Review: Wolfenstein

Game Info

Developer: Raven, id Software, Pi Studios, Endrant Studios
Publisher: Activision
Distributor: Activision Blizzard
Composer: Bill Brown
Series: Wolfenstein
Engine: heavily modified id Tech 4 engine (Doom 3)
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Release date: August 18, 2009
Genre: First-person shooter (FPS)

Guten Tag!

I’ve always been a fan of the Wolfenstein series. I might not have played the original two games, but I have played every one of id’s Wolf titles. The latest title, Wolfenstein, has a hell of a pedigree, being part of a lineage which includes Wolfenstein 3D- one of the original FPS titles, even before Doom came along.

What is Wolfenstein and why was (and is) it so popular?

Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein have been credited as being one of the first games in the stealth genre which became popularized and more mainstream with the Thief series and other names that are often thrown around, like Splinter Cell.

Wolfenstein 3D was the first title in the id developed series of games (Castle Wolfenstein and Beyond Castle Wolfenstein were made by Muse), and is credited as being the grandfather of the FPS genre, or “the granddaddy of ‘em all” as is often said. There was much less emphasis on stealth, and more of a run and gun approach, although earlier on, the team working on it initially had other stealth elements planned, which would have made it more like the original games, which id were big fans of. These were taken out due to hardware limitations of the time.

Spear of Destiny was much like Wolfenstein 3D, and the only title in the series so far that doesn’t feature the name "Wolfenstein" in the title. It was meant to be a prequel to the events of Wolf 3D, and little was different in this game, except its emphasis on secrets and pushwalls, which I didn’t particularly like. The enemies received visual makeovers, and that was the most noticeable change.

Return to Castle Wolfenstein was the next game in the series and was still much an FPS, with stealthy weapons like the silenced Sten gun having little real effect in the game. The game felt very Quake 3-ish (not a real term), in that the menu system, some of the weapons like the grenades, and other things were perhaps too similar to Quake III. And this isn’t surprising when taken into account that RTCW used the Quake III engine, id Tech 3.

Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory followed this title, and was a multi-player title which many claim brought its own share of innovation to the table, and helped popularize another title, Enemy Territory: Quake Wars, which is part of another legendary id franchise: Quake.

Wolfenstein is the latest in the series, and although some have criticized it, I would argue that it’s as good as its prequel if not a lot better.

Story

The year is 1943, and the player once again takes the role of the OSA agent, Captain William “B.J” Blazkowicz, as he arrives in the fictional town of Isenstadt, located in Germany. He was sent here to find out more about events involving Heinrich Himmler's SS Division (Shutzstaffel), and their plan to use an occult power known as the Black Sun, which would make the Nazi war machine unstoppable.

Features

• New weapons.
• Upgradeable weaponry and powers.
• The Veil- sort of like a parallel universe where the player is very powerful.
• New enemies, inspired by other game characters.

Wolfenstein Caps

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Some of the game enemies featured in the menu.Some of the game enemies featured in the menu #2.Burn baby, burn!I see you...The terrifying Veil Assassin.Here's the new B.J. Blazkowicz.Now you die.
Some of the game enemies featured in the menu.
Some of the game enemies featured in the menu. | Source
Some of the game enemies featured in the menu #2.
Some of the game enemies featured in the menu #2. | Source
Burn baby, burn!
Burn baby, burn! | Source
I see you...
I see you... | Source
Source
The terrifying Veil Assassin.
The terrifying Veil Assassin. | Source
Source
Here's the new B.J. Blazkowicz.
Here's the new B.J. Blazkowicz. | Source
Source
Now you die.
Now you die.

Wolfenstein Review

Presentation

(Menu layout, load times, and included game options.)

The menu loads up after all the company logos have flashed by, and the title, Wolfenstein, pops up in the centre with a backdrop of a typical World War 2 scene- some Nazi troops marching behind a tank by and flames flickering nearby as one can plainly see the engine of a plane lying in a ditch, which had been shot down.

This is something I expected to see in a Brothers in Arms title.

