NY Comic Con: Activision’s Wolfenstein is more than it appears to be

At first glance, Raven Software’s Wolfenstein is entirely too typical. A first-person World War II shooter that has you mowing down Nazis with authentic 1940s weaponry. Then there’s the HUD that’s more Call of Duty 2 than Wolfenstein 3D. In short, a quick glance and first impressions might lead you to believe that the game is treading on familiar grounds, destined to be another derivative shooter in an already flooded market. 

Confession — that’s what we thought, too. Then we peeled back the layers, taking the time to see what was really there. And yeah, it’s a first-person World War II shooter that has you mowing down Nazis with authentic 1940s weaponry. And the HUD? At first glance it’s a lot more like Call of Duty 2 than Wolfenstein 3D. 

But then there’s the mysterious experiments that you’ll uncover that will allow you to slow down or speed up time. Or see into an alternate dimension populated by floating Metroid-looking monsters that explode into webs of electricity that you can use to take out enemies. And then there’s the particle beam-wielding Ghostbusters dressed up like one of BioShock‘s Big Daddies that you’ll have to contend with.

Yeah, there’s some strange stuff going on here, to be sure. We had a chance to see Wolfenstein in action at a private Activision event at Comic Con this week. Hit the jump for the details.


Wolfenstein protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz is back, once again trudging through German cities to infiltrate Nazi territory, and to get the low down on some mysterious research. The game, as has already been established, starts off the way you’d expect. B.J. mows down Nazis with World War II-era machine guns and rifles, all the while while they yell obscenities and threats in German. 

The game looks good, but immediately familiar. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We’re immediately reminded of Call of Duty, and while our first guess it that it’s running off of the Modern Warfare engine, we’re mistaken — we’re looking at the iTech 4 engine.

B.J. fights his way through a Germany city, his goal to reach a special operations train, one that holds the secrets of the secret Nazi experiments. Nazi’s fall left and right, crumpling to the ground like rag dolls, falling off scaffolds as they’re gunned down. Then it happens — one of the B.J.s comrades, part of a resistance group called the Kreisau Circle, plants a bomb on the operations train. It explodes, releasing a glowing blue substance that has an immediate, and drastic effect on reality. 

At this point, the game no longer reminds us of a typical World War II shooter. Time seems to bend, and gravity shifts as the bodies of Nazi soldiers float up into the air. B.J. shoots them, and shoots them dead as they rise, their limp bodies floating in the air. It’s a bizarre scene, nothing at all like you’d expect based on the first few moments of the game.

So there are a few things that need explaning. The effects and “powers” of the blue glowing ooze — part of the Nazi experiments on something called “The Veil” — can be harnessed by B.J. Once in possession of the “Thule Amulet,” B.J. can has access to a few abilities, none of which (as far as I know) are available to players in traditional World War II shooters.

For one, B.J. can shift into another reality on the fly. The screen goes blue, and the environment changes slightly, opening new paths and revealing floating spectres called Geist. The Geist look a bit like metroids, strange looking alien-like creatures that slowly float around, ambivalent to the action around then. The Geist won’t attack or cause harm, but B.J. can use them to his advantage. By shooting them, they’ll burst out into an electrical charge that can be chained to strike down enemies. 

The power of the Veil can also be harnessed by B.J. in a few other ways, including something called “Mire.” This slows down time, allowing him to target enemies, or slip past a particularly tricky combat situation unharmed. The Veil powers can’t be used ad nauseum however; pools of Veil power — big and small — can be found throughout the game’s areas.

Weapons aren’t limited to those traditionally seen in the era. In one section of the game that we were shown, B.J. goes head to head with a Heavy Trooper wielding a particle beam. The trooper has a familiar look, big and hulking and slow moving, not unlike a Big Daddy from BioShock. The trooper carries the “Particle Cannon,” which shoots a Ghostusters-like stream that shocks and then disintegrates B.J. comrades before his eyes. 

By slowing down time using the Veil, B.J. is able to see the Heavy Troopers weak points — canisters that sit on his shoulders and his back. Targeting them eventually takes down the trooper, who falls to the ground, leaving a prize behind — the very usable Particle Cannon, which tears through Nazi forces with ease.

The sci-fi angle in Wolfenstein definitely gives the game a different look and feel (based on simply watching it) than you might expect from a World War II shooter. Interestingly, the game will also shun traditional level-based first-person structure, instead having a hub city called Midtown that will allow you to choose your next destination. The game will also feature something called “The Black Market,” which will allow you to, at the very least, allow you to purchase ammo and weapons. It was hinted that this would also play into another layer of depth — our guess would be weapon upgrades, perhaps — but it’s nothing something being revealed just yet.

It’s easy to blow off Wolfenstein as a typical first-person shooter, and a few people we spoke with at the Activision event already had. Of course, they hadn’t yet taken the time to get familiar with the curious angle of the title. We’ve yet to get our hands on with the game, and it’s possible the Veil powers could be a gimmick that gets old quick, if not properly implemented with the gameplay. But it’s good to see Raven is at least attempting to carve its own indentity with Wolfenstein, which is set to the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC later this year. 

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Nick Chester
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