September 10, 2009
Over the last few years, franchise reboots have become a staple of movie theaters, and the gaming industry is gradually following suit. Movie viewers have had the opportunity to see great recent reboots of the Batman and Star Trek franchises. Most modern revivals for games have taken the form of rereleases of older games, though some franchises, like Banjo-Kazooie or Bionic Commando, have been brought out of retirement for full retail games. Following the rerelease of Wolfenstein 3D for the arcade, id and Raven Software's reboot of Wolfenstein is the next in line to be resurrected for current generation consoles.
In Wolfenstein, the Nazis are conducting experiments in the hopes of creating devastating new weapons that would turn the tide of war irrevocably in their favor. Desperate to eliminate this threat, special agent BJ Blazkowicz is dispatched to the town of Isenstadt to aid local resistance groups and bloody up the Reich. Wolfenstein's story isn't particularly deep or surprising, playing out with a formula similar to dozens of similar games or action movies. However, it gets the job done, stringing along a narriative that provides plausable explanations for the game's weapons, powers, and varied environments, but each of these gameplay elements will be remembered long after the story surrounding them.
The Nazi's discovery of artifacts from the lost Thuul civilization and the Black Sun dimension give them powers beyond normal human understanding. BJ will face a variety of enemies larger in scope than the catalogue of most FPS games, from standard Nazi soldiers all the way up to huge or heavily armed bosses - many of which have been enhanced by Black Sun energies. Enemy variety promises to keep encounters diverse and interesting, as each type of enemy requires a slightly different tactic to bring them down. Possessing a Thuul medallion that gives him special powers of his own, BJ is uniquely qualified to handle the Nazi threat.
BJ has the ability to see into the Veil - a thin layer of reality between our world and the Black Sun dimension. While looking in the Veil, enemies glow bright green, making them easy to detect. There are also floating blue creatures that can be shot to damage enemies. Over the course of the game, BJ will collect three additional powers, which can be activated with a press of the d-pad. Mire slows down time for everyone but BJ, allowing him to run around enemies, leave retreating enemies exposed longer, or plenty of other possible uses. Shield creates a bubble of energy around BJ, protecting him from projectiles. Lastly, Empower, which strengthens weapon attacks, and can allow BJ to shoot enemies through cover. All of these abilities consume Veil energy, which can be replenished by absorbing it from special barrels or standing over "Veil Hotspots" scattered around the world.
Veil powers alone won't eliminate the Nazis, but Wolfenstein provides players with several weapon options to help out along the way; ranging from WWII standard MP40s and MP43s, to more sci-fi fare like the Tesla Gun. Every gun - as well as the Veil powers - can be upgraded using cash earned by completing missions and finding bags of money or valuables scattered around the world. Upgrading weapons is essential to dealing with stronger enemies, and players can choose which weapons to upgrade to suit their play style. This customization aspect adds a little more depth to the game than most shooters, while maintaining the franchise's old-school feel.
Progressing through Wolfenstein isn't like most other FPS games, which send players from mission to mission in a linear fashion. Wolfenstein plays out like a pseudo-sandbox shooter, with the town of Isenstadt open for exploration. As players progress through the story, some side missions open up, both inside and outside the city limits. Being able to explore the city opens up the game and gives a stronger sense of freedom. Nazis patrol the streets, and get increasingly deadly as players get deeper into the game. However, the city isn't large enough, nor is there enough to do, to really make the town feel like a sandbox, and having multiple firefights in the same streets can get stale after a while. Still, the effort to open the world up a bit is appreciated.
As much fun as using Veil powers to eliminate Nazis can be, enemy AI shouldn't be this laughable. Hitler would be embarrassed at the performance the AI here puts on, with some Nazis shooting in completely the wrong direction from the player. I've come out of an elevator to have them not even look in my direction until I'd already killed three enemies. One Nazi may have his buddy right next to him gunned down and not even turn around. They've even killed themselves with their own grenades before while I stood by and laughed. There's nothing particularly realistic or frightening about this platoon of Nazis. While this does actually work to make the game feel more old-school, modern gamers demand more intelligent foes. At least using Veil powers and upgrading weapons is a blast.
Boss fights, which had the potential to provide the game's biggest "wow" moments, also fall flat, boiling down to shooting obvious weak points or memorizing a pattern. Instead of impressing, they too often become frustrating, and feel so heavily scripted that I would actually rather watch the encounters as a cut scene then fight them in this state. Wolfenstein's single-player is solid overall, though annoying bosses and deficient AI disappoint.
Wolfenstein features class-based multiplayer action that feels very reminiscent of old-school PC shooters. While this old-school flavor may work for some, Wolfenstein's multiplayer is likely to be a love it or hate it affair. Each of the three classes serve their own purpose. Soldiers are the front line fighters, capable of handling the biggest weapons. Engineers are essential for performing mission objectives in objective games, supplying ammo to teammates, and handling explosives. Lastly, Medics can provide healing and resurrections to teammates. The classes seemed reasonably well balanced in my play tests, with no class much more heavily used than the others.
Game types include the ever-standard team deathmatch, and two different types of objective based games. Objective games play out in an attack and defend matter, with the Resistance team attacking points around a map while the Nazis defend. The other objective game - Stopwatch - plays out in a similar fashion, except both teams take turns attacking and defending, and the team that can complete their objectives fastest wins. Like in the campaign, players will earn money that can be used to purchase upgrades. While earning new abilities adds a nice sense of growth and progression to the multiplayer, it's a toss up as to whether the satisfaction this provides outweighs early frustration due to facing better equipped players. Some more variety in game modes would have been nice, as Stopwatch was hardly played during my time online, and deathmatch does get old eventually. This title may gather a small hardcore community of players, but it will never be among the top games played on Live.
Wolfenstein's visuals provide plenty of variety. From the variety of enemies players will face to diverse locations, Wolfenstein manages to keep things fresh and interesting. The green and black stylings of the Veil give it a unique visual aesthetic that distinguish it from the regular world. Weapon fire sounds realistic, even for the fictional weapons, while the game's score blends in with the action, heightening the tension without drawing undue attention to itself. The voice work in Wolfenstein gets the job done, but isn't particularly memorable, unless you have a thing for gravelly-sounding Nazis.
Perhaps the greatest test of patience with Wolfenstien is in the acquiring of its achievements. Multiplayer achievements are plentiful here, and while straightforward to obtain, are unnecessarily long in the tooth, including achievements for hitting ranks 25 and 50, which will certainly take a while. I hope you like collectables, as the developers packed in 383 total by my count, and you'll need to find them all for achievements. While collecting money and tomes can lead to useful upgrades, being asked to find this many collectables is rather insane. It's unfortunate that Wolfenstein's chore of an achievement list detracts from enjoying the game.
Wolfenstein shines so bright in some areas that its faults correspondingly become more aggravating. While enemy variety is much better than most shooters out there, the intelligence of the AI leaves plenty to be desired. The joy of wandering Isenstadt is all but lost when you realize that aside from collecting items, there isn't a whole lot to do in the city, whilst intense missions can end in aggravating boss fights. While the game's positive qualities outweigh its faults, they're strong enough to make us wonder how amazing this game could have been had it lived up to its full potential.
Weapon fire sounds great, and the music heightens the action without drawing undue attention upon itself. Voice acting is decent, though not particularly memorable.
Wolfenstein has a unique aesthetic, and the use of the Veil makes the action here different from other shooters. There's enough variety of scenery that the action never feels stale or too familiar.
If you've played a shooter before, you'll have no problems with Wolfenstein. The controls are fairly standard, and the controls are as smooth as should be expected. Checkpoints are well spaced throughout the game.
There's plenty of action and great moments to be had here, but poor AI and frustrating bosses cast a shadow over the fun. Multiplayer is a love it or hate it affair.
Want to collect 383 collectables? Reach rank 50 in multiplayer? Me neither. Wolfenstein's achievements are unimaginative and too much of a chore to be fun acquiring.
Wolfenstein's Veil powers and the pseudo-sandbox city of Isenstadt make the game an entertaining ride, though poor AI and frustrating bosses hold it back from greatness.