As far as my personal relationships with PC games go, Wolfenstein 3D could be likened to a first “true love” – exhilarating, passionate, and thrilling, yet rife with uncertainty and apprehension. It was certainly quite the smoldering liaison; Wolfenstein provided the fragging, the Nazis, and the almighty graphics of the ’90s brought to us by Apogee, and I supplied the long, intensive hours required to thwart the Nazi regime, taking up the mantle of one William “B.J.” Blazkowicz. Truly it was a symbiotic affair, and one that would last all throughout my early childhood. Unfortunately, time marched on as time is wont to do, and I thank my lucky stars that several sequels to the classic shooter have been released over the years, such as Raven’s reboot simply entitled “Wolfenstein.” As a longtime veteran of the series, it is readily apparent to me that while this shooter applies many of the more modern conventions we have become accustomed to in this day and age, it also feels appropriately familiar, and that is the mark of a title that doesn’t forsake its roots.
B.J.’s glorious return to form kicks off with the uncovering of an ancient artifact – the Thule medallion – powered by the sinisterly-titled Black Sun energy (conveniently, the Black Sun is another dimension). Because of the power and volatile Veil energy it radiates, the Third Reich are chomping at the bit to harness such a massive tool of destruction. Never one to yield to the nefarious Nazis, B.J. travels on assignment to the German city Isenstadt, where a fellow resistance group has similar plans: to stop the usage of the artifact at all costs. After the simple revelation of plot is gotten out of the way, Wolfenstein’s actual gameplay is showcased – a far cry from Wolfenstein 3D and leagues beyond Return to Castle Wolfenstein, though strangely reminiscent of Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War.
Standard FPS mechanics and essentials apply here; explosions are also rampant. In fact, destruction plays a larger role than you would assume. While not quite on par with the amount of rubble you can reduce your surroundings to in Red Faction: Guerrilla, you’ll notice that what you may have thought to be solid cover at first will quickly lose its ability to be distinguished from swiss cheese, so it will be prudent to change cover locations as often as possible, especially when up against overwhelming odds. As far as the plot is concerned, Wolfenstein is much less linear than its predecessors, opting for an intuitive, player-controlled line of branching paths. You can choose to follow strictly story missions and ignore the rest of your surroundings in order to complete the game at an expeditious pace, or you can take your time to have a look around to uncover several different missions via contacts scattered around the area. Much like we saw in Banjo Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts, you’ll use one central location as a gateway to several other story-related mission areas, and return to the city once you’re through.
Unfortunately, though the option does stand to explore rather than comform to a linear story path, there is little to do in the city. Foreign faces will soon become familiar as you find yourself approaching the same contacts down the same city streets time and time again for a mission, and the rush of being able to go where you want will soon fade. This was a bit disappointing, as this FPS could have well had exploration and NPC interaction in the vein of Deus Ex or Fallout 3 quite easily but opted for “exploration-lite.” It’s most certainly something that warranted more time to be spent on it, as linear paths are all too common these days and nonlinear stories offer up many more hours of gameplay as well as different endings. Then, if developers had went in the same direction of FPS/RPG hybrids, it would have altered the series a little too much, so it is here we must come to an impasse – do we want to see change in the Wolfenstein franchise or do we want it to stay familiar?
One thing that has not been altered even a miniscule amount is the amount of time you’ll spend blowing things up, whether it’s a group of Nazis, your environment, or anything else that stands in your way. Aside from typical FPS fare, a couple more exotic weapons have been implemented in this go-around, such as Veil-powered arms: a particle cannon and the explosive Leichenfaust 44. You’ll also find some familiar favorites such as the Tesla gun and a rearmed portable roaster – the Flammenwerfer. You have the option to upgrade your weapons a sizeable amount, which is always welcome in a game where you’ll be relying on the same firearms time and time again.
We have the exploration and the weapons in place, but what would a Wolfenstein title be without supernatural intrigue? In this installment, separate dimension lies parallel to our own – the Black Sun dimension. Tumultuous energy called Veil is the thin line separating reality from the harrowing Black Sun dimension, which is full of destructive power the Nazis intend to harness for a special doomsday device specifically created for the purpose of carrying out their devious plans. With a special amulet, B.J. can access the Veil, where he gains speed, the ability to scout out hidden objects and locations, and improved night vision. The Veil also brings on a special enemy – Geist. B.J. is granted powers that can be used in the Veil, which add a bit more strategy into the mix than simply “shoot now, ask questions later.” The ever-present bullet time is even presented within the Veil, so it should provide quite a bit of aid when the Nazis advancing prove to be too much.
Wolfenstein is an absolutely gorgeous game. While admittedly a bit mundane within the confines of the city once you venture outside you’ll find throwbacks to the older Wolfenstein titles and a bit more rugged look to environments that I appreciated quite a bit, though it did bring to mind more than a few times the look of Call of Duty: World at War. Solid voiceovers have also been accounted for, though I am not quite sure why it would be so terrible to have the Nazis speak in German to each other – I’m sure players would understand.
Multiplayer has been included, likely to keep current-gen complainers at bay, and it presents a very solid online experience that is very fun to get online and blast away in, though I must say it has been outdone by many of its competitors. Considering the fact that multiplayer gamers are very set in their ways, there is little in the way of what Wolfenstein brings to the table via online capabilities that will persuade gamers to discontinue their Modern Warfare nights or even bouts of Halo to migrate over to an IP many of them may never have even heard of (unfortunately). There are few different modes to get into compared to its competition’s multiple modes of play, so while a completely solid and engaging online experience, there’s just no reason to keep at it since it’s almost guaranteed its online numbers will be dwindling in the near future.
This is a classic example of tacked-on multiplayer to extend a game’s lifespan, though the sentiment was appreciated. You’ll get around six to eight hours of solid gameplay time out of the single-player campaign, which is about average these days, and every bit worth a playthrough if only to bear witness to Raven’s loving preservation of the franchise with entertaining twists and an intriguing storyline – can’t forget the massive amounts of Nazi casualties. Fans of the Wolfenstein franchise would do well to pick this up, though current-gen gamers who never experienced the classics will likely turn up their noses at the 12-player multiplayer cap and what will be “mundane” FPS action to them. Sometimes, you just have to live through the classics in order to appreciate the revivals, and I appreciate Wolfenstein – I can’t wait to see which direction it goes in next.