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Avatar ImageGamer Limit Dual Review: Wolfenstein
By: | August 29th, 2009 | Multi-platform
PS3 |Review |X360

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[Join Aussie Jeff Effendi and American Christopher Matulich as they both review the newest iteration of Wolfenstein: intro by Jeff]

You’d think that a man with the initials ‘B.J.’ would try his best to stay away from special operation reports, but yet, here we are again, discussing the latest entry in id Software’s Nazi-killing franchise. Aptly titled plain Wolfenstein for current-gen gamers, Agent Blazkowicz’s latest adventure once again sees our hero gunning down up-to-no-good henchmen of Hitler’s.

Wolfenstein doesn’t play like your run-of-the-mill World War II first person shooter (FPS); it takes place in an alternate timeline, a time when Germans spoke with bogus American accents. This, in turn, has also meant that gamers aren’t locked to the same old discourse of the Allied v Axis battles, corroded, rusty rifles, pointy Balaclavas and Stalin’s moustache. That said, there’s probably only one question you want answered: Just how good is a war that allows you to revolt against occult-experimenting Nazis?

Jeff Effendi:

Visually, there’s two ways we can go about this: either you own a screen good enough to hook your console up with an HDMI cable, or you don’t. If you’re part of the latter, Wolfenstein will most likely seem a dull, dreary, drab of an experience. There will be some ugly character models, low-res textures and blocky environments for you to survey as you shoot one of the many SS officers’ heads. As you walk up to the many characters in the game to converse with, up close, the graphics engine really shows its age. The dusty, dirty old jackets your escorts wear look pale, akin to textures seen on The Godfather back on the PlayStation 2. It’s like they never really made the trip to this generation’s batch of games. No, Wolfenstein doesn’t look uglier than the Devil’s face, but truth be told, it’s not particularly flashy on a standard TV (SDTV) set.

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If you’re blessed enough to own a 50” Plasma HDTV and play your games with an HDMI cable, it’ll feel a little different. Despite that the game still doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Gears or Bioshock, the characters including Blazkowicz look a lot more polished, just as the environments seem less dead. The palette of colours used feels more vibrant, and the lighting during the darker, tighter, cave’ier spaces of the game create a sense of ambience. Simply put, SDTV owners may feel disheartened, though gamers who game big on a good ol’ HDTV will tolerate Wolfenstein’s smaller deficiencies. Nonetheless, SDTV gamers can be rest assured that no matter the size of your screen, the game’s enjoyably creative mission designs make Blazkowicz’s latest outing a pleasure to play.

Blasting Nazi scum off the face of the earth in the game sound good, it’s that simple. The guns sound devastatingly loud, and you’ll soon realize this upon finding your first rifle, the Kar 98. You’d be surprised that a rifle that’s featured in almost every World War II game actually sounds different to what you’ve heard before. Weapons even feel heavy in the hands of our macho hero, as firing these old school shooters tend to have serious recoil. Pulling the trigger of a Kar 98 in Call of Duty: World at War seems cheapish sound-wise compared to the lethal ones in Wolfenstein.

The booms and bangs of nearly-everything-that-makes-such-noise sound satisfying, making plugging bullets to the baddies’ chest sadistically satisfying. It really enhances the visceral feel of the fire fights, placing you right in the middle of what seems like a life-or-death situation every time. Once not-so-familiar arsenals such as the Tesla Gun and Particle Cannon come into play, Wolfenstein turns into an all-guts-massively-big-glory romp. The audio in this FPS is one that is critical to its experience, and one that your ears will appreciate when it’s done and dusted.

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Though World War II may seem overcooked, overplayed and overdone; Wolfenstein’s slapstick ‘I-don’t-take-myself-too-seriously’ attitude permeates to its gameplay mechanics, transforming this seemingly standard shooter into something else. Like a bad propaganda film straight from the Reichstag, the game ushers in an outlandish narrative for you to immerse in. The set pieces get ridiculous, the weapons literally not-of-this-world, and enemies that look like Freddy Krueger start to pop up. Blazkowicz’s guns (biceps not included) aren’t limited to the old MP40, MP43, Flamethrower and Kar 98. Instead, the developers have added supernatural-like Veil powers in the mix to switch things up.

While Veil powers aren’t exactly Plasmids from Bioshock, they add a bit of depth to the game’s generic combat system. At the start of the game, players are introduced to the Thule Medallion, an item that makes the Nazis mad and you an almighty, revered American. As you progress through the game, you’ll start unlocking abilities that enable you to transcend both time and space. They not only provide help for combat, but will inevitably be used in the game in the more puzzle-oriented moments of the game as well.

For example, a certain Veil power can both act as a night-vision goggle to spot hidden Nazis just as well as it can be used to access impenetrable areas if it wasn’t for your powers. Eventually, you’ll be able to stop bullets like Neo, slow down time like assassins in Wanted and increase the damage bullets dish out the way Stopping Power spammers in Call of Duty do.

