A fun first-person shooter burdened by half-a-dozen new ideas that just don't work
Review Date: 9 Oct 2009
Reviewed By: Stuart Turton
Price when reviewed: £22 (£25 inc VAT)
The Wolfenstein series is the kind of first-person shooter that's no longer fashionable to play. Back in the day, shooting zombie Nazis with improbably large guns was considered a cracking good time, but Half Life's sweeping story and BioShock's brooding interpretation of Randian philosophy have ushered the genre into more sophisticated territory.
Unfortunately, this is a journey Wolfenstein is ill-equipped to take - a fact made immediately evident by the plot. The Nazis have discovered the ultimate power source, Black Sun energy, and are tapping it to create an army of super soldiers dressed in Ann Summers' finest. As the irrepressible BJ Blazkowicz, it's your job to put an end to this foolishness by shooting legions of esoteric, voodoo gimps in the face.
If only developer Raven could've left it there and accepted that fashion is fleeting - and realised that not every shooter needs to be played with a dictionary at hand. Sadly, Wolfenstein seems ashamed of its old-school excesses and, as the guns get bigger and the enemies more ludicrous, Raven apologises with a series of half-baked new features that look nice written on the back of the box but don't work well in-game.
Perhaps the most striking of these is the town of Isenstadt, which you're required to wander around in order to buy weapons and pick up missions. It's a typically modern addition to the FPS genre but, as a primer for the game's problems, it's remarkably succinct. Isenstadt is large, mostly empty, and devoid of any atmosphere whatsoever. To cover this up enemies constantly respawn, forcing you to fight the same battles over and over again. Eventually you'll be hunting for the Nazi party registration office just to make it stop.
The other headline feature is the Veil - a shimmering supernatural fog that reveals secrets, allows you to slow time, shield yourself from harm and unleash devastating attacks. It works as advertised, but there's never any reason to use it. Finding secrets allows you to upgrade weapons but, again, you needn't bother - the enemies on the receiving end are little more than jackbooted Care Bears.
Nazi soldiers dive for cover, roll out of the way and throw themselves to the ground. It's initially very impressive, like you're assaulting Cirque du Soleil, but they always do it, regardless of the situation. Knock a bin over and ten thousand Nazi commandos hit the dirt and call for backup. It's bizarre and all the more disappointing because, when you actually get into the missions, Wolfenstein rapidly improves. Claustrophobic hospitals house sinister experiments, while occult experiments in rundown churches have you diving behind tombstones, trading fire with shambling beasties in desperate need of skin moisturiser and a visit from Trinny and Susannah.
These parts of the game are crammed with good, old-fashioned fun that recalls what Wolfenstein still has to offer, if only it had the courage to buck the trend and play stupid. The sad truth is that shooting zombie Nazis with improbably large guns is still a cracking good time. The rest, sadly, isn't.
Author: Stuart Turton
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