RETRO – Nazism, black magic, firefights with spells, and scary monsters, we are getting the good old recipe in this latest Wolfenstein. Besides B.J. Blazkowicz the American super soldier there is another main “character” the mysterious medal, which provides our hero with fantastic abilities to combat the living, and mutant German soldiers.
Wolfenstein. This name is synonymous with the birth of first-person shooters, with its B movie style, Nazi-hunting, occult and horror elements that are tied to this name. However, most importantly it was ID Software’s first success.
Although a Second World War game, nobody expects too much realism, a Normandy landing, or another historically accurate event in a Wolfenstein game. Besides the regular nazi grunts, there are other common enemies such as the undead, hellspawns that try to kill B.J. Blazkowicz, there are foes that are equipped with sci-fi weaponry, or have supernatural abilities.
Our main character is not such a complex character: a badass American, who is stoic, and kills Nazis without any philosophical debate, or getting PTSD after seeing the demonic monsters It’s missing Duke Nukem’s macho humour or Gordon Freeman’s interesting character.
Nobody expects something new or original in a Wolfenstein game: you are alone against the entire Nazi army plus their demons, not much tactical team play is needed, although some vehicle sections would be great at times. Did Raven Software adhere to the original gameplay style, or did they add a bunch of new features that made this Wolfenstein something special? Yes, and no…
The German’s nightmare: B.J. Blazkowicz
What was done great by Raven Software is using the good old tropes of the Wolfenstein games in this latest one? We find something calmingly retro here: it did not try to overcomplicate the basic and old style. Of course, we still get to control good ol’ B.J. Blazkowicz, who gets called out by the Germans as a spy, even though there is no information collecting, or special spy kits, or any James Bond type of activities. Instead, all we will do is eliminate the Nazis by the droves.
Our hero this time finds a medallion that uses otherworldly energy called “Black Sun”, and our main objective is to stop the Nazis from creating a super weapon with it. B.J is sent to a fictional town in the heart of Germany called Isenstadt. Here he teams up with the local resistance called the Kreisau circle and with a Russian group the Golden Dawn to combat the Nazis.
The story is not too perfect, although the developers try to breathe some life into it by building up different characters on both resistance sides – although with little success. Regardless of the two different factions, both are based on the same archetypes, with monotonous dubbings. We can also talk to the allied soldiers but they’ll still respond with the same tone.
The only thing that uplifted me was the fact that after a mission how the allied soldiers would talk about how pissed are the Nazis against B.J. Too bad this part of the game was not designed further at Raven Software, it could have provided depth to the factions, and to the story, the two factions would have reminded me about Fallout 3 a bit.
Every road leads to Isenstadt
One part that Raven Software’s Wolfenstein tries to diverge from the old games is using non-linear elements. As the missions are provided by two factions from Isenstadt, however not instantly, instead we have to roam and locate them in different parts of the city. Once these are done we can return to the faction leaders to get the next missions.
It is a very brave attempt from Raven Software, to add a new element to this old series, but the idea bleeds from multiple parts. First of all: adding one city does not make is an RPG game, or a Fallout type game, as it is only one location, we’ll keep cursing the developer every time we have to go back and pick up a new mission.
Second of all do not think that we are talking about a sprawling metropolis with civilians, back alleys, shops. No Isenstadt is actually a small lifeless town where we will have to kill German soldiers (later mutants) just like in the missions.
Also returning for the hundredth time will be really boring as you’ll have to kill the same “spawning” German over and over, and you’ll have to flush ’em out with grenades. Also to get to the two factions you’ll have to use those streets, which will end up with more shooting. What was the point of this non-linearity? Nothing.
The two factions? Also, nothing as they are not rivals, and they do not combat each other. You can just go and pick up the missions without any fear of overall failure. They just send off our hero to kill Nazis and mutants. This game would have been better as a linear FPS, with the main locations being separate levels.
To mention at least one positive feature for these new elements: it is great that we can upgrade our weapon in Resident Evil-esque black market places. The new parts for our weapons will make it more accurate, deadlier, or even give us sniper scopes.
Nothing is free however and we’ll need golden bricks to buy them. We won’t be able to upgrade every weapon to its fullest, but as a pro tip: upgrade the gun with a scope, and add more damage to it, so that you’ll be able to take out enemies from a distance
B.J just shut up and shoot, will you?!
