After eight long years, the sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein is finally upon us. If you're looking for a first-person shooter thatís a little different than the norm, Wolfenstein offers hours of intriguing gameplay with a fairly entertaining online multiplayer mode. While a large portion of the game feels dated, the change of pace is greatly appreciated. Letís face it; itís always cool taking on a bunch of Nazis, but when they have magical powers, thatís just wicked. Along the way you fight some memorable boss battles and use some truly creative weapons. Wolfenstein may not rank among your top five shooters of all time, but it proves entertaining all the same.
Wolfenstein thrusts players back into the shoes of B.J. Blaskowicz. This time BJ is sent into Isenstadt, a small village seemingly flowing with Nazis who're looking for something special, something magical. Luckily BJ isn't alone in his quest to determine what Hitler's men are up to. Resistance fighters have begun popping up all over Isenstadt...and before BJ knows it, heís smack in the middle of a growing conflict between two parties. It also seems the resistance knows a lot about the Nazi occupation. If this sounds familiar, that's likely due to the general plot formula being a Wolfenstein staple. Once the occult works its way into the story, things pick up, but even then most series fans know exactly what to expect. Coupled with a dated look and lacklustre voice acting, Wolfenstein shows its age by the time you hit the halfway point.
Gameplay is also largely unchanged, though progression is now handled in a completely different way. Instead of being whisked off to one remote location and then another, you enjoy complete control over what missions you do or don't complete. Once you hit Isenstadt, Wolfenstein becomes a mini-GTA. That means you can cycle from one mission-giver to the next, having free reign over the entire city. If you choose the resistance, theyíll assign a mission relevant to their plot arc. The same applies to other characters you stumble across. Black market gun dealers are also scattered about to sell you weapon and ammo upgrades, and magic-related abilities.
Before detailing the magic system, letís talk guns. One or two are very useful and fun, but most in the game are very generic. The various rifles, rocket launchers, etc. are all what youíd expect from a modern FPS. What's nice are the RPG elements the developers added into the mix. Completing missions unlocks special accessories for your weapons; however, they must be purchased on the black market. The only way to buy anything is with gold, which is found during missions. Everything is tied together well. If you take on more missions from different resistance fighters, more abilities and add-ons become available. Your chances of finding more gold also increase. Upgrades include anything from having a higher ammo count to suppressing your rifle. The add-ons are extremely important because eventually your bullets cause more damage, and you need that for the game's latter portions.
Because there's so much freedom with the mission structure, I found the game to be a little unbalanced. Some missions are tough as nails and last for over an hour, whereas others are a joke and can be finished within twenty minutes. Depending on how you play, you may be under-prepared for one mission, and then completely tear through another. I found that focusing on the resistance's missions before the main campaign helped me stay alive longer in the tougher scenarios.
The magic system is something else entirely. As you advance through Wolfenstein, BJ stumbles upon a crystal that gives him all kinds of funky powers that are controlled via the D-pad, with the console versions at least. For a console shooter, the game controls quite well. Magic is managed by a special meter that must stay recharged. This is done by walking over special areas in the ďotherĒ dimension, called The Veil. After obtaining the first crystal, BJ discovers that the Nazis are trying to open a portal to another world that will net them special powers that can help them take over ours. They never expected you be along for the ride. As such, BJ can actually visit this other plain of existence with his magic. Once in the Veil, everything changes to a weird color scheme, bizarre creatures float around, new enemies abound and above all else, magic recharge pools are present. These pools automatically refill your meter once stepped in. Other abilities like slowing down time, enhancing your power and summoning a shield are unlockable. Used in conjunction with the regular weapons, BJ becomes a force to be reckoned with.
While I enjoyed the majority of the game, I couldn't shake the feeling sometimes that I'd done it all before. The truth of the matter is I have, a million times. Given that Wolfenstein is a throwback to older FPSes, you really feel it as time moves along. You're also sure to encounter many bizarre instances of the enemy walking right by you during heavy fighting. Doors close about two seconds after they're opened, despite no one being around. Little things like that don't help a next-gen game's reputation. While I faced some really smart enemy AI at times, some brain-dead morons also surfaced. Occasionally an enemy would charge me only to die at the hands of his buddy lagging behind who tossed a grenade. Thatís awfully nice of him isnít it? Another reoccurring issue was enemies becoming stuck behind environmental objects. Given how much of the environment is interactive, throwing a grenade can cause serious havoc, and not the type you want. Imagine a Nazi jittering like crazy because he can't get away from you. All these issues show the game's lack of polish. I could go on about others, but the other end of the spectrum is important too. There are instances when you see around a dozen Nazis hiding somewhere in the distance, a mini-gun is ripping at you, explosions are happening all over the place, and yet all of this happens without a single frame rate drop. Itís clear that with a little more development time, Wolfenstein would've been even more refined. Ultimately it ends up a fun and engaging game that looks and feels dated.
In light of multiplayer, Wolfenstein again feels a bit archaic. The genre has come a long way since 1998. Weíve had fun with the Halo trilogy, but lately it's been Activisionís hugely successful Call of Duty setting the bar. What I'm trying to get across is that even though Wolfenstein's multiplayer modes are entertaining, they canít hold a candle to CoD. The modes featured include Team Deathmatch, Stopwatch and Objective. Objective and Stopwatch are by far the best to play. They both task players on one team to fulfill objectives while the opponents try to stop them. The major difference is that in Stopwatch, players switch teams to determine who can complete the objectives the quickest. Three classes are available for every mode: Engineer, Medic and Soldier. Each sports one magic power, though they're not the same as those featured in the campaign. Expect the medicís power to be a healing area, etc. Thatís all she wrote for the multiplayer. It is fun, donít get me wrong, but simply can't compete in today's insanely competitive multiplayer arena.
Though nothing feels as underdeveloped as the visuals, which is a shame given how amazing Return to Castle Wolfenstein was in 2001. Here, characters are stiff, animate generically and the cutscenes are pretty boring with off lip syncing. The environmental designs are wonderful however. I'm also impressed with the ability to sever any limb I wanted with my sniper rifle. There's a particularly gruesome scene whereby I removed a Naziís leg, then blew off his head. Sure itís disgusting, but thereís something quite enjoyable about doing that in a videogame. Yes, I think I need some help too. Other impressive moments come from the Veil. The decent visuals come with a price though, as the frame rate does indeed take a hit once you're in that realm. At least the lighting is a sight once you start throwing grenades. Unfortunately it feels as though the whole game lacks that extra little touch. The characters ultimately kill the experience, making the game seem far older than it actually is.
The audio fares a similar fate, simply because of the voice actors' lack of enthusiasm. Nonetheless, the sound effects are great. They blast out of your surround speakers like bloody hell, but when a cutscene pops out and you have listen to dull characters, everything takes a turn for the worse. Iím sure you know exactly what Iím talking about. Weíve all been there.
Wolfenstein is really fun at times, but itís held back by aged graphics, poor voice acting and dated multiplayer. We take our first-person shooters very serious in this day and age, so it was at least nice to play something that felt a little wacky in comparison. That being said, the genre is represented extremely well, so even a somewhat more original offering has to run on all cylinders to hope to stand a chance. Wolfenstein simply doesnít do that. If you want another shooter to play, Wolfenstein can help fill that void, just donít expect it to keep you hooked. We're waiting until Modern Warfare 2 hits for that to happen.