Wolfenstein Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Aug 19, 2009

Wolfenstein is not a bad game. It's actually a pretty good one, a game that legitimately pushes new ideas into the shooter. But if you judged Wolfenstein's potential by the lackluster effort Activision's put into making people pay attention to the potentially last collaboration between id Software and Raven Software, no one would blame you for thinking it's secretly terrible. It's not. Wolfenstein is solid, worthy of a closer look.

The Pros
  • Veil powers make it feel strongly unique
  • It's wacky and stupid and well aware of it
  • Killin' Nazis, of course
The Cons
  • Some never-ending powers actually hurt the game's art
  • Repetitive combat navigating the hub world
  • Multiplayer has been done far better elsewhere

Wolfenstein is not a bad game. It's actually a pretty good one, a game that legitimately pushes new ideas into the shooter. But if you judged Wolfenstein's potential by the lackluster effort Activision's put into making people pay attention to the potentially last collaboration between id Software and Raven Software, no one would blame you for thinking it's secretly terrible. It's not. Wolfenstein is solid, worthy of a closer look.

Wolfenstein

GIVE IT TIME

It's unfortunate when a review starts by recommending you give Wolfenstein a few hours before dismissing it. There's really no excuse for having to spend a full evening with a game to find its strengths. But with Wolfenstein, the game's at its very best when the supernatural story, weapons and special powers work together. At first, Wolfenstein is just an average World War II shooter, but later, it becomes an uncanny Nazi occult-focused World War II shooter with a nonsensical “opening-a-mysterious-portal plot designed to be foiled with hysterically wacky weapons that melt people's skin ala Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark" and shield powers that fire bullets back at people.

There's clear ambition in Wolfenstein, too. Instead of just funneling players from new setting to new setting as they complete objectives, Wolfenstein features a German town masquerading as a respectably fleshed out hub world to spend time in. You traverse through the hub to speak with contacts about the next primary objective, pick up side missions to earn additional gold (which is used to purchase weapon and special powers upgrades at black markets throughout the hub world) and fight waves of Nazis. The last bit becomes tiresome quickly, as enemies tend to respawn on the hub world frequently and it's not uncommon to go back and forth between areas when buying upgrades.

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IT'S A VERY, VERY GREEN WORLD


The area Raven Software struggles with the most, however, is achieving a balance between your standard shooting and scenarios that demand use of Veil powers. The Veil is a secret dimension the Nazis have tapped into for terribly evil and frown-worthy purposes, but you can leverage the Veil for the powers of good with crystals that harness its power. Your primary special power turns the screen mostly green, lets you move faster and highlights enemies Predator-style. It barely sucks at away at your Veil energy meter, however, which means you spend most of the game viewing the environment through a murky green. Some of the environments in Wolfenstein are damn pretty to look at, too, but there's no gameplay incentive to leave the Veil, both a disservice to the game's artists and something that just eventually becomes an eyesore. I'd often leave the Veil just to see what the level actually looked like, not because I'd legitimately run out of energy.

Situations where the designers have purposely manipulated the level space to point you towards leveraging a certain power, however, are hugely satisfying. The aforementioned shield power has an upgrade that bounces bullets back at enemies. In several instances, a tiny room would be filled with eight Nazis that'd surely scatter at the sign of a grenade, but flip on the shield from the Veil, step into the center of the room and watch the bullets come flying…and then bounce right back at the heads of the attackers. Cue huge grin.

WAS THIS NECESSARY?


Wolfenstein's objective-centric, class-based multiplayer is appropriately competent, but other games that achieve far more with the same style. Wolfenstein's greatest assets are its time-shifting, enemy-manipulating Veil powers, specialties that are largely discarded in multiplayer for obvious balance reasons. Swapping a bullet-bouncing shield power for a grenade with a green glow isn't a satisfying change and Wolfenstein's shooting isn't engaging enough to make for a dramatically different deathmatch experience. After a few hours of play, I'd had more than enough, my fingers twitching towards Battlefield 1943.

Wolfenstein

WORTH A LOOK

If anything, Raven Software should have pushed this Wolfenstein's eccentricity even further. The weirder Wolfenstein became, the more I enjoyed it. It's a game to play with a beer by your side. Raven Software tried something a little different this time out and by and large, it succeeded. It won't set the world on fire, but Wolfenstein hit enough positive beats that when the credits rolled down after a particularly grueling marathon play session, I laughed, sipped my drink and said, "hey, that was pretty fun."