Wolfenstein 3D was one of the first, if not THE first, of the First-Person Shooters, a forerunner of the better known Doom franchise which was wowong gamers way back in the mists of time in an era when videogame consoles didn’t have the processing power to run a nuclear reactor, and the kids who played on them (and it WAS kids back then) were generally looked on the same way anyone who works in the IT industry is these days, ie: as a bit nerdy. It inspired a generation of developers, caused controversy with its use of Nazi imagery, but most importantly, kick-started a genre with is arguably one of the most popular to date.
And now, at a time when videogames, and videogamers, are firmly out of the closet, and better graphics, bigger titles, clever marketing and some neat peripherals from Sony and Nintendo have managed to make gaming ‘cool’, the latest title in the Wolfenstein series has arrived, called simply ‘Wolfenstein’.
Of course, we now live at a time when the FPS genre is such a popular one that to stand out in the marketplace you have to have something pretty special. There’s not a first-person shooter out there which isn’t going to find itself being compared to Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and to a lesser extent, the not-quite-as-good-as-we’d-hoped-it-would-be-but-still-downright-awesome Call Of Duty 5. And with Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 fast approaching, there are no doubt many people who are wondering whether it’s worth shelling out the readies for Wolfenstein, or whether the cash would be better off stashed in the bank (or under a bed – probably safer these days) until November to await the latest COD instalment.
So… to buy or not buy, that is the question. And should you just pick this game up and play it for half an hour, you’d be forgiven for thinking that saving your cash might well be the answer. For what the game basically plays like is a Call Of Duty clone, albeit one with less weaponry choices and – it has to be said – less ‘grittiness’ than we’ve come to expect from our wartime FPS titles. That’s not to say that the game looks bad – far from it – but it just looks a lot more like… well, more like a videogame basically, rather than the ‘interactive movie’ kind of thing that COD offers. I apologise now for the number of times I may refer to Call Of Duty by the way – I’ll try and tone it down from now on.
No, graphically Wolfenstein does look very nice, with crisp, detailed graphics and some nice meaty weapons with loud, authentic gunfire noise and a healthy recoil – which as any FPS fan knows, is important in this kind of game where shooting stuff is basically the main gameplay mechanic. And it’s not just guns that you have in your arsenal either. Deserving of a special mention are the hand grenades: you can almost FEEL the concussion wave coming out of the screen as the grenade goes off, while the blast wave throws bodies (or bits of bodies) and Havok-rendered objects all over the place – when one of these bad boys goes off next to you, you really do know about it!
So as far as in-game visuals go – no problems, and while the cut-scenes that introduce the story and connect the various missions together, as already mentioned, might lack the slick realism of COD, but they do serve to move the plot along nicely, and as you get further into the narrative you soon realise that ‘realism’ is not the name of the game here anyway.
You see, while you may start off playing what appears to be a standard WWII FPS, it gradually morphs into something else. As our hero, one ‘BJ ‘Blazkowicz’, American special agent extraordinaire, soon discoveres, the bad guys in this game (played in typically efficient style by some rather enthusiastic Nazi-types) have got more than a few tricks up their sleeves. Perhaps sensing that in the normal scheme of things old Adolf’s plans for world domination weren’t exactly going to work out, these chaps have started working on a plan to try and turn the tide of World War II in their favour, and they intend to do this through the use of some ancient technology they have unearthed which makes use of some very special crystals with, for want of a better phrase, ‘mystical properties’. This technology apparently used to belong to an ancient race called the Thule, and as you progress through the game you learn more about the Thule, more about the crystals, and – most importantly – more about what the Nazis have been doing with them.
Of course, it goes without saying that young BJ soon gets his hands on one of the Thule medallions, and with it he can enter a sort of shadowy ‘side-universe’ called the ‘Veil’. Nothing at all to do with curtains, the Veil actually allows BJ to tap into a mysterious power source which rather conveniently seems to be linked to the local water supply, and with this, he can – with the right crystal upgrades – perform such feats as slowing time, stopping bullets, passing through solid matter… and other handy stuff like that.
