Wolfenstein 3D is often considered to be the “godfather of first-person shooters”. It shipped 17 years ago and is still considered to be one of the pioneers of the genre, even ahead of Half-Life and Doom. It had a distinctive charm about it that has thankfully been carried over into the latest Wolfenstein adventure, albeit among some minor issues that ultimately bring down the gameplay and overall experience. In an era of Inglourious Basterds and the Call of Duty, where does this latest Wolfsentein offering line up amongst the frontline of other war shooters?
In Wolfenstein you control the intriguing Allied agent B.J. Blazkowicz, a soldier that is heavily wanted – and feared – by the German Nazi’s. Those nasty Nazi’s are once again up to no good, and it’s up to B.J. to protect an artifact that uses the mysterious Black Sun energy. The German’s want to harvest the energy to develop new weaponry, so the fate of the world lies in B.J.’s hands. Dropped deep into enemy territory, you’ll rendezvous with resistance soldiers to stop the Nazi’s doing whatever they’re planning to do, before they do it!
The main map acts as a massive hub, with missions spread out across the town. You can roam the area as you wish, finding contacts and eventually beginning a mission. The contacts will lead you to particular areas where the mission starts, and once you complete your set objective you’ll be returned to the main city map.
The idea itself is great – and that must be applauded – but the execution is where the whole aspect ultimately falls down. Having an entire town to roam around sounds great in theory, but if the town itself is small and doesn’t take long to move through, it’s rather pointless even having. The developer clearly wanted it to be a RPG-type experience, where you build up your weapons, meet new people and learn more about the character. However, because the town is so small and there isn’t much to see, it’s more of a chore to move around the town than anything. The attempt at a non-linear direction of the gameplay is fantastic, as it can add a new mission structure to FPS that isn’t used enough in the genre, but it’s just been poorly executed this time round. Furthermore, the game holds your hand when moving through the town with markers on the map that direct you exactly where you need to go.
Then there’s the fact that once you complete a mission, you’re told exactly where to go by the characters you meet. So instead of allowing you to complete a mission, roam through the free-roaming town and discovering your own missions, the story goes into a linear path, and suddenly the whole freedom aspect of the game is thrown out the window. It’s an obvious inconsistency. The developer had the idea of a free-roaming, mission-based FPS, yet it’s as if they fell into the trap and added basic FPS linear elements. It’s disappointing, as had the town been larger and the mission structure more open to freedom and less linear, the experience would have been considerably better.
However, beyond that issue, the combat gameplay is great. Blowing up Nazi’s has never been more fun, and mixing basic WWII guns with outrageous and awesome vaporizing guns gives you quite an exotic level of choice. The environments aren’t fully destructive, which is kind of disappointing, but cover spots and certain small things placed around the place can fly around and be destroyed by gunfire or explosions. If you can see a Nazi hiding behind some cover, you can slowly chip at the concrete cover he is hiding behind, before giving him a nice headshot to bring home to his family.
The upgrading system is pretty deep, with all weapons having considerable levels and add-ons. You upgrade using gold you’ll come across in the environments and after completing missions, but it’s wise to pick a specific weapon and stick with it, as the upgrades can get pretty expensive. Some weapons, like the particle beam vaporizer, don’t really need to be upgraded as they do enough damage as is, so if you like shooting with the basic guns it’s best to use your money on them so as to get them as powerful as possible.
There’s a great supernatural element in Wolfenstein, an aspect that comes part and parcel with any entry in the series. Veil Sight acts as a pathway to another dimension that gives you the ability to see things that aren’t normally there. For example, stepping ladders or shortcuts can suddenly become available to you once you turn Veil Sight on. It also helps pinpoint enemy weak spots and gives you night vision for those areas lacking in natural lighting. The typical bullet-time feature allows you to slow-down time, which is helpful when being bombarded by enemy fire.
The enemy AI is heavily dependant on who you’re actually going up against, with the basic Nazi soldier nowhere near as tough as the Heavy Trooper’s or Assassin’s. Using the Veil Sight can be a hell of a lot of fun, but saving it for specific enemies is wise, as some can be pretty tough to take down. The AI as a whole is actually pretty good, with enemies taking cover and flanking you. The developer has done a good job of distinguishing between the easier and harder enemies, making it obvious that one group of soldier is more trained for battle than the other. Seasoned FPS veterans might not get overly challenged, but the enemy AI can pack plenty of punch, especially on the higher difficulties.
The single-player campaign won’t last you long at roughly 6-8 hours long, and that’s disappointing considering how much of a let down the online multiplayer is. The presentation as a whole in the multiplayer is very weird, with the developer seemingly going for an older, outdated look on purpose. The graphics are severely downgraded from the single-player campaign and it’s obvious that a vintage Wolfenstein look was the aim. That’s fine, but it’s just weird. There’s no nostalgia of previous experiences when seeing it, and considering how other FPS maintain the same level of graphical presentation from single-player over to multiplayer, it’s definitely a questionable choice.
There are only three main modes in multiplayer, which shouldn’t do enough to get gamers to put down World at War for a few months. Team Deathmatch is your basic deathmatch mode, while Objective has one team trying to complete an objective and the other trying to stop them. Stopwatch is the most original of three, having each team compete against each others time in completing a main objective. It can actually be a lot of fun and really engaging, especially if you’re playing with some close friends. However, the respawn times are too short, which takes away much of the challenge.
Wolfenstein holds up graphically, although the main hub town of Isenstadt is very dull. Once you move out of the town you’ll see the game in all of its glory, with nice environments, colours and lighting effects. The character designs are great, although the lip-syncing can occasionally be a touch out of whack. The audio is top notch, with a great orchestral soundtrack and fantastic weapon sound-effects.
Wolfenstein has awesome combat gameplay, but the inconsistent mission structure and attempt at making the experience a free-roaming, non-linear one ultimately brings the enjoyment level down. The town of which you’re meant to roam free around isn’t very big and looks incredibly dull, while the characters you meet don’t have much of a personality. The supernatural elements of the gameplay are great, and the weapon upgrades are impressive. Multiplayer is OK but overall a disappointment, with only three modes and not much originality.