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Wolfenstein (PlayStation 3) artwork

Wolfenstein (PlayStation 3) review


"The missions, at least, are fun. Many are punctuated by well-scripted action sequences involving explosions, otherworldly encounters, and Nazi secret experiments. The levels and enemies are extremely varied and the sheer number of things in the environment that can go flying or be smashed during a gunfight is quite satisfying. Still, I never really got over my disappointment that the game didn’t live up to the established atmosphere. At the start it had me feeling like an actual undercover agent with enemies all around me. Despite early promises, it turned out to be “just another shooter,” albeit a very polished one."



If there’s one thing the history of entertainment has taught us it’s that there is no substitute for an excellent villain. And in the history of villains, there are few as universally despised as the Nazis. Certainly they’ve become the favourite punching bag of the pulp adventure world. Watching these stuffy Aryan uber-militants get the endloesung kicked out of them by whatever crazed patriots choose to take 'em on never seems to get old, whether it’s a dozen dirty men or a fedora-wearing archaeologist with a strange penchant for whips.

Perhaps it is this long tradition that makes Wolfenstein so agreeable at first glance. The game is packed with Nazi-related violence. After all, the opening cutscene sees ridiculously-named hero “BJ Blazkowicz” punching Nazis in the face, taunting them, and then using some sort of magical crystal to melt the Third Reich a la Raiders of the Lost Ark. And if that doesn't get you pumped up to enjoy some fine first-person shooting, then I don't know what will.

The true legacy of the Nazi is that it never gets old watching them lose. In reality, World War II was a war as complex and convoluted as any in history, but these guys let us pretend it was all good versus undeniable evil and bad haircuts. Nazis are a pre-packaged villain. They don’t need any introduction or build up. Someone screams “Baba Yaga!” you may have to jump on Wikipedia before you know what your response should be, but someone screams “Nazi!” and you can assume some serious asskicking is about to ensue.

On the subject of asskicking, it is refreshingly easy to dish out justice in Wolfenstein. There’s nothing particularly new about the first person-shooter mechanics but what’s here has been highly refined. The aim assist, in particular, has been nicely revamped from most systems. In many games it feels like the computer is wresting control away from you to jump your reticule onto the nearest target. Here it serves more as a drift function, working with your movement to help you stay aligned with targets without actually forcing you to aim at them. There’s also a nifty ability to set a “favourite” weapon and then jump to that weapon with the click of a button, keeping combat fast-paced and free of the need to continually open up the weapon menu.

The game also starts to make some moves in a more complex direction than your basic shoot-em up. Fear practically fills the air as you take your first steps through the streets of Isenstadt, the city that you’ve been sent to help free from the Axis control. Cloud-cover casts the twisting stone streets in the perpetual gloom of twilight. Doors are barred and windows darkened. Each person you meet is more jumpy than the last and you get the distinct impression from their dark stares that your presence here isn’t entirely appreciated. Arriving at the dank cellar that contains the black market doesn’t help matters any. Though it may be comforting to be able to add a silencer to your weapon, it does little to dispel the provider’s cynical appraisal of Blazkowicz. “I suppose you’re more valuable to us alive,” the marketeer says in broken English with a tone of shocking seriousness. “For now.”

By the time I actually reached the Resistance, I was a bundle of nerves. When Catherine, the Resistance leader, warned me that there was a mole in her organization I wasn’t surprised, but my tension still went up a notch as suspicions and accusations began immediately to form in my mind. Could the betrayer be Eric Engle, the man who had met me at the train station just prior to a Nazi ambush? Could it be Catherine’s radio operator, who knew more about the ins and outs of the operations than any other man? Or had the black marketeers’ comments been more than just fanciful threats?

It was in this state of mind that I accepted my first mission. A truck would take me to a dig site where the Nazi occult division was digging up ancient relics for some unknown purpose. To get to the truck, I would have to cross Isenstadt on foot. There was no pre-set path, it was going to be a free-roam trek across the city. A Resistance member gave me one final word of warning as I set out: “Get off the streets,” he said. “Stick to the rooftops and the sewers. Remember, the Nazis are everywhere and they want you dead.” Heading downtown, with one sweaty finger plastered to the trigger button, I was prepared for a tense journey.

