With the release of the new Wolfenstein game by Bethesda, I thought it might be interesting to look back at an earlier entry in the series.
Wolfenstein’s opening cinematic’s start off showcasing Nazi killer B.J. Blaskowitz on a warship blowing up stuff, being able to emit force-fields and teleporting.
After the opening that seems promising, the next cutscene will bring you to a conference room upon which you are briefed on paranormal activity somewhere in a fictional German town. Upon arrival, you are greeted by the Allied powers whom you will spend a good fifteen minutes getting to know before everything turns into a fairly decent shooter with cooky sci-fi elements. You first encounter Nazi officers in a train station.
After a few minutes, you get onto a turret sequence and then the sci-fi stuff sets in. When a container of green radioactive goo explodes next to you, gravity becomes lighter, and you can shoot down enemies by the dozen as everyone ponders what’s going on. The game does a decent job with its exposition, but sadly once the novelty of the whole paranormal wears off, you are left with a really lax unpolished. Often unnecessarily drawn out the game.
The first thing you will likely realize is the audio. When you are looking directly at someone the voice quality is fine, but when you turn yourself around even a little bit the audio becomes muffled. No matter how close you are to someone.
The gunplay is fun for the most part. There are a total of seven usable guns that you can carry. Each one can be upgraded with Nazi gold that you find throughout the game by going to black markets. However, you’re never going to have enough money to upgrade all of your weapons.
Even if you purchase Wolfenstein 3D off the PlayStation Network or Xbox Live Arcade and are given an extra 1000 gold points, you’re not able to purchase three-quarters of all the available upgrades. For a game that prides itself on its outlandish story and settings, I would love to be able to play through the game as an overpowered bad ass. Even with seven guns at your disposal and an array of supernatural powers instead of focusing on making great boss fights or smart enemies that take advantage of the environment. The developers just decided that it would be acceptable to shove as many brainless enemies on screen at once to charge at you. Enemies spawn from ludicrous locations. They spawn from empty alleyways. They spawn from on top of rooftops that you were just on less than ten seconds ago they spawn from out of your ass. (Literally, one time I was looking forward to then turned around, saw nothing, and then turned around two seconds later and a Nazi was there ready to strike).
The games biggest offender though would have to be its absurd slowdown. The game runs on the Havok physics engine that accompanied by the fact that the game throws absurd amounts of enemies out you. You are given this power called “the viel” that acts as a plot devise to give you superpowers. But, at the same time causes the frame rate to drop from turning the screen, either red blue or green. This can result in some very ugly models.
Even when there isn’t any action on screen, sometimes after entering a building I had to wait like 10 to 15 seconds for the characters faces loading.
I might have been able to accept this as an early 2000 PC game that used the Quake 2 engine, but in the year 2009, you expect something better.
Since this game was developed by Raven Software a company that I loved for The Star Wars Jedi Knight games, Soldier of Fortune, and Star Trek Voyager, I had the right to expect something better. Some of this games positives are that, since it’s made by Ravensoft, you can expect lots of violence and dismemberment. Nazi soldiers will lose an arm or a leg or even have a large portion of their heads blown off depending on where you shoot them. Boss battles (as few as there are) are massive. Some will have you frantically running from one turret to the next to blow gigantic piles of red puss off of their bodies. Others will have you exploiting your viel powers to slow down time and create a force field or supper charge your guns with explosive bullets.
These moments can be considered a guilty pleasure from an otherwise dull game. While these scenarios are fun while they last, you can’t go back and replay them. For some reason, the development team decided that instead of making a linear shooter with levels that you could choose from it needed to be a somewhat open world type of game. The open world elements contribute nothing other than piecing together the stages and occasionally letting you find more gold and collectibles hidden throughout the world.
It’s superfluous boring and the only reason I can see it being there would be for the black market upgrade system.
You can watch the gameplay here:
The game makes very little use of its environment and when it does it only reminds you of how other games have done it better. There was one section reminiscent of Wolfenstein 3D where I pulled a book out of a bookshelf and a secret entrance opened up. You can use your veil powers to walk through certain walls that have a black sun insignia on them. You can break apart boxes with a sledgehammer or a gun, but they will never contain anything inside of them. What the hell is the point of designing Breakable objects if none of them have anything inside of them? Was it to show that this game has real-world physics? I don’t think anyone will be impressed by boxes breaking in the year 2009. Hell, it was barely impressive when Half-Life 1 did it back in 1998.
The game also has multiplayer and after playing it, I can understand why Machine Games and Bethesda don’t want multiplayer in their Wolfenstein games. The multiplayer is terrible. You start a match choosing between 3 classes, the soldier, medic, and mechanic. You’d think that this would make people really on one another for help. But, by the time, a medic normally gets over to you. Your life bar runs out and you die to quickly the other two classes really don’t feel like they contribute anything at all. The animation and hit detection are atrocious. Sometimes it won’t even show your characters legs move when they walk or bend down to jump. Other times when you get shot it takes about two seconds for the game to register the hit and by the time you turn around your already dead.
This Wolfenstein game had some goods ideas, but the amount of work that went into things like an unnecessary open word environment and terrible multiplayer, really hinder the experience. It’s a shame that Raven felt that this was the right direction for this series and while they regained my trust next year with their own IP Singularity. By that time the damage had already been done. Now, Raven has been reduced to nothing more than a Call Of Duty map designers.