Better Than You'd Think
Wolfenstein is one of the rare games that actually surprised me. Judging from the pre-release trailers and largely mediocre reviews, I was expecting just another bland shooter when I popped Raven's newest game into my PS3. The funny thing is that, on a certain level, Wolfenstein is just another shooter. The game makes few attempts at innovation, and when it does, they sort of fall flat. Despite its adherence to PS2-era FPS conventions, the strange and pervasive cult themes and the solid game play make for an entertaining experience.
The newest game in the long-running series seems to take more than a few hints from the Call of Duty franchise. The gunplay feels similar to CoD and the controls are almost identically mapped. The big difference between the two franchises is the Veil feature. After beating the second level, players can enter the Veil at any time by tapping down on the D-Pad. While in the Veil, protagonist BJ Blascowitz (possibly a candidate for worst hero name ever) can run faster and spot enemies easier. Of course, this power can't last forever, so you'll need to recharge your Veil energy every so often. Energy pools are typically placed pretty liberally around the environments, though, so it's viable to play through most of the game in the Veil. Later on, other powers become available. A shield, a bullet time power, and a supercharged firing mode will unlock by the end of the game.
As mentioned earlier, the Veil is basically the only thing separating Wolfenstein from other shooters. The weapon selection is fairly generic, consisting of MP40s, a Kar98, a flamethrower, a rocket launcher, etc. There are also three supernatural weapons that pack a big punch and are a ton of fun to wield, but ammo for all three is scarce. Thus, I found myself falling back on the MP40 and the Kar98 for most of my shooting needs. Each of the weapons can be upgraded in underground cellars, but you'll have to find these arms dealers in the open world first. This is where the game sort of falls on its face. The open world is fairly small and typically feels pretty empty. It's as if it only exists to ferry you from one objective to the next, and thus time spent here is sort of boring. The very linear story missions, and the shorter optional missions, are much more entertaining.
These missions take place in a number of interesting locales, such as a creepy hospital, a zeppelin, and an ancient castle. The castle mission in particular is awesome, but it sort of faked me out. The siege on the castle was so epic, I assumed it would be the last level, but the game continues on past that point, only with less momentum. These levels are populated by some pretty stupid Nazis. They will rarely flank or charge you, instead trying to overwhelm you with their numbers. The exception to this rule is the super-powered enemies, who are considerably more powerful, but even they have some pretty basic AI patterns. Although the enemies are dumb, battles are still pretty intense because of the strong level design.
Wolfenstein runs on a heavily modified version of id's Doom 3 engine. Make no mistake, this is a pretty old graphics engine to be making a game with in 2009. As a result, Wolfenstein is not one of the better looking console games out there, but it actually doesn't look as bad as I had expected. Like Halo 3, the world of Wolfenstein is colorful and vibrant, which helps the aging graphics engine appear new. All of the audio work is done pretty well, too. The music often has a certain swashbuckling, adventurous feel, and the voice acting is serviceable to advance the nonsensical plot.
There is also a multiplayer portion to Wolfenstein, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. There are three modes ranging from team deathmatch to objective and time based games. Multiplayer is class-based, and you can unlock a number of upgrades for you weapons, but it still feels pretty basic. Online play can be a bit laggy, but it's still decent fun.
With vibrantly colored graphics, a nice musical score, and rock solid gunplay, Wolfenstein is a surprisingly fun game. The multiplayer is average and the story doesn't matter, but when the dust settles, the game is still better than I had expected. It's kind of sad to see this game floundering in the sales charts, because it really is worth some of your time.