With discussing the weapons we have reached the meat of the game which is the action that is really well done. The firefights are quick, spectacular, and really exciting… when the difficulty is higher than medium. The German soldiers can be brutally killed: for example if we shoot them in the neck the blood will come sprouting out of them until they fall down, although it is not a humane death, in an FPS it is entertaining.
The levels are well designed and provide great tactical firefights if the knot is getting tighter around our neck. The health and armour design is pretty much from Halo. As more and more damage is being added to our hero, the screen gets redder, and we are warned that we need to take cover. We just need to find a calm part of the map, stand a bit without taking damage and voila!
Although this is highly unrealistic we can just imagine B.J patching himself up. There are no medkits in the game, and taking cover is done in the usual way. Aka press a button and lean out from an object, street corner, and fire away, of course, you’ll need the right angle as not every object will provide a good aim for our hero.
The German’s and the monster’s AI is not too great, it’s okay for the most part. Thanks to the well-designed levels though, they still can surprise the player at times, appearing from cover, or running to one. Sadly most of the times they just stand in the open while we gun them down. Actually, the mutant soldiers or monsters can give us a tough time, as they use the Black Sun’s abilities betters.
One of the German special units can add a bullet-proof shield in front of the soldiers, and cannot be killed unless the special unit is killed, or by using the haste spell against them and attacking them from behind.
The mage moves with quick speed, and shots energy bolts, which on higher difficulty are a real pain in the ass. Some of the melee enemies can be tough as nails: the invisible laughing Nazi dagger soldiers can take away a lot of health.
Against them a time stopping spell works, or large calibre weapons. If we’re not quick enough they’ll disappear and backstab us again soon to take away our last drop of health. Another enemy type is blond nazi assassin lady, that shoot fireball, but killing them is easier. In the later parts of the game it is especially useful to use the medallion, as even though it drains quick, there are a lot of recharge stations.
All in all the combat is really enjoyable, the monsters are well designed and when the machine gun fire is constant, the enemies are screaming, the explosions are constant we’re able to enjoy this type of action to its fullest.
Old motor for old school?
Well yes, the explosions. The graphics engine is ID Tech 4 which was used recently in Doom 3. When writing this sentence it felt like a sucker punch, especially those that are used to the Crysis or other miracles of FPS graphics.
To be honest, Raven was not able to reinvent the wheel here in terms of display, but they still did a good job. If everything is pulled to the max then the city, the locations: Isenstadt the tiny city with beer posters, the catacombs, the blood-filled hospital, or Wolfenstein’s castle is well designed.
I played Wolfenstein in 1920*080 resolution and I was impressed with the level of detail for the locations when viewing it from my HD TV. It is important to note one location: A tiny farm next to a small river where the Germans were hiding something and we needed to get there, here Raven Software was able to show off their talent with the engine that was designed for Doom 3’s narrow, dark corridors.
The same can be said about the special effects – especially when using the Scifi weaponry in the game. The energy bolt weapon melts the flesh off with a bluish light from the soldier’s body, the Tesla cannon throws lightning towards the soldiers killing them.
The monsters that are from the veil are also well made, and the models for the German soldiers are okay, although when they are dead, and lie on the ground they seem like mannequins in the mall. Also, we’ll notice that this engine is pretty old at this point and has a few bugs, but still it is one of the better parts of the game.
It could have been more…
Wolfenstein is a bit double-edged sword: It is a fast-paced action game, with constant firefights and great graphics, plus it is entertaining. However the non-linear sections should have not been forced, and in the long run, are a horrible addition to the series.
If Raven would have provided real freedom in completing missions we would have gotten more factions, and they would have clashed at certain points, and would have been better – besides just walking around Isenstadt, would have been an instant classic.
The other path is a total linear, multiple location FPS with a bit better story, which everyone would have liked. In the end, Wolfenstein is a good game, so anyone who likes the series will not be disappointed in B.J. Blazkowicz’s newest adventure.
+ Well done FPS gameplay
+ Tech 4 looks still good
+ Nazi’s paranormal story branch
– Non-linear structure extremely flawed
– Keep coming back to the city is a pain
– The story altogether is lacking
Developer: Ravensoft, id Software
Publication: June, 2009