Wolfenstein Review

By Darryl Kaye on September 7, 2009

Wolfenstein is a franchise that's been around for a considerable amount of time, with the first game being released in 1981. Since then, there have been multiple iterations and the franchise has gradually shifted towards a first-person shooter base. The latest installment goes simply by Wolfenstein and is the first to appear in this generation.

For those who aren't familiar with the franchise, it's a game that focuses around World War II. However, unlike the hordes of other games that focus on this era, Wolfenstein views things slightly differently. William "B.J." Blazkowicz once again returns as the game's protagonist and this time, he is attempting to stop the Nazi forces from exploiting the Black Sun, a mysterious power source that would see them become unstoppable.

Unfortunately, the story is rather shallow. This might be because the game is quite short, but aside from a brief mission report, not much is really developed upon or explained. It's fairly obvious why the missions are being undertaken, but the narrative isn't very engaging and things progress far too quickly. As a result of this, the ending feels extremely empty and will leave players wanting more. Not because it's a good story, but because it feels cut short.

The gameplay is more interesting though, as early on in the game, B.J. obtains a powerful medallion which enables him to use the Veil, a sub-dimension. As well as revealing hidden passages, this also grants him the ability to slow down time, create shields and deal greater damage. Using these abilities tactically will make the game much easier, although they can only be used for a finite amount of time before being requiring a recharge.

The rest of the gameplay is fairly standard, although the weaponry certainly makes things interesting. Alongside the general World War II gear are some experimental Nazi weapons, like the Particle Beam, which disintegrates enemies almost instantly. It's extremely satisfying to use, but the standard machine guns perform admirably for the most part. It's nice to have a mix though, and it's one of the elements that allows it to deviate from the stereotypical World War II crowd. Another is with the enemies. There are the typical fodder, but the story gave the designers plenty of creative licence to create all sorts of foes to face off against, including those who can use the Veil.

Upon completing missions money is acquired and this can be used to upgrade weapons and Veil powers. There is an impressive level of customisation allowed, especially for the weapons and the modifications will visually change the appearance of the weapons, while significantly altering their feel. The Veil powers can also become extremely powerful. While it's possible to play through the game without upgrading any of the available stock, it makes the game a lot more fun, especially after upgrading some of the more powerful items in B.J.'s arsenal.

Attempting to utilise something that works well in sandbox games, Wolfenstein has Isenstadt as its hub. Instead of just having cutscenes in-between levels, Wolfenstein places players in Isenstadt. Here, they are free to wander around the streets in order to take part in sub-missions, upgrade their gear and find hidden items. It's a nice concept, but it can get a bit annoying sometimes. For example, it's common to run in to a huge German platoon when attempting to acquire a new mission and after finishing a tough level, it'd be nice to just wander from A to B without having to do even more fighting, especially when it doesn't actually amount to any real progression.

Overall, Wolfenstein is a pretty good looking game. There are areas that it stands out though, one of which being the Veil. When using the Veil, the colours become very distinct and it adds a truly unique feel to the game. Enemies that use the Veil also help to enhance the experience as they don't just walk around like generic soldiers. Another area where the graphical style stands out is with the damage on enemies. It's possible to literally shoot enemy soldier's faces off, as well as their limbs. The voice acting isn't quite on the same level though. Some of the German soldiers have distinctly British accents, and they say random German while speaking in English the majority of the time. It's possibly the weirdest representation of German soldiers seen in a game for some time.

One of Wolfenstein's major faults comes with its length. The game can be completed rather easily in around 4-5 hours, and when around 30-60 minutes of this time is probably spent walking around Isenstadt getting from place to place, it leaves players with a very short game. There is a full online multiplayer component to compliment the game, but even this isn't exactly endearing. It was developed by a different studio, and it shows. The gameplay is quite a bit different and everything feels really stiff. There are upgrades available to buy after enough money has been acquired, but the gameplay will probably drive many players away before they manage to obtain significant amounts of cash.

Final Thoughts

Wolfstein has all the tools to make it a great first-person shooter. Lots of gore, inventive weapons, and a great premise for a story. However, its short length and under-developed story mean it fails to stand out in an already saturated crowd. There is also a multiplayer component, but it doesn't offer the same gameplay experience found in the single-player campaign and all of these factors combined just make the package feel rushed. It's definitely worth a rent, but there isn't really any incentive to do anything more.

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