The menu options are in an N-E-W-S pattern, and when you click on an option, it spins round, whereupon you must click it again to access that group of options, where you find the standard fare. I think one click would have sufficed.

One thing that was kind of interesting was the animated portraits of the Nazi troops contained within. And when one starts a new game, you see the familiar difficulty options, represented by phrases like “Daddy, can I play?”

The load times are pretty quick, I found, and usually contain a picture of Blazkowicz in a situation, with the title there again, acting as a loading progress bar, turning from red to turquoise.

When the game starts, you are treated to an action-packed battle involving Blazkowicz and a lot of Nazis aboard a ship out in the middle of an ocean on a dark night. This is where you see the Thule medallion- something which plays a big part in the game, which Blazkowicz uses to dispatch most of his enemies during the cutscene.

Graphics

(Visuals, animation, texture design, and framerate).

Wolfenstein uses a heavily modified id Tech 4 engine, otherwise known as the Doom 3 engine. There were concerns before its release that the game, particularly the characters, would be blocky-looking.

If you remember Doom 3, you’ll have seen that some of the objects and textures were quite sharp, and pointy looking, and the characters- blocky and some of the ugliest I’ve seen in pretty much any game.

Quake 4, another title which used this engine, looked better, and after five years, Wolfenstein doesn’t seem to suffer much if any of these ill effects, although the visuals overall aren’t cutting edge, it must be said- but then the engine is getting old now- id Tech 5 is all ready being used in developing Rage, id’s next major title, which will then be passed on to use with Doom 4.

The animation is pretty solid. Soldiers do the usual - running, taking cover, dying - and they do it in quite spectacular fashion too. You’ll see them topple over, mopping the floor as they skid across it, and the blood spills quite readily. Soldiers will clutch their throats when shot there, and they can even lose their heads - literally.

You can tell, as I’ve read before, that this is a typical Raven game - when you look back at titles like Soldier of Fortune, Star Trek: Elite Force and others that featured dismemberment, decapitation and the like.

There’s also the new addition to the game- the Black Sun dimension, which is also referred to as The Veil, the turquoise tinted parallel universe where the player has immense power, accessed by using the Thule Medallion. The colours here range between blue, turquoise and green, and these colours are used as part of the game’s overall theme, like the game’s box art, the loading screens, etc. Some people have reported a drop in framerate when entering the Veil.

Wolfenstein Franchise

• Castle Wolfenstein (1981)- not an id game
• Beyond Castle Wolfenstein (1984)- not an id game
• Wolfenstein 3D (1992)
• Spear of Destiny (1992)
• Wolfenstein 3D Super Upgrades (1993)
• Spear of Destiny Lost Episodes (1994)
• Wolfenstein 3D Source Code (1995)
• Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001)
• Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory (2003)
• Wolfenstein RPG (2009)
• Wolfenstein (2009)

Sound

(Audio effects, and music.)

The sound is what you’d expect from a World War 2 shooter. There’s the gunfire from weapons, which I must say is an improvement from Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The weapons sounds from that game were totally unoriginal. The Thompson submachine gun sounded exactly like the Colt 1911 pistol, except sped up. This game’s weapon sounds have been worked on a little more. I can tell. Of course, it’s still debatable whether any of the guns sound like their real-life counterparts. The sounds of the game’s more sci-fi weapons are obviously not comparable to any existing weaponry (because they don’t exist). You also get the ambient gun battles in the background that follow you around as you traverse Isenstadt.

The voice acting isn’t the best. It gets a little irritating listening to the same clichéd German accents, az zey try to speak englizh. I think it’s more than a little unrealistic that the game’s characters would not speak their native German, especially to one another, if not directed at Blazkowicz. It just comes off as a little cartoonish. Medal of Honor games at least make their Nazis speak actual German. But of course, this would lose players when it comes to the narrative and cutscenes and such, needing to rely on subtitles, which are optional in the game already.

Bill Brown composed the music for the game. Bill is not only a prolific video game music composer, Who has worked on nearly every Tom Clancy title out there, but he also has a history of working on"id"titles, including Quake II, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. Wolfenstein has an Indiana Jones feel to it, as I’ve read elsewhere. There are some parts, like in the hospital mission, where the music creates an unnerving feel as the volume rises and falls, making one feel uncomfortable and uneasy. Not that this is a bad thing.