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These mechanics indeed work well to break away from the standard FPS affair, but I can’t help but to wonder why they didn’t do more to push the boundaries. If you’re going to include magical powers in a World War II game, go all out. Because if it wasn’t for the Veil abilities and upgrades, Wolfenstein wouldn’t be that much different to any other FPS mould out there.

Raven Software has played it safe in a game where I think much more theatrics and circus antics would’ve benefited the overall foray. A few more innovative powers to spew, a few more giant guns to shoot and a lot more buffoonery could have raised this to stellar heights. But as it is, Wolfenstein is probably the only game around that lets you slaughter Nazis in imaginative, albeit flawed, ways.

While it’s not perfecto, fortunately for the Inglourious Basterds around the world, it’s pretty damn good. Though the multiplayer is nothing groundbreaking, its visuals a little shoddy, and the storyline a mere shoelace stringing the whole shebang together, Wolfenstein is still an enjoyable romp through an alternate 1940’s.

There’s an underdeveloped game here, but good use of the Veil powers, ridiculous set pieces and cool mission design floats Blazkowicz’s game above Call of Duty waters. Even if you’re just sitting on an old, damp couch sipping on yesterday’s Frozen Coke, the unashamed B-movie shade the game prides itself in will suck you in. So turn up the volume and feel like a stereotypical American badass, because from now, you owe Wolfenstein over 9,000 Nazi scalps. Get to it, soldier.

Reviewer’s note: The Playstation 3 version was tested for this review

Rating Category
8.0 Presentation
Not the greatest looking FPS ever, but out-of-this-world locales, well designed levels and over-the-top set pieces more than compensate for its visual shortcomings.
How does our scoring system work?
8.0 Gameplay
Wolfenstein doesn’t push any boundaries, but the Veil powers and supernatural artillery you pick up along the way adds another dimension to what would’ve been a standard shooter.
8.5 Sound
Top-notch cheesy voice acting and first-class booms and bangs of the guns put you right in the heart of the action.
7.5 Longevity
There’s not a whole lot of hours you can put in the game’s single player experience, though the side missions and multiplayer may extend your playtime just a bit more.
8.5 Overall
Even though its held back by a lack of unrealised theatrics, Wolfenstein’s still one of the only games that lets you dish death to the Nazis in bold and imaginative ways.

Christopher Matulich:

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With summer coming to an end, fall and the inevitable slew of games is right around the corner. But with the end of summer comes the joyous rush that accompanies it, ushering such gems as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Shadow Complex, and Fight Night Round 4. Not well represented this summer was the FPS genre, showing little relief until Halo 3: ODST and the soon-to-be bigger than Jesus, Modern Warfare 2. But a classic hopes to recapture the spotlight through Nazis and magic, a combination that has proven itself successful over time, even though there may be some slight historical inaccuracies.

This unique union of the occult and the Nazi regime that makes up Wolfenstein enthralled millions of gamers and essentially created the FPS genre as we know it today. Co-developed by Raven Software, id Software, Pi Studios, and Endrant Studios, the team hopes to revamp the series and reach its former glory as revolutionary. But can B.J. Blazkowicz and the ensemble development team keep the experience fresh? Or is Wolfenstein doomed to achieve quaking mediocrity?

With nearly a decade away from the gaming world, Wolfenstein has much to prove, as other notable sequels (Doom 3, Quake 4) have taken similar leaves-of-absences from the hustle and bustle of the FPS genre, but returned with critically and commercially acclaimed titles that rocked many faces. This title hopes to do the same through tight controls, magically enhanced first-person shooting, a plot looming over the line of lunacy and genius, and a detailed weapon’s upgrade system. Interesting additions, yes, but besides what is known as the Veil, nothing we really haven’t seen done before, if not better.

The game opens with mildly impressive cinematics of American special agent B.J Blazkowicz, given a new GQ, Uncharted, Nathan Drake look to match his devil-may-care persona. In true Wolfenstein fashion, Blazkowicz decimates dozens of Nazi soldiers while escaping an aircraft carrier, showcasing the abilities of the Veil utilized through the Thule medallion during his escape.

After the Indiana Jones-esque cinematics concludes, the player takes on the role of Blazkowicz in his attempt, once again, to stop the Nazi threat for good. As he navigates his way to the Nazi insurgent headquarters, the game will familiarize you with the standard console FPS controls, which were very tight and responsive, while exposing the player to the fictional city of Isenstadt and the graphical wonders the id Tech 4 engine still holds, albeit not as groundbreaking as Doom 3. Although a typical war battered city during the 1930′s, Isenstadt sports some great looking visuals, particularly in lighting and water effects and the highly detailed character models.

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Yet, when you are in the Veil (and dammit, you always will be), then you won’t be admiring the pretty lights and interesting looking fellows. When utilizing the power of the Veil, Blazkowicz and your vision become engulfed in a green light, effectively dampening the impressive visuals Wolfenstein delivers. The Veil itself does give the world its own unique graphical spin, but with a constant pale-green glow that mimics the gloomy wartime setting.

