In the summer of 2009 I was looking forward towards playing the new Wolfenstein. But enthusiasm was quickly replaced by disappointment due to the horrible AI and the constant backtracking. A hard disk crash eventually ended my campaign prematurely and I didn’t feel like starting over. Until news surfaced about a possible return of the franchise. I dug up my old copy and this time I finished it. My old complaints still stand but to my surprise, I had a blast playing through it. So in retrospect, what went right and what went wrong?
Marketing on the game was rather limited. Id Software’s relationship with publisher Activison had already deteriorated. The fact that Id Software was sold to Zenimax 2 months prior to Wolfenstein its release probably didn’t help either. John Carmack expressed these worries in an interview with G4tv.com:
"Obviously, we hope that Wolfenstein gets a good push coming out," Carmack, pausing, "but the reality of the situation here is that Activision is not going to be as thrilled about Wolfenstein to the maximum now as they would have been previously, but we still hope that doesn't wind up botching the release of it one way or another."
According to Gamerankings.com, Wolfenstein received an average score of 74.90 % based on 24 reviews. Sales of the game however, did not meet the expectations and as a result Activision laid off employees of Raven software. Endrant Studios, responsible for the multiplayer part of the game, suffered the same fate.
Wolfenstein, which was released in august 2009, was a direct sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein. The motions comics released as part of the marketing campaign suggest that all the games are in same continuity, but this isn’t correct. Return to Castle Wolfenstein was in fact a reboot of the franchise.
While destroying a German battleship, B.J. Blazkowicz comes across a mysterious medallion which is able to shield him from incoming bullets. The Office of Secret Actions [OSA] learns that the medallion needs crystals called Nachtsonne, which can only be found in the fictional city of Isenstadt. The Nazis have taken complete control of the city in order to mine the rare Nachtsonne crystals which not only power the medallion but are also needed to access the “Black Sun” Dimension. B.J. is sent in to investigate.
Raven Software did a lot to try and modernize the Wolfenstein formula. One of which is adding Isenstadt to function like a hub town. You will be able to select your missions from there, come in contact with various factions and upgrade your weapons at the black market. This is obviously done to try and make the game less linear and to add some more depth. You will still be able to find secrets and treasures, only this time you can put that money to use at the black market. You can also collect Intel which provides you with more background information. For the first time in the series, Wolfenstein uses the COD way of regenerating health, since it seems to be mandatory for a ‘modern’ shooter.
The biggest change however comes from the medallion. It allows the player to enter a mysterious alternate dimension called “The Veil”. With the medallion you can equip specific abilities such as using a shield or slowing time. You will unlock more abilities as you progress through the game. You even have the chance to upgrade your ‘Veil’ powers at the black market.
Wolfenstein runs on Id Tech 4 which we first saw in Doom 3. Five years have passed between both games and the engine certainly shows it’s age. But even with these limitations Raven still knows how to create some stunning visuals. This is mainly because there are some very impressive levels in the game. It sets the right mood and combined with the game’s music creates a sort of Indiana Jones feeling which is always a compliment. Switching between dimensions is a nice touch and adds a bit of diversity to the game. The same can be said about the town hub but the backtracking and dealing with the respawning enemies quickly becomes a chore. It’s also far from realistic. Different groups have huge symbols painted on their doors. Apparently, the Germans see that as graffiti. You’ll also visit a bar where people are relaxing even though there is a war raging outside. Combine this with a lot of identical npc’s, bad voice acting and a forgettable story and there’s not much immersion left.
The game makes up for this with old school action. Enemies take cover or run at you. There not particular smart and sometimes even stupid but there’s a lot of them for you to kill. The lack of proper A.I. takes away the challenge but it does provide excellent run and gun gameplay. You got lots of weapons but to be honest, you only need the submachine gun and the sniper. Some parts of the map can be destroyed. You've got explosives barrels everywhere and you also have Veil barrels that reduce gravity when they explode sending everything floating mid air. This creates hilarious scenes and everything combined makes for some very fun gameplay. So when everything falls into place, the game really outshines its flaws.
The impressive maps, the alternate dimension, the Indiana Jones vibe and the run and gun gameplay are definitely the game’s strong points. It makes you come back for more and because of it, the mistakes are easier to forgive.
I think the game would have been better if they didn’t add the hub town, skipped the weapon upgrade system and put some more time and effort into the A.I. and the story. The things I missed most were the health packs and eating food to restore health. I really didn’t like the health regeneration in this game. Finding secrets should have been matched with achievements. Something similar as to how Uncharted did it.
Plus, the Veil powers were a missed change. The alternative dimension was a nice touch, but the ‘puzzles’ and gimmicks to get you to use the powers were very cheap. Besides you didn’t even really need them in combat until the end of the game and that’s playing on the highest difficulty level.
Since this is my own retrospect, I now think that the overall score of 74,90% is fair. The game is good enough but with the comments above in mind, it could have been truly great.