What’s the Score?

85/100


Pros:


+ Good graphics

+ Upgradeable weaponry and powers

+ Veil powers

+ Sheer fun

+ Acknowledgement of its predecessors with characters like Hans Grosse


Cons:


- AI slips up at times

- Lacklustre multiplayer

- Some annoying bugs


Story: $$$

Presentation: $$$

Graphics: $$$$

Sound: $$$$

Music: $$$

Gameplay: $$$$

Controls: $$$$

Lasting Appeal: $$$


“Zer guht”


- A solid, action packed shooter, but it isn’t brilliant.

Gameplay

(Controls, design, and overall feel of the experience.)

The controls have a solid feel to them- nothing too much to complain about. First off, the default key bindings for the weapons in the game are different from the original FPS layout. Instead of pressing 1, 2, 3, 4 etc for guns, your gun selection keys start at 5 onwards, including the minus and plus keys. The aforementioned 1-4 keys are reserved for veil powers. This may take a while to get used to but it’s nothing major.

Okay, so you start off in the game doing what you’d expect in any FPS and Wolfenstein title- running around and shooting Nazis, and the first mission takes place in a train station and feels quite like a Medal of Honor title. And instead of going it alone, after crawling through some underground sewers, you’ll pop up on the other end and bump in to some German resistance fighters who will help you along the way. You’ll mostly do all the fighting yourself though- as expected, they aren’t very proficient.

You’ll notice some weird effects later on when people start floating up in the air and you come across a train filled with this blue stuff. More on all this later.

After the train station mission, you’ll come across another German in a black coat who will introduce you to your journal, and lead through it and its different sections. There are different pages for objectives, intelligence, upgrades, maps, and statistics and you access it by pressing "Tab".

After that you’ll be led by this gentleman through to the black market where you can stock up on ammo for the guns that you’ve found so far. During the train station you would have only picked up a Kar98 rifle and an MP40 submachine gun if I remember correctly, as well as some steilhandgrenades also known as the “stick grenade”, or "potato masher". These are known as Mdl. 24 grenades in the game, and unlike RTCW, you can throw them back at enemies.

You can only buy ammo and upgrades at the black market, not weapons- those you have to pick up as you progress through the game. There’s the Kar98 rifle, MP40, MP43, Particle Cannon, Panzershreck (Rocket launcher), Flammenwerfer (Flamethrower), Tesla Cannon, and the L eichenfaust 44 (Corpse Fist)- Wolfenstein’s equivalent to the BFG from Doom.

After you buy all your ammo, the man waiting outside will take you to the Kreisau Circle headquarters in Isenstadt, where you’re told you have to meet up with a woman named Caroline- the head of the group. Erik Engel is also there, and he’s the second-in-command.

After you get your first mission, you’ll be escorted once again to a truck waiting to take you to the dig site.

Isenstadt is the central hub, and from here you can visit the Kreisau Circle and the black market, do battle with Nazis, and find secret areas and rooms within buildings which usually contain something worth having, like intelligence (usually documents), tomes of power and gold trinkets- just like in Wolf 3D. It’s this gold that you will use to buy ammo and upgrades from the black market.

Intel leads you to discover more upgrades for you weapons, and tomes of power when found unlock upgrades for your veil powers. Also doing more missions will unlock some of these upgrades too.

There are a number of missions and side-quests which can be found in Isenstadt, which reminds me of Thief Deadly Shadows or a GTA title or similar franchise, perhaps. You can do some of these missions in any order, particularly side-quests, but other than that I wouldn’t say the game is open-ended or non-linear.

On your second main mission, at the dig site, you’ll come across the Thule medallion that Blazkowicz had during the game’s first cutscene. The medallion lets the player experiment with veil powers- initially just the veil sight which lets you see the world in blues, turquoise and greens. Most enemies appear in green which makes them easier to see, and secret doorways which usually have a black sun symbol on them are opened to the player so he or she can traverse through to otherwise inaccessible areas. If you ever played Thief Deadly Shadows, you might compare this ability to activating the glyph stones which open up doorways and such around The City. Another game this reminds me of is Clive Barker's Undying, one of those "games that time forgot". In that title the main character, Patrick Galloway, used a similar ability called "scrying" to see things that others couldn't.