The medallion, and the crystals that grant the user the various powers, are gathered by BJ over time as he passes through the game, and with each new ability he gains, so – more often than not – the bad guys reveal a new trick they’ve been keeping up their sleeve, usually in the form of some new amped-up super soldier. This might be a heavily-armoured dreadnought of a guy with some kind of crystal-powered energy weapon, or a super-fast mutant-ninja chap with razor-sharp claws. Add into the mix a series of progressively more powerful, exponentially more outlandish ‘end of level-type’ bosses, and what you have here is a game which, while it starts off as a reasonably above-average, but fairly standard fare WWII First-Person Shooter, gradually morphs into the kind of cross-genre offspring you might get if Call Of Duty mated with Resident Evil.
By the time you get about halfway through the game, you’ll be tackling ‘normal’ Nazis and their super-powered brethren with aplomb, switching between the Veil dimension and the ordinary one with ease, and swapping from meaty, satisfying WWII machineguns to futuristic, crystal-powered energy weapons almost without thinking. And it has to be said: the more you play through, the better the game gets. I fully expect that any gamers who don’t put at least six to eight hours into this game initially will dismiss it as merely ‘average’, which is a shame as they’re missing out on something rather special. Set in a city which you can explore more or less at will, unlocking new areas with each mission, the game employs a Grand Theft Auto-style mission select system, so that at any one time you’ve usually got at least two different missions to choose from, and often more than two. You can choose which order you tackle the missions in, or simply spend some time exploring the map for hidden secrets and lurking Nazi enemies, which makes the game seem a lot less linear than some first-person shooters. You can even, should you so wish, replay completed missions mid-game, which is handy if you want to unearth all the hidden secrets like the enemy intel and the Nazi gold which can be traded in at the local black market stores to get upgrades for your weapons and your crystal-based powers.
So that, in a nutshell (albeit a fairly large one) is the single-player game. But of course, no FPS would be complete these days without an online multiplayer mode, and Wolfenstein is no exception. Offering only three character classes – Medic, Engineer and Soldier – with just three different game modes – Team Death Match, Objective and Stopwatch, and with a maximum of only six players per team, I would have to say that the multiplayer in Wolfenstein isn’t quite up to the standard of that in Call Of Duty, but that’s not to say it’s bad. The opportunity to utilise some of the different ‘Veil’ powers in the multiplayer, once you’ve racked up enough cash to unlock them, does give it a unique selling point over COD, and as the maps are generally quite small, the action is fairly fast and furious, but somehow the gameplay doesn’t quite match up to COD 4 or 5 for either the scale of the battles, or the sheer addictiveness.
Maybe it’s because whenever I played online, the only character class who really seemed any fun was the Soldier one, because the size of the levels, and the type of game modes on offer, didn’t really lend themselves to any kind of complex tactics, instead everyone just seemed to spend their time grabbing the biggest guns possible and running around blasting anything that moved! I have spent many, many nights staying up till who-knows-when in the morning because I kept telling myself I’d have ‘just one more’ Call Of Duty deathmatch game, and I just didn’t find the same compulsion to do that with Wolfenstein’s multiplayer. The single-player Campaign mode though, well that’s another story – on several occasions while working on this review I completely lost track of time tackling ‘just one more mission’ on the single-player campaign game.
And that, basically, sums up Wolfenstein from my point of view – if, like several of my friends, you live ONLY for online gaming, buy a title solely on the strength of its deathmatch mode, and will probably never even look at the single-player game, then I would have to say that you will be better off waiting for Modern Warfare 2. If, however, like me, you like a more than half-decent online gaming experience, but what you really live for is immersing yourself in a creative narrative and tackling the solo challenge of a really awesome single-player FPS, then you’re certainly going to get your money’s worth out of Wolfenstein. It’s a shame that there’s no two-player co-op option for story mode, but I guess you can’t have everything. Overall though, I’d rate Wolfenstein as an excellent 8 out of 10.
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