Wolfenstein Review: Occult Following

Illustration for article titled Wolfenstein Review: Occult Following

The battle against supernatural Nazis wages on in Wolfenstein, that latest chapter in epic saga of one man's struggle against the occult-fueled Third Reich.

Himmler's Schutzstaffel is on the verge of harnessing a dark paranormal power that would mean the end of the free world as we knew it in 1943, and special agent B.J. Blazkowicz is the only man who can stop them. The direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein finds B.J. slinking through fictional city of Isenstadt, performing guerrilla-style missions in order to weaken and eventually overthrow the Reich's grip on the region, thwarting their vile plans in the process. Luckily for fans of the series, B.J.'s idea of slinking involves shooting tons of Nazis in the face, this time while harnessing the strange powers of a mystical amulet to accomplish that very task.

It sounds a bit far-fetched, but then the Wolfenstein franchise was never known for its grip on reality or historical accuracy. What it is known for is delivering some of the most entertaining and influential games in the first-person shooter genre. Does Wolfenstein follow suit?

Illustration for article titled Wolfenstein Review: Occult Following

Point and Shoot: At the heart of Wolfenstein is a rock-solid first-person shooter experience. The controls are tight and accurate, the movement fluid, and the action on each of the weapons is, for the most part, very satisfying. If you are going to make an FPS with the Wolfenstein name on it, you'd better get this aspect right, and the developers nailed it.

Semi-Open World:Rather than following standard FPS conventions and guiding the player by the nose through a series of linear levels, Wolfenstein allows players to explore the fictional city of Isenstadt between missions, randomly spawning enemies at various locations to deliver the illusion of an ongoing conflict. As you complete missions, you'll see more resistance fighters on the streets, following your example and standing up to their Nazi oppressors. It's certainly a pleasant change from your average shooter.

Magical Powers: As you progress through Wolfenstein, special agent B.J. Blazkowicz gains a variety of supernatural powers via a magical amulet, such as the ability to slow time, or uncover hidden passages by slipping into the Veil, a sort of paranormal parallel dimension. The powers are gimmicks, and they feel like gimmicks, but at times they can be really handy gimmicks, granting the player multiple ways to approach a situation. Should you slow down time and rush in with guns blazing, or use your Veil vision to pick off targets from afar? In a genre known for its linearity, choice is always good.


Big Bad Boss Battles:The Wolfenstein series has featured some of the most entertaining boss battles in the genre, and while there is no robo-Hitler to vent your frustrations on, there are several bosses that require much more than simple run-and-gun techniques to defeat. In fact, some aren't even damaged by your weapons at all, leaving you to use your wits alone to take them down. Your wits, or GameFaqs.

And I Care Why?: In the original Wolfenstein games, B.J. Blazkowicz wasn't much more than a portrait at the bottom of your screen, and it's really no different in this installment. B.J. is a generic action hero, saving generic foreigners from the mean old supernatural Nazi regime. If it weren't for the fact that history has established the World War II-era Nazis as the most villainous military force that ever existed, I would have had serious trouble being motivated take them down. The game excels at death, but could use more life.


The Not-So-Constant Struggle: Wolfenstein might have some impressive boss fights, but getting to those fights can be frustrating, thanks to an oddly unbalanced cast of enemy characters. One moment you are fighting a swarm of enemy soldiers who react intelligently to your actions, following you into buildings, and generally doing things we would expect enemy soldiers to do, such as dying in droves. The first time you encounter one of the larger enemy types sets you off balance, but soon enough you realize the range of your sniper rifle is much longer than the range of their sense, making it easy to take them out with well-placed bullets to their weak spots while they wander around randomly firing off their weapons. This puts the player at ease, making the ultra-fast, silent-movie Veil Assassins even more frustrating, killing you repeatedly before you can even point your camera down. Don't worry - death points it down for you.

Multiplayer Meltdown: Developed independently by Endrant Studios, Wolfenstein's multiplayer side is a bit of a letdown, especially after spending a good 10-12 hours playing through the solid and mostly satisfying single-player campaign. The three modes and eight maps quickly become stale, especially when constantly faced by jittery enemies that almost seem to flash wildly about the screen. The developer did try to change things up a bit, adding three classes - engineer, medic, and soldier - and the ability to use cash earned during play to purchase upgrades to your equipment, but the experience as a whole is simply disappointing.


I can't imagine the sort of pressure that a development studio faces when they are tasked with creating a follow-up to one of the most iconic franchises in the history of gaming. Wolfenstein 3D paved the way for today's first-person shooters. Without it, there might not have been a Halo or a Modern Warfare to compare this game with, and while expecting a shooter on par with those titles might be unrealistic, a new Wolf game should at least bring something special to the gaming table. The single player Wolfenstein experience comes close to doing just that, but the multiplayer misses by a mile.

It might not live up to its name, but Wolfenstein is still a solid, entertaining first-person shooter with some ambitious ideas. It's easy enough to find enjoyment in the game, as long as yours doesn't hinge on taking the fight online.


Wolfenstein was developed by Raven Software, id Software, Pi Studios, and Endrant Studios and published by Activision for the PC, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3 on August 18. Retails for $59.99 USD ($49.99 PC). Played Xbox 360 version of the game on default difficulty to completion, participated in multiple rounds of online multiplayer.

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So what's the twist in this FPS? Super natural powers? Whoa! That's how developers make games these days. Hey let's make a FPS, but let's add a twist to it. Maybe the twist will be so special, that no one will notice, that it's just another FPS.