You’ll pick up other veil powers throughout the game, like being able to slow down time, shooting through shields and barriers, and having your own shield to protect you from enemies’ bullets.

As far as enemies go, you have the usual Nazi soldiers, like the regular Wehrmacht troops, and their commanders, who usually wear caps as opposed to helmets. The wehrmacht troops carry the Kar98s, and the commanders, the MP40.Then later on, you start to face against the elite SS (Shutzstaffel), dressed in their unmistakable black uniform. These men carry MP43s, arguably the best all round gun in the game.There are the sexy female, leather clad Elite Guard, except they don't carry Stens like in RTCW, just knives. In addition to the "normal" troops, there's the Drache trooper (Dragon Trooper), who carries the flammenwerfer (Flamethrower). Another rare appearance is made a trooper who carries a Panzershreck (rocket launcher). There's also specially trained snipers in the game too, who are much more likely to shoot you from a distance with their Kar98s than get up close. They are recognized by their more camouflaged uniform. And lastly, one of the most irritating enemies is the Rocket Trooper (not the one with the panzershreck). This guy is very similar to the flying Icarus (not the one from F.E.A.R.) from Quake II. He hovers around in the sky and shoots rockets at you. The most efficient way of killing him is to use an AA gun if you can find one. Else you must use a heavy weapon like your panzershreck.

The first out-of-the-ordinary enemy you’ll come across is probably the Scribe, encountered in the Dig Site mission. These things readily use their veil powers against the player and help protect other Nazis with a Veil shield. The next new enemy would be the Veil Heavy Trooper, a guy who carries a Particle Cannon, and can bust right through walls and such. There’s the Veil Assassin, a creepy cretin who will remind you of two characters, the Icarus Assassin from F.E.A.R. and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen, from HellBoy. He can turn practically invisible and can kill you with just a few slashes of his long blades. He also likes to laugh at you a lot and taunt you too.

There are some supernatural enemies, similar to what RTCW had (no Über Soldats here). The Geists (also referred to as “Veil Ticks” by some) are one of them, encountered only in the Veil, and if you shoot them, they will kill anyone nearby. But once you attack them, they’ll retaliate by attacking you. The Despoiled are these crazy undead mofos, first encountered in the Church mission. They will shoot these green bolts as you and run really fast. Scary.

The Sniffers are these creatures that were initially used to sniff out the Nachtsonne (Black Sun) crystals, but they can also present quite a threat to the player, especially in packs.

The Altered are these abominations, sort of like those big brute Trigens from Far Cry, except these are bigger, but not too bright, and they're unarmed.

There are bosses in this game too. General (Victor) Zetta is the first. Early in the game there will be people who comment that Zetta is insane. When you finally face him, he’s not really insane as he his “unreal”. The Queen Geist, a big “Veil Tick” is encountered later on in the game, but the best boss is also another one witnessed earlier in the game, in the tavern, laying the smackdown on one of the locals: Hans Grosse. You remember him, right?

“Guten tag.”

At the very end of the game, he is the final boss, and you face off against him in a few stages. He even has the very same evil looking red eyes that a lot of the bosses from Wolf 3D and Spear of Destiny had. He’s also uglier now too, and bald. Some people have said that the bosses faced in this game, particularly Hans, are some of the hardest ever. It’s a pity that you don’t get to face Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse anywhere. Maybe in a sequel?

I also just want to add that there is a "sub-boss" in the game. He's seen in some of the side missions, including the cutscenes. He's a bearded German officer who is eventually found in the secret area in the Officer's Quarters mission. He's not hard to dispose of. It's in here that B.J. finds a codebook or other document which he later needs to decipher.