Although you may always be within the Veil, its necessary to your survival. It acts as an enhancement to Blazkowicz’s abilities, enabling him to move at a much greater speed, slow his enemies, shield himself, and empower his weapons to dish out massive damage. The powers themselves are intended more to support Blazkowicz in his efforts to end the Nazi regime rather than killing his enemies with more direct-damage powers a la Bioshock. The Veil powers are the saving grace to an otherwise average shooter experience, though we’ve seen similar abilities been used before. Raven and id Software keep it fresh by allowing the player to upgrade said powers throughout the game, even enabling some damage causing effects that end more often than not in visually pleasing Nazi incineration.

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Just like the Veil powers, Blazkowicz can also upgrade his weapons through the German Black Market. But in order to upgrade your weapons or abilities, you’ll first need to find some money. Gold is scattered among the missions (and given out at the end of each mission), along with intelligence, that work as the game’s collectibles, but retain relevance and usability throughout. You’ll need gold to pay for upgrades, while completing missions and collecting more pieces of intel will unlock further enhancements.

More powerful weapons will modify the game somewhat, as heads, arms and legs will begin flying off your Nazi enemies. The system is reminiscent of the past two Resident Evil titles, with a twist however, for if you don’t collect intel, the better, game-altering upgrades can’t be purchased, though the weapons themselves may be a bit underwhelming at times (except the particle cannon, its a straight beast)

In order to reach the Black Market, as well as every other destination over the course of the game, you’ll find yourself traversing a mini-sandbox style hub. Each mission or sub-mission is given by one of the rebels residing within Isenstadt, but does not require you to instantly begin each mission as soon as receiving it. You’ll be allowed “full” exploration between missions, yet what looks like should take an hour or two to fully explore every nook breaks down to about 10 to 15 minutes. Many of the buildings around the city are closed off and ones that are open often lead to future missions and are inaccessible until then. Though, don’t expect carefree exploration; those Nazi bastards will be on you faster than Morgan Webb’s next binge and purge.

One aspect that I really enjoyed during my single player experience was being under constant fire by a plethora of Nazi infantry, mutated super-soldiers, Veil empowered spies, and most importantly, beautifully grotesque, enormous boss battles. Each boss fight was larger and more exhilarating than the last, utilizing the Veil and Blazkowicz’s surroundings to the fullest. This is where the singleplayer, and Wolfenstein as a whole, really shines for an otherwise average shooter. The challenge accompanying each boss will change the feel of the game and will be a welcomed break from the frustrating varying degree of difficulty that is experienced during the missions.

After completing the campaign (on one of four difficulties) in about six to eight hours, longer if you plan on finding all of the gold and intelligence scattered around Isenstadt, you can hop online for Endrant Studios spiritual successor to Wolfenstein: Enemy Territories. The online mode strays from the graphical prowess of the singleplayer and adopts a looks that resembles 2001′s Return to Castle Wolfenstein. In it, you’ll take on one of three personas: the soldier, the engineer, or the medic. The engineer and medic can give ammo and health to their teammates, respectively, while every class has a unique Veil power to help in their role. Every weapon is accessible right from the beginning, with only upgrades needing to be purchased by gold gained through performance.

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Three modes currently exist in online play, the classic team deathmatch, stopwatch, and objective. Stopwatch and objective finds players facing each other two rounds where each team will be the attackers and defenders. Both modes require each side to complete objectives in a certain amount of time. Both modes are essentially the same, except that you need to complete the objectives in the fastest amount of time to win in the stopwatch game type. Multiplayer, to put it lightly, is a disappointment and does not do the singleplayer campaign any justice.

With a genre dominated by such powerhouses like Call of Duty and Halo, Wolfenstein is a valiant effort to bring a classic series back to the forefront of first-person-shooters. Although the multiplayer was a letdown, the campaign keeps the game interesting through stellar boss fights and an intriguing science fiction plot. If you’re looking to sink some time into a deep multiplayer experience, you may want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a solid singleplayer FPS experience that totes massive bosses and the Nazi’s fanaticism with the occult, then look no further!

Reviewer’s note: The Xbox 360 version was tested for this review

Rating Category
8.0 Presentation
The graphics are slick, character models are detailed, and lighting effects have never looked better on the id Tech 4 engine.
How does our scoring system work?
8.0 Gameplay
Controls are tight and responsive. The singleplayer campaign was truly enthralling, and helps to make up for the multiplayer's shortcomings.
8.0 Sound
The sound of the weapons boom out of the speakers, while the music is fitting and will keep your spirits high throughout the game.
7.0 Longevity
After the 6-8 hour singleplayer, the logical move would be to move on to multiplayer. Too bad that it's a disappointment.
7.5 Overall
Wolfenstein is a great singleplayer game, bolstering great bosses and an interesting story. But it doesn't satisfy the multiplayer desire many were expecting.

  1. Nice review guys :D
    Nice bastards reference ;)

  2. avatar Fritz Schmidt

    Good review, especially to mention the well done weapon sounds, that are so important, but which I missed in Doom3 (anyway also a great game).

    Wolfenstein singleplayer rocks!
    “He’s a spy. Have you seen him?” – “Nein!”

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