Raven's take on the classic shooter is underwhelming.
I remember around E3 2008, when CEO of id software Todd Hollenshead appeared on Activision's press conference to announce Wolfenstein. Once he got on stage, he asked the audience to "get a little applause like [John] Carmack got at EA yesterday." Carmack had just announced id's Rage at EA's press conference the day before. Outside of that announcement, the only amount of publicity Wolfenstein got was being featured on an episode of GameTrailers TV with Geoff Keighley. I am guessing that this game was made so that id could get out of their contract with Activision, otherwise Rage would have been published by Activision. Of course, that's all moot nowadays, what with id now being a Zenimax Media company. But enough about speculation of company politics. Let's talk about Raven Software's take on the famous alternate-era World War II franchise.
The game features the main hero of the series, B.J. Blazkowicz, fighting through the fictitious German town of Isenstadt under Nazi control. While he's there, he finds out that the Nazis have mined special crystals that harness black sun technology, with the intent to use these crystals to access another world and rule Earth. With the help of two different factions, it's up to Blazkowicz to stop the Nazis and save the world once again. It's the typical over-the-top action fare that's been iconic of the series. I know some people may get annoyed of "you don't get to kill Hitler," but I guess people forgot that B.J. already killed him in Wolfenstein 3D.Wolfenstein features hub worlds where Blazkowicz travels to get to certain missions. The missions are mostly linear passageways with an ultimate goal, all while killing Nazis and other strange beings in his wake. The hub worlds as well as the stages have guns, gold, intelligence and tombs of power, all of which improve Blazkowicz's status in the game. With the gold he acquires, he can buy upgrades for his guns, like improved accuracy, increased damage, and extra ammunition. You buy these at the Black Market in the hub worlds in-between missions. In addition, Blazkowicz has the "Thule medallion," which over time gives him the black sun power, such as from "Mire," which acts like bullet-time, to "Empower," which increases damage. All of these take from a pool of Veil energy which can be refilled in designated spots in the game, or with special canisters. Each of the powers are useful for many tasks, and it's clear that Raven wanted you to use each of them effectively to kill foes and to make sure you don't bite the bullet too soon.
The stages themselves usually require you to find information, and support one of the two factions, all while killing as many enemies as you can. Most of the stages are relatively linear, although some have you backtrack. Every stage has gold and intelligence, and unless you're a pack rat who likes to collect everything, there isn't a major need to scour the levels. Intelligence is not as useful as you'd think, most of the intel is about mundane information, and just slows down the game. Oddly enough, some of the intel items are written with a second page that just has another word or two on it. They couldn't even bother to make sure that all the text fits on one page? That seems lazy on Raven's part.
Weapon-wise, the game features a few real-life weapons such as the MP40 and the Kar98 rifle, but some of the weapons, such as the Particle Cannon and Tesla Gun, are outright bizarre, even in the world like Wolfenstein. The previous games never got to this type of absurdity in its weapon choice, the closest out-of-place weapon was the classic Chaingun. It makes the game have this weird science fiction B-movie vibe, which is weird considering the previous game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, had more of an Indiana Jones vibe in terms of its story. Regardless of this, the weapons are varied, but most of them serve only 1 or 2 unique purposes, and finding ammo for special weapons are somewhat scarce, forcing you to rely on the MP40 and Kar98 most of the time through.
Would you be surprised that Wolfenstein uses a modified id tech 4 engine, the same engine that powered Doom 3? For a 5 year old engine, Raven really made the game shine despite the aged tech, making it almost look as good as its competitors. The game also uses and abuses the Havok physics system, having lots of items to break and scatter around everywhere. It's an interesting thing to get into a firefight and see all the debris fly around everywhere, it makes the world feel somewhat real and not a bland landscape. Sound-wise, most of the weapons sound competent enough, and the voice acting is relatively passable. Bill Brown, who composed the score for Return to Castle Wolfenstein, returns to score the music for this game, and it's subdued enough that it's almost ambient. But it's unfortunate that he decided not to re-use themes he composed in RTCW, or even adapt Bobby Prince's music from Wolfenstein 3D into the game somehow. Some of the music in those games were absolutely fantastic and incredibly memorable, compared to the music in Wolfenstein, which is almost forgettable.
The singleplayer is not a very long effort unless you scour every level for every item, or play on the hardest difficulty. My first run was about 7 hours on Hard, but it'll last you longer than most action shooters today. Towards the end, you're introduced to Downtown, a new hub world that only has only 2-3 more missions attached to it before you get to the final 3 missions. Compared to the several missions that you have in Midtown, it makes it look like Raven ran out of time or ideas in terms of missions that the player could do. Even the non-story bonus missions feel like leftover levels that they couldn't fit into the campaign.
While I can give some praise to the singleplayer, I wish I could say the same about the game's Multiplayer. I loved Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, that free multiplayer game that Splash Damage developed. It expanded on Nerve Software's class-based multiplayer in Return to Castle Wolfenstein and made it well balanced and fun. Endrant Studios, on the other hand, half-assed the multiplayer here. This is an odd trend as of late: Different developers doing different portions of the game. There's little synergy when you do this, you see a considerable difference in quality when you have multiple developers working at different portions of the game.
First off, they introduced Deathmatch to Wolfenstein's multiplayer. This was a huge mistake, the overall appeal of RTCW's multiplayer was the action-packed class-based objective mode. In this day and age where deathmatch multiplayer is a dime-a-dozen, it's pointless to implement such a game mode in this game. You end up letting the main objective mode, the meat of the game, get completely ignored as players just gravitate to playing nothing but Team Deathmatch. I assume the objective mode is identical to RTCW, but I wouldn't know as virtually all of the matches I played were pure Team Deathmatch, very few were hosting Objective matches.
Oh, I forgot to mention this: the multiplayer infrastructure is almost completely broken. You buy upgrades with cash you get for killing enemies or doing support objects like deploying ammo boxes. The problem is if you buy any upgrades in game, say goodbye to your rank. It took me several games to realize why I was still Level 1 despite I had leveled up several times in multiple matches. And that's not the only glitch I noticed. Sometimes you'll buy an upgrade and hit the B button to back out, then you find out that you haven't bought the item, forcing you to re-buy it. If you decide to play another match in the same lobby as the previous match, you'll lose all progress you made on that previous match, forcing you to quit out of lobbies to keep your stats. In addition, the game lags frequently, so finding a good smooth lag-free game is impossible. Even with patches, the game still has all the bugs I mentioned.
Now, I have played lots of shooters, some with lots of broken concepts and technical problems, but most of the time games like those get those problems patched over time, making it look like a competent shooter. But for a game to ape most of Call of Duty's style, complete with a ranking system, and do it in a way where doing certain things can make it impossible to complete certain achievements -- such as ranking up to the maximum level of 50 -- is absolutely unacceptable.
Wolfenstein is a franchise I hold with respect. It's one of the first first-person shooters I played when I was young, along with Doom and Quake. I enjoyed RTCW, and I loved Enemy Territory. Wolfenstein is a solid game with a decent but repetitive single player campaign, and a multiplayer mode that's broken to the point of unplayability. It's worth a cheap buy, maybe a rent, but only if you're interested in playing single player. If you want a WWII FPS that's worth playing multiplayer-wise, get Enemy Territory instead. At least Enemy Territory is free, compared to the $35 I paid for this. (Thanks GameStop for your cheap coupon deals.)