Lasting Appeal

(Replayability, multiplayer, and mini-games)

The single-player took me several hours over a week to get through, and I don’t play games every day, and not more than a few hours per day. It would be quite a bit shorter if you went straight from mission to mission, and shorter than that if you ignored the few side quests that are offered. There are plenty of secrets and areas to be explored in Isenstadt too.

Once you finish the game, you’d be nuts not to try playing through at least a second time, because once you’ve clocked the game, you unlock the cheat codes, which appear under game options when you press the “Esc” key during play. These include getting all the full arsenal, and even better, all of the upgrades for these weapons as well as the veil powers. And there’s even a fun cheat which changes all the characters’ heads into pumpkins too.

There’s the multiplayer too, and here I’m just quoting what I’ve read. I’ve learned that it’s not that good- certainly not as good as Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory or even RTCW’s multiplayer.

Hans Grosse is the final boss, who is seen throughout the game, and must be faced at the end. Hans Grosse was also the boss at the end of Wolfenstein 3D’s shareware episode, Escape from Castle Wolfenstein.

Hans Grosse was supposedly killed by Blazkowicz at the end of the first episode of Wolf 3D, but comes back again here. This might confuse some who rely on the series to be chronologically relevant. Maybe he didn’t die after all.

Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse is another character who returns in this game. He was first seen in Return to Castle Wolfenstein.

Observations and other comments

Deathshead or Totenkopf is actually just a name associated with the SS Division, due to the skull and crossbones present on the commanders’ caps. This is the Totenkopf symbol.

Isenstadt is the fictional German town or city where the game takes place, but there is a real place called Eisenstadt in Austria.

There is no traditional pistol to be found in the singleplayer campaign. Only in the multiplayer will you find the usual Luger- a German pistol.

There’s a lack of Allied weaponry in the game. You only have access to German and sci-fi themed weapons- much like the original games, Wolf 3D and Spear of Destiny (except for the sci-fi weapons). RTCW had Colt 1911 pistols, Thompson M1A1 submachine guns, and Sten guns- weapons used by American and British forces in WW II. When you visit the first Black Market area in the game, you’ll see a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle), an Allied weapon, propped up against the wall, but this gun is not usable in the game.

I’ve read that some reviewers of Wolfenstein incorrectly refer to tomes as tombs. Maybe this is a misunderstanding because these tomes are usually hidden in areas which may look like tombs in a wall, or it could be a misunderstanding by the usual culprit - Microsoft Word.

Bugs and other issues

The AI does slip up sometimes. At times, I’ve walked into a room, and seen some characters that didn’t look like typical Nazis. They stood there, holding their Mp40s, and I assumed that they were resistance members, since they lacked the usual Nazi uniforms and helmets or caps, especially in the later stages of the game. I soon found out that I was wrong, as after I walked past, they opened fire. That’s the last time I trust someone with a gun-whoever they are.

Luckily if you were to shoot resistance members or other important NPCs, they are invulnerable to your attacks. If they weren’t, it might’ve ended up in a game-breaking situation.

Speaking of which, I had an issue with the unlockable areas of Isenstadt at one point, on my second playthrough. I deviated from the course set, following the guy in the black coat, and went off on my own. As I was walking around on the rooftops, I fell on to the street below, and couldn’t get back to the other area. I was of course using the cheats which I had unlocked after clocking the game.

The cheats are not the traditional id or Raven fare - they are unlocked after beating the game on any skill level, and can be accessed from the game options menu on your second playthrough. There aren’t any of the typical noclip cheats that I would have expected, to get out of a situation like the above, which results in an annoying “load game”.

There’s also some trouble with the doors. They close automatically, and this is irritating during a firefight with a Nazi on the other side of it. The game’s many objects can get lodged in doors and behind them and prevent the player from opening the door, but a few gunshots or a grenade will either destroy or move the object out of the way so you can pass through.

What I think of it

Wolfenstein has certainly not been the title that perhaps most expected. It's an old-fashioned FPS without all the features that perhaps other titles have. It's fun as hell to play, and you might go through it again, as I have, but it's not really excellent. It's a good game, and I enjoyed it.

What did you think of Wolfenstein?

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4 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of Wolfenstein

© 2009 ANDR01D

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