar to Indiana Jones. The Nazis are over the top, even if they are based in fact. For instance, Hitler did believe in the occult and had a division dedicated to studying it. They did experiment on humans. They were evil. But, this game makes them deliciously so. It makes it fun to take on the Nazis all over again without feeling like you’re playing Medal of Honor or Call of Duty. Wolfenstein is clearly a Wolfenstein title. Nothing else is quite like it.

The Graphics

The graphics in Wolfenstein aren’t bad. In fact, they’re quite good considering the dated engine it was made with, the same engine that fueled Doom 3 and Quake 4. Wolfenstein’s level design is quite excellent, even if you are pushed down a linear path nearly always. The levels are extremely varied, the coolest of which was the farmhouse that turned into a gigantic underground mine/laboratory. Even though the design team clearly worked with a last-gen engine, they did their best to make art a priority. The locales in Wolfenstein are fun to explore and rarely felt repetitive.

There were some framerate issues, particularly when switching between the Black Sun dimension and the real world through the use of the crystals. In the Black Sun’s teal-colored world everything seemed to run a bit choppy.

The character models are good enough. They aren’t mind-blowing and they certainly don’t behave in a life-like manner as in Half-Life 2 or Mass Effect. Instead, I found myself amazed if an NPC talking to me actually knew where I was standing. With that said, the Nazi uniforms did look quite authentic during cutscenes, with everything from medallions to the SS logo to the skulls on SS helmets and hats included.

The locales are well-designed and look good despite using an aging graphics engine

The locales are well-designed and look good despite using an aging graphics engine

Working with iD Tech 4 for a current-gen platform could not have been easy. These days, games look absolutely stunning. But, the art team creating Wolfenstein deserves an amazing amount of credit for making beautiful levels and for creating an atmosphere of war in the village of Isenstadt.

Sound

Sound is important in Wolfenstein. You can identify different soldier types by the sound they make, and because this a hybrid horror/shooter game, it’s also important in fostering an atmosphere of trepidation and fear.

Luckily, the sound in Wolfenstein is excellent. The weapons, both real and fantasy, have a lot of pop and sound quite powerful. The particle cannon, in particular, is fantastic as it sizzles and pops when shot, delivering a blow that turns enemies to dust.

Furthermore, the sound team did a wonderful job in fostering some truly scary sounds for some of the enemies. In particular, the Nazi stealth soldier. This assassin can become invisible. The only warning you have of his presence? A pop in the air, and maniacal laughter. In fact, the scariest parts of the game were the scenes were I knew one was around but I had no idea where they were. You would hear them laugh, hear them shout out, “I can see you, can you see me?” and then, there would be the pop, a jet of black ink hanging in the air for a second, and they’re gone. And suddenly, they were right behind you, slicing you up. Utterly terrifying creatures and utterly brilliant sound.

Other characters sound amazing as well. The booming voice of the Nazi Priest, the sizzling crack and pop of an approaching particle cannon-carrying soldier.

The worst part of the sound is the music and the voice acting. The accents are at times good and at times awful, in general, they are inconsistent. The music is great, but I took issue with the fact that the scary music would play even when there were no enemies around. I would have preferred that the music alert me to enemy presence rather than always hanging around.

Multiplayer

The multiplayer portion of Wolfenstein is weak. Which is a shame, because Return To Castle Wolfenstein virtually revolutionized online gaming way back in 2001 with objective-based missions for both Nazi and Allied players and a class-based system of Medics, Infantry and the like.

Wolfenstein’s multiplayer is now pretty normal. You have deathmatch and objective-based missions just like in its predecessor, Return To Castle Wolfenstein. The difference is that Return To Castle Wolfenstein introduced many of these ideas while Wolfenstein didn’t add anything new.

Geists populate the Black Sun dimension and they also explode like red barrels!

Geists populate the Black Sun dimension and they also explode like red barrels!

Further making multiplayer a poor experience is the upgrade system, in which you can earn better weaponry. The problem with this system isn’t that you can earn weapons or even how you go about improving them; it’s in the lack of leveling. Beginners with no advanced weaponry compete on the same level as experts who have all the best weaponry. As a result, as a beginner, the multiplayer is just frustrating and doesn’t offer much to compel additional exploration of the feature.

The Final Word

Wolfenstein is a great single player title. It is action-packed and offers a million and one thrills. It doesn’t revolutionize, and in many ways it is more like a graphical upgrade of Return To Castle Wolfenstein. The level design is fantastic, though, and the varied weaponry, the fantastical storyline, and the village of Isenstadt in full civil-war mode is more than enough to keep any shooter fan satiated. Wolfenstein isn’t a classic, but it does its pedigree proud, and is a fine addition to any shooter fan’s collection.

The Scorecard

80%

+ Absurdly awesome storyline and absurdly hateable enemies

+ Great variety of weapons both real and fantastical

+ Sound is excellent

+ Level design makes full use of aging graphics engine


– Multiplayer stinks

– AI isn’t really there