Commonly referred to as the ‘Granddaddy of first person shooters’, Wolfenstein commands a lot of respect from the gaming world. After all, without the original Wolfenstein 3D we may have never seen the arrival of the epochal Doom, Duke Nukem 3D or the hugely revered Half Life. Wolf 3D was a simplistic corridor shooter made up of boxy mazes and cardboard cut-out Nazis, but it did one thing – paved the way for the next generation.
The series was fairly quiet for a while, though, save its expansion the Spear Of Destiny, and the eventual re-emergence much later on PC, PS2 and Xbox – The Return To Castle Wolfenstein, although good, wasn’t really the game people were hoping for. Now, some seven years later (not counting the 2003 release of multiplayer only title, Enemy Territory), id has returned to its occult-infused WWII franchise, giving seasoned devs, Raven a chance to bring BJ Blazkowicz back to the front.
Ze Germans are coming!
The story is the usual supernatural soaked fare we’ve come to expect from the series. Heinrich Himmler’s SS are once again up to no good, and are attempting to harness the power of a strange force known only as the Black Sun. This power, which seemingly comes from another dimension, could make the Nazis unstoppable – something BJ Blazkowicz isn’t about to let happen. He’s sent to the fictional German city of Isenstadt, where the Nazis have apparently found the remains of the ancient Black Sun civilisation. It’s his mission to investigate this threat, and to stop the Nazis at all costs.
Wolfenstein is known for being little more than a corridor-based shooter, much like its stable mate Doom, but this new outing tries to be a little different, and Raven have attempted to push the series in a new direction. While there’s plenty of run and gun shooting, Raven has implemented a basic hub system of sorts. The city of Isenstadt acts as this hub, and is split in several sections.
Once you arrive in Isenstadt and fight through the initial mission, you’re free to wander around the streets. To advance the story, you need to visit safe houses of the game’s factions to receive missions. Once you have a mission, you then proceed through the city to the departure point, which then takes you to the separate mission area.
As well as the main story-based faction missions, there are side-quests that you can choose to undergo, given to you by contact within the city, and there’s a whole host of collectables to be found. These aren’t simply cheap, token collectables, though, and do actually serve a purpose. Gold stashes can be collected and the money used to buy weapon upgrades, whilst intel can be read to uncover more of the story. You can also find hidden tomes, which help with the new magic system, which arrives courtesy of the Veil.
Behind the curtain
The Veil sits at the core of the game’s story and gameplay mechanic, and is a space that sits between our world and the Black Sun dimension. Early on in the game, BJ acquires an amulet that allows him to step into and out of the Veil at will. When inside the Veil, the screen is washed with a blue-green effect, and several changes can be seen, such as secret opening, Veil energy pools (used to charge up the amulet) and Geists – strange floating creatures that feed off Veil energy, and if provoked, will attack BJ. A major benefit of using the Veil includes increased movement speed and enhanced vision that highlights enemies, making them easy targets. Later on, BJ’s Veil powers are enhanced further, including the ability to slow down time and generate a personal shield. These powers are often used to overcome specific obstacles and traps, as well as in general combat.
As I mentioned, collectables include gold, which is spent at black market vendors found in the city. Upgrades for weapons include silencers, high-capacity magazines, sniper scopes, and other improvements that increase weapons power, accuracy and more. Veil upgrades can increase BJ’s Veil energy reserves and add new powers, such as making the shield reflect bullets and granting the ability to see through walls while in the Veil.
This hub-based, open world approach, coupled with the upgrade and Veil systems do breathe some life into Wolfenstein, and they work very well. Although not enormous, the city is large enough and filled with secret areas to fight, and there’s plenty of combat to be had while wandering around.
The main missions themselves are also just as enjoyable, although far more traditional. Some are also fairly small when compared to previous Wolf titles, but the variety of locations and the science fiction elements keep things fresh enough to stay enjoyable.
One of the best elements of the game is the control system, which handles very well indeed, and Raven has obviously taken a long, hard look at COD4, as the setup is very similar here.
Back to basics
In fact, aside from some minor slowdown and occasionally poor AI that runs right into your sights, or situations where all the foes in an area seem to pile through the same door where you’ve just killed 10 men, the single player game is solid as a rock. Sadly, the multiplayer isn’t so accomplished.
This isn’t down to the lack of quality, but is rather more down to the legacy it has to live up to. Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory was a great multiplayer title, and gained a hardcore following of fans. This incarnation of Wolfenstein‘s multiplayer, although it tries hard, simply doesn’t manage to live up to its predecessor. The game’s modes are limited, and nowhere near as in-depth as those in Enemy Territory, and the visuals take a major turn for the worse, being notably reduced in quality. This is a shame, as most FPS releases live or die on the quality of their multiplayer, and unless id/Raven release some DLC to address these issues, I can’t see Wolfenstein being around for long.
As a single player blast, Wolfenstein is a great WWII romp that’s refreshingly different enough to warrant a go, and is certainly a change from the relentless barrage of cookie cutter WWII titles we’ve seen over the years. The new open world-lite features add a little more to the fight, and while not revolutionary, give Wolfenstein a good push in the right direction. If only the devs had spent a little more time on the multiplayer side of things, this could have been a classic.
Wolfenstein is out now.