And that’s where things got a little disappointing.

First off, I couldn’t find a sewer entrance and the rooftops were completely out of reach, with not even a fire escape in sight to help me attain their lofty heights. With the only other option being to traverse the wide open streets (where I felt extremely vulnerable) I set off a little dismayed. There were a lot of alleyways and I stuck to these as much as possible, but there came a point where I had to leave cover and cross the path of a large Nazi patrol. I didn’t have a choice; the game hadn’t given me any alternate paths and, of course, a fight ensued. Sure, my gun was silenced now, but the Nazis weren’t so stupid that they’d ignore it when their friend’s head turned into bloody Jello right next to them. Still, BJ can soak up more bullets than a water buffalo and it was not long before I had the Nazis at a distinct disadvantage. Charging into their ranks, I would lay waste to the bastards with only the occasional move to duck and recover behind a crate to break the flow of bullets. I was forced into encounters with patrol after patrol with the same results and slowly that tension I’d felt earlier began to wear off.

Not long after I’d reached the dig site, the inevitable supernatural twist was introduced. Stealing the latest relic the Nazis had uncovered, BJ gained access to ”The Veil,” a place in-between dimensions. By tapping the veil, he could perform such miracles as slowing time, seeing in the dark, and creating impenetrable shields. The powers are extremely useful and only become more so as you upgrade them. I don’t think anyone, for instance, can deny the value of being able to shoot through walls or of being invincible for a half-minute while charging machine gun turrets. Veil powers do use up magical energy, but this energy is easily rechargeable, making the veil a win-lose scenario... with the losers being the Nazis. The only concession the player has to make is that the veil makes everything look green-grey and fills the world with ugly creatures that look like a mix between pigs and insects. These “geists” rarely attack, though, so it’s a small price to pay for ungodly power.

In any case, after gaining these powers, I returned to Isenstadt even more prepared to deal with huge roving Nazi squads. At this point the game seemed to find a rhythm... though maybe “formula” is the better word for it. I would head back to base, activate an objective, plow my way through Isenstadt to the objective, and then begin a mission. The city had gone from being a place of free exploration to simply being a string of battles increasing the downtime between missions. Gone were the days of apprehension and fear. I was no longer BJ Blazkowicz, covert operative, I was BJ Blazkowicz, walking tank and doomsday machine... which starts to lose its excitement after the first dozen Nazi patrols you decimate.

The missions, at least, are fun. Many are punctuated by well-scripted action sequences involving explosions, otherworldly encounters, and Nazi secret experiments. The levels and enemies are extremely varied and the sheer number of things in the environment that can go flying or be smashed during a gunfight is quite satisfying. Still, I never really got over my disappointment that the game didn’t live up to the established atmosphere. At the start it had me feeling like an actual undercover agent with enemies all around me. Despite early promises, it turned out to be “just another shooter,” albeit a very polished one.

You might think the multiplayer would patch this hole up a bit. After all, you don't expect atmosphere or story in an online shooter. I've already said the controls for Wolfenstein are super smooth; that and a strong player-base are all you should need. But then, I've yet to play a game of Wolfenstein online with more than five people. That player base doesn't exist. Perhaps this is because the controls and graphics take a major blow online, mostly due to rampant server lag. Or maybe it's because, overall, the Wolfenstein formula has gotten stale. While it was refreshing back in 2001, I'm confused as to how the developers thought they could release essentially the same game 10 years later and think it would still rock the scene. It lacks the speed and intensity of other online games and only supports 12 players besides (Killzone 2, for instance, supports 36). With so many multiplayer options out there these days, a game really has to stand out to make it and just like in single player, online Wolfenstein doesn't do that.

Rating: 6/10

zippdementia's avatar
Freelance review by Jonathan Stark (September 18, 2009)

Zipp has spent most of his life standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox there. Sometimes he writes reviews and puts them in the mailbox.

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