GAMING GREATS: Wolfenstein (2009)

The Nazis get a gory comeuppance in this modern redo of the classic shooter.

Who made it?: Raven Software, id Software (Developers), Activision (Publisher).

Genre: First-Person Shooter.

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360.

Format: Optical disc, Blu-ray, Download.

Release date: August 21, 2009 (UK).

Let me begin this review by saying that Wolfenstein is, indeed, not a “clone” of Halo as many uninformed gamers have thought of it. For those not in the know, Wolfenstein 3D (1992) is considered to be the granddaddy and main inspiration of many other first-person action games with Doom coming in a close second. id Software – developers of these two highly acclaimed FPS’s, as well as the Quake series – would certainly have a lot to say about their beloved series being compared to a vastly inferior console shooter.

Enter the 2009 Wolfenstein. Developed by Raven Software (HereticHexenSoldier of Fortune, and Soldier of Fortune: Double Helix) and published by id Software (they honestly need no introduction), this game takes place after the events of Return to Castle Wolfenstein and is considered to be the series’ only true sequel. You see, Wolfenstein 3D was later remade in 2001 under the name Return to Castle Wolfenstein. But for those who haven’t played the classic original or its excellent remake, don’t fret. This is as much a sequel as it is a fantastic stand-alone FPS. Franchise fans, however, will definitely get more out of it than those unfamiliar with the series.

So, how exactly do you keep a treasured shooter series relevant seventeen years after its first incarnation and eight years after its remake? Favouring old school gameplay over new school ideals, this Wolfenstein is about as simple as shooters come. Surprisingly enough, Raven didn’t opt to go the route of “updating” the game with an abundance of modern touches (aside from a pseudo-open environment and regenerating health), keeping it as the twitch-shooter the series started and stayed as. Granted, some FPS fans, as well as those that got their first taste of the genre on the original Xbox, will find that there is really nothing new to see or do here. You do have the “Veil” powers but the gameplay itself is decidedly old hat. Where it succeeds is its single-player campaign which is both involving and fun. There’s little to do besides going from room to room and blowing away ghastly Nazis, but that’s the beauty of it!

I very rarely find action games that place such firm emphasis on keeping the action this satisfying. Game developers of today seem too worried about sales, multiplayer/co-op modes, and finding interesting, albeit vein ways of keeping the gamer playing without actually offering much in the way of a memorable experience. Wolfenstein dishes out some of the most intense firefights I’ve had the pleasure of playing through. Raven was obviously unconcerned with current facets of game development, and opted instead to create a game that was rewarding to those favouring fantastic single-player experiences over fantastic multiplayer ones. Wolfenstein brings us back to the good ol’ days of cool weapons, great level design, and huge boss fights. Gamers looking for that extra drop of icing on the cake won’t find it here, but those of us that grew up on retro shooters will certainly dig the new gloss.

Let’s go into the Veil powers that you will have to master as the game ramps up in difficulty; they are a unique addition to the game but ultimately amount to very little. Watching time slow to a crawl as you slam through waves of enemies whilst watching them fly through the air via Havok physics is insanely cool, but too much of the game relies on these powers as a sort of gimmick instead of being a helpful aid to completing levels. There are a number of enemies that require you to use different Veil abilities to defeat them, but I can’t help wondering if the game would have been even better without these obvious inclusions created simply to pander to a modern gaming audience. Wolfenstein was meant to be a pure, unfiltered run-and-gun shooter, and I would have definitely preferred it that way.

There’s also the issue of what would appear – at least on first playthrough – to be an open environment. Gunfights take place in larger areas than seen in past instalments, and there are just as many open-locale firefights as there are ones set in tight corridors. I really liked this approach, but I could have done without the gimmicky “open-world” gameplay. As with most modern titles, you accept missions from different locations that you must travel to throughout the game, before rushing to complete them. Raven could have just as easily made Wolfenstein a level-based shooter instead of a mission-based one. It brings nothing new to the table, but because this feature is so dumbed-down, it doesn’t affect the overall feel of the game much. And as much as I enjoy open-world games and love innovative game-play features and jaw-dropping graphics, I just can’t get into the mindset that Wolfenstein adhere to these rules, too. I loved playing the previous two because they were so simple and a nice break from more complex shooter fare. Wolfenstein is still unapologetically simple, but you get the feeling that id was having Raven shed their roots instead of embracing them.

Wolfenstein is also not a visually stunning game. It does look good, but gamers will find nothing here that begs them to tap their friends on the shoulder and say, “Holy shit! Look at this!” As visually stunning as Return to Castle Wolfenstein was a long time ago, I half-expected to see the same kind of visual quality for its sequel. The various lighting effects are nice and water looks good, as do most character models, but there’s only so much Raven was able to squeeze out of the ageing Doom 3 engine. Enhanced it may be but this is simply not a game where graphics were the focus.

I loved nearly everything Wolfenstein threw at me. I bought the game on release day and have enjoyed it ever since. It’s a rewarding, well-programmed, intense, and unbelievably fun experience that fans should appreciate. It’s nothing new, nothing extraordinary, and won’t win any awards for originality, but what it does offer is some of the best twitch-shooting since PC favorite Painkiller. Pick it up cheap and have a blast!

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • Four promotional motion comics, each about 3 minutes long, were released. Each was based on a particular instalment in the series and served as a nostalgic reminder. The first one recreated Wolfenstein 3D‘s escape from Castle Wolfenstein, the Hans Grosse killing and the final battle against Adolf Hitler. The second was based upon Wolfenstein 3D‘s prequel game Spear of Destiny, and recreated its final battle, in which protagonist B.J. Blazkowitz fights the cybernetic Death Knight and the Angel of Death for control of the Spear. The third comic was based on Return to Castle Wolfenstein and recreated the battle with Olaric, the destruction of an experimental plane and later the final battle against Heinrich I. The fourth comic was based on Wolfenstein‘s own cinematic introduction and shows B.J. infiltrating a Nazi battleship to steal the first Thule medallion.
  • Sequel Wolfenstein: The New Order is in production and is due to be set in the 1960s.
  • Charlie Brooker included the game in his one-off special Gameswipe (below).

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