Wolfenstein (2009 game) review…

Wolfenstein (2009 game) review after the break…

Wolfenstein (2009 game) review…

The concept of a milestone is subjective; While most can agree on a few general life experiences being considered “milestones” in one’s life (their first day at school, their first date, their first marriage, etc.), not everyone will agree.

The same may be said for first-person shooters and first-person gaming in general; There is a large variety of games that could be heralded as “milestones” in the field of first-person gaming but everyone would not agree on which games are the milestones and for what reason. Some games, though, are held in higher regard then others and no one can dispute that concept.

“Wolfenstein 3D”, most will agree, brought the world of first-person gaming to the masses. It was “Portal” for it’s time – Instead of moving a character through a computer environment, you moved yourself. You were the star; You were the character inside the video game. The graphics, understandably, were horribly limited; The enemies were all sprites (think “cardboard cut-outs”), the walls were all orthographic (meaning that they were all North-South, East-West and could not be diagonal), the entire level was all on a single plane with no stairs or up or down… Despite all of these limitations which would now be considered laughable by today’s standards, “Wolfenstein 3D” was unparalleled in it’s success. Other games may take credit (and deservedly so) for their own advances in first-person gaming (Ultima Underworld I, often regarded as the most under-appreciated of these early “modern” first-person games) but “Wolfenstein 3D” must be awarded the privilege of bringing first-person to a generation of gamers not accustomed to such a gaming experience at all.

iD Software, the company that programmed “Wolfenstein 3D,” has since gone on to be a technology driver in the first-person gaming experience, having created the astounding “Doom” and equally impressive “Quake.” Yet the “Wolfenstein” franchise that helped start the modern FPS (first person shooter) genre has not enjoyed the same amount of fame and regard as the company that created it. The franchise has only had two sequels since – One in the early 2000s called “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” (the free multi-player component, “Enemy Territory,” did enjoy considerable success) and the game to be reviewed, simply labeled “Wolfenstein.”

The “Wolfenstein” franchise seems composed of a series of re-boots rather then a long story-arc; Each title in the franchise is essentially a re-telling with no real knowledge needed from the previous title. “Wolfenstein” makes a nod or two towards it’s predecessor, “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” but playing that game is certainly not necessary to enjoy “Wolfenstein.”

The “Wolfenstein” franchise tells the tale of B.J. Blazkowicz (here portrayed by someone giving their best young Kurt Russell impression), an American operative who discovers the mysterious artifact called the “Thule Medallion” aboard a Nazi naval vessel that grants various powers, including super speed (slow motion to your enemies), super strength (your bullets penetrate normally invulnerable enemies) and super endurance (you produce a shield that repels your enemies’ bullets). The most impressive power, though, is to enter the mysterious “Veil” dimension, an alternate universe much like our own but wrapped in a blue haze with what looks like large, floating lice called “geists.” Unlike the other three powers, entering the Veil dimension allows the player to walk through some walls that can not be walked through in our normal, everyday dimension.

B.J. must, understandably, find the Nazis responsible for attempting to harness the Veil dimension for wartime purposes and put an end to their activities before their hazardous research brings about both the end of the Allies along with the rest of the known world.

“Wolfenstein” is a consolized game and there are several console traits that the PC gamer must be aware of. Chief amongst these traits is the initial inability to save a game at any particular point. Instead, one must arrive at a “checkpoint” in order for the game to save. There will be a day when I understand just how game developers can justify, in their own warped minds, why one would think that “checkpoints” are more convenient then a quick save option; When that day arrives, I may as well just sell my games collection and play “Minesweeper” until I pass away. The lack of a native save option for this game is heartbreaking and had I not found a partial work-around that fools the game into thinking that everyplace is a checkpoint, I may never have even bothered leaving the introductory level. Raven Software, the game developers behind this title, should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves for not releasing a patch for PC users or, gosh forbid, taking the extra time to ensure that the PC version had this option straight from the retail version.

Console traits should not be scorned outright merely for their association with consoles but one can’t look upon them without feeling the slightest bit of suspicion. The game also features three “hub” areas – Levels that the player frequently returns to after other missions. “Hub” areas are artifacts of an earlier era of consoles that weren’t capable of handling the larger and more numerous levels that PCs could handle; It was easier for a console to merely keep repopulating a level with enemies then to present an entire new level with new enemies.

Weapons in “Wolfenstein” are customizable – You can find money in the form of bags of currency or gold bars and use those to exchange for options added onto your weapons. Scopes for rifles, bayonets and the like are all available for a price. Some options are more desirable then others and, if you find every single bit of money, you eventually get all of the options for free. Not all upgrades are available initially; Sometimes you have to find some documentation (called “Intel,” for intelligence) that will ‘unlock’ the upgrade while other upgrades are tied to completing a certain level. Similarly, your veil powers are also upgradable and finding books called “Tomes of Power” will unlock the ability to receive some of these upgrades. Money, intel and tomes scattered throughout all of the levels (the hub levels as well) causes the game to become an “easter egg hunt” of sorts – Checking every crack and crevice to see if you’ve found all of the items. Such a hunt increases the time spent on a level but also increases the frustration as well as some of these items are cleverly and improbably hidden (I found one gold bar in a bedpan which gives the phrase “golden shower” a whole new meaning).

Regenerative health is in this game, another console trait that more then a few players might not enjoy. The concept behind regenerative health is murky as developers complain that players do not like hunting for medical kits or whatever else is needed for players to heal themselves (however, they are asking us to hunt down money, intel and books). Regenerative health is less disruptive here then in other games, as one could simply use the excuse that the “Thule Medallion” works in mysterious ways. Make no mistake; You can easily be killed in this game but some opportune ducking and avoiding enemy fire is all that is needed to keep one perpetually healthy.

“Wolfenstein” has some impressive levels; A cave facility level is astounding on first view and a few other levels impress with large visuals. “Wolfenstein” is made from the same engine that “Doom 3” was made out of but, naturally, has been upgraded to look impressive on modern-day computers. These levels are slightly hampered by excessive use of invisible walls; I couldn’t count the number of times I attempted to make a perfectly reasonable jump only to be mysterious blocked from doing so. While the use of such walls allowed some of the levels to look more expansive then they were (it’s easy to create large spaces if you only need to channel the character through a small portion of it), the walls also lowered the game enjoyment.

Enemies in “Wolfenstein” arrive in all flavors, from the lowest infantryman to hideous Veil mutants. There are some cliches in this game, such as boss levels which amount to nothing more then puzzles with an enemy firing at you and the typical “fast but fragile” female villains (because we all know that breasts and a vagina allow a woman so much more speed and dexterity then a man).

As the game wore on, I felt myself becoming more disinterested in the game. By the time I got to the air base, I had turned on cheats and wanted to merely get through the final few levels. Why did I feel this way?

  • Save Games. There’s just no excuse; A PC game needs the ability to save games wherever the character is in the world. This silly and stupid hold over from the simpler times of consoles makes no sense to the mature gamer.
  • Easter Egg Hunt. You don’t have to find every gold, intel or tome in the game but you are performing a disservice by not doing so. Some levels are designed to bar you from re-entering earlier portions of that level so, if you haven’t found everything… It’s not possible to go back. Tough luck.
  • Innovation Dries Up. The “veil