Has it really been eight years since the last proper Wolfenstein game? Time sure does fly. However, Raven Studios is betting that killing Nazis in all sorts of bullet-filled ways never gets old, so here we are with a new entry in the long-running series. But considering how old the Wolfenstein brand is, can the 2009 edition really offer anything new?
Let’s start with the opening cinematic, because really, a lot of the game’s spirit is contained therein. BJ Blazkowicz, the awesomely-named star of the show, is foiling Nazis on one of their boats off the coast of England, as they try to launch some rockets. Cheesy old-school action is the name of the day here, and BJ outwits his foes through the cunning ploy of being an American Hero. Through the subsequent intro levels and cutscenes, awful dialogue and cardboard cutout characters predominate.
Now that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t know if there’s much of a movement in the gaming industry for deliberately B-grade action titles, equivalent to something Steven Seagal would star in. But if there is – and if there are people out there who would revel in it – then Wolfenstein’s qualities have been vindicated. The overall plot, involving supernatural artifacts and super-powered Nazis, is hugely ridiculous, but I laughed through nearly every cutscene. I may have been laughing at the game, but there’s a good chance that that was the point. I hope so, anyway.
They have at least attempted to add a bit more depth than was given to previous Wolfenstein narratives. You’re smuggled into enemy territory, and must meet up with a resistance movement in the town of Isenstadt. This town actually serves as your hub, from which you can access new levels, as well as the various benefits of being part of an underground movement – you know, black markets and the like.
It’s not a bad idea, but the hub level does seem pretty half-hearted. It reminded me of the hub levels from the 3D Sonic games – all they actually did was get in the way of me running really quickly. It’s a similar story here – for a game that so stridently sticks to old-school shooting conventions, why mess up a natural flow of levels with a half-hearted attempt at depth and meaning?
This sort of feeling is also inherent in the gameplay – while there are some cool ideas added on top of the (very solid) gunplay, they don’t feel capitalised upon. The big gameplay feature is your ability to enter The Veil, a sort of parallel world in which you can access different areas of the map and perform new moves. Throughout the first half of the game, you’ll collect new powers, such as slowing down time or penetrating certain enemies’ shields. There are a number of basic puzzle-like elements associated with The Veil, and in general it’s a functional attempt at adding another layer on top of shooting Nazis in the head.
Functional: that’s actually a good word to keep using. The graphics, for example, have moments of impressiveness, but in general don’t ever stand tall next to something like Gears of War 2 and the like. Special effects, explosions, and so on all look good, but the character models in particular look average at best.
I played through about half the campaign for Return to Castle Wolfenstein back in 2001, but it was the multiplayer that kept me coming back. So it was with much more anticipation that I loaded up a deathmatch to see how things got on – after all, even if id Software weren’t the developers here, their name is still on the box, and their multiplayer titles are always worth looking at.
Again, however, things here are functional. Sure it was fun going head to head with other players, but it did all feel familiar. Wolfenstein offers three modes to savour: team deathmatch, Objective, and Stopwatch. The last two are the ones I enjoyed most from 2001, but it seems the simple deathmatch was the most popular. In Objective, one team must perform a series of tasks, while the other team attempts to stop them. Stopwatch is similar, except you’re retrieving (or protecting) items.
However, the lobby system is far behind what I would expect to see in 2009. There’s no match-making and no party support, which doesn’t make life any easier. I feel a bit whiny complaining about things like that, but when a game comes out with such “been there, done that” gameplay, it needs to stand toe to toe with what the competition is offering, or it’s just not worth recommending.
All put together, Wolfenstein is a bit like a McDonalds meal. It’s far from nutritional, and doesn’t even taste that good, yet you still go back for more – and you know exactly what you’re getting. To put it another way, it’s like a Dan Brown novel – hell, its dialogue and characterisations are actually on a similar level. Either way, you’ve got a product that has a bunch of disparate parts, none of which are overly praiseworthy or damnable. Joined together, you’ve got…well, a bunch of average parts joined together.
So is it worth your time? Sure, if you’ve got a hankering for some low-grade, balls-to-the-wall, derivative fire fights. But is it worth paying full price for? Not in my books – give this one a rent instead. Clock it over the weekend and follow it up with a salad to balance things out. If you’re still hankering for more, by all means purchase it – but best to try before you buy.