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Wolfenstein Review
Review By @ 05:39pm 08/12/09
Regardless of your stance on Nazis, one thing is pretty clear, occult Nazis are more fun than non-occult Nazis. For one thing their accents are more comical (see: overuse of 'ze' for 'the' and 'zis' for 'this'), and secondly they always tend to play (see: meddle) with forces they do not understand. Not in a "gee whiz, that science stuff sure is complicated" sense, more of a "holy crap, opening the gates to the Black Sun dimension could destroy the very fabric of our world" kind of thing.

But they mean well, actually they mean to use magic powers and forces to advance the cause of the Third Reich, but, they're definitely more fun. And just like the latter parts of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazi soldiers in search of mythical and fantastical devices and powers lend themselves better to the simple entertainment of watching them die in cool ways. A welcome diversion to the usual 'Nazis were actual human beings' approach of the more realistic World War II recreations.

Wolfenstein has a heritage that goes without saying, from essentially defining the first-person shooter genre to creating a great multiplayer flamethrower workout with Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Simply called Wolfenstein, this new title in the series sees id Software once again off-loading one of its most famous franchises to developer Raven Software, whose track record hasn't elevated above 'average' or 'good' since the PC classic Heretic.

Like a shrug of the shoulders Wolfenstein falls right into line with the developer's other titles, providing an imminently forgettable, yet structurally solid and somewhat enjoyable romp through Nazi-occupied Europe. The game follows the exploits of big chinned American secret agent of sorts, BJ Blazkowicz, as he and a rag tag group of thick 'kind-of Russian and German' accented freedom fighters attempting to free a small town overrun with Nazi forces. Right off the bat, it's pretty clear the Nazis are experimenting with the occult, channelling hidden dimensions and fusing other-worldly powers to create new weapons and soldiers. This, of course, paves the way for gameplay that introduces particle style beam weaponry and slow-mo abilities with the more familiar olden-style and era-staple, MP43 machine guns. The supernatural elements worked a treat in earlier games in this series, and thankfully, are brought to the forefront here. In fact, there's very little time wasted before you get to vaporise your first Nazi.

Although featuring visuals that look clearly dated and very similar to both Quake 4 and Doom 3, Wolfenstein does feature a very clean and cinematic presentation style, one that attempts to stay true to the series' comical roots whilst also implementing a Raiders-lite vibe. In fact, those intimately familiar with Raiders of the Lost Ark will notice that the main musical theme associated with the Nazi-occult musings in the game echoes an almost identical theme to one featured at the end of the film. The comparisons don't end there, as the game's particle beam weapon fires of a stream of energy that literately vaporises Nazis in a similar fashion to the 'Nazi shish kebab' style energy beam seen in the film. But of course this doesn't elevate the game above its somewhat mediocre set pieces.

Perhaps the game's weakest element is also theoretically (from a design perspective) its strongest, where the game's setting, a small European town overrun by Nazis serves as a somewhat overworld where players obtain missions from various NPCs and traverse streets, sewers and rooftops to reach the game's actual "levels". All the right elements are present to make it work, a monetary system allowing players to upgrade their arsenal, a colourful cast of characters and settings, but it just doesn't hold together. The reason for this can be found in the actual missions or levels themselves.

Although traversing to a hospital to stop supernatural Nazi experiments on patients may sound logical in this type of set-up, the execution is at odds with very core of the Wolfenstein experience. This is because each of the levels themselves, regardless of taking place in staple settings like hospitals, churches, caves, and yes, castles, play out in an extremely linear fashion. And when coupled with a weapon set that is fun, and Nazi AI that isn't particular bright (nor does it need to be), you're left with a fun shooter that shows off cool weaponry and interesting enough environments to use them in. But interspersed between each of these encounters are long stretches of walking around the same parts of town, in a perpetual state of Nazi killing déjà vu, where enemy re-spawns occur to delay the execution of a wafer thin B-movie storyline that could have been a lot of fun if deployed in a strictly linear fashion. This artificially adds length to game that should have been short and sweet.

We're currently in an era that frowns upon linear level structure in gaming, where a clear and concise 'point A to B' approach seems old fashioned and boring. However, more often than not the opposite is true, open worlds and large play areas are extremely difficult to execute with any degree of success and shouldn't be attempted when your game's strengths lie elsewhere. So in the end Wolfenstein turned out to be a fairly enjoyable if flawed shooting experience, one that coasts on its historical setting mixed with the supernatural, and one that should have remained strictly linear.

OK, so you may be wondering about the multiplayer aspect of the game, and whether or not it holds up to the brilliant Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The answer to that is pretty simple, think of what Quake 4 multiplayer was to Quake 3, and you get the idea.
What we liked
Occult Nazis
Great weapons
Makes killing Nazis fun again
What we didn't like
Boring overworld
Five year old visuals
Average multiplayer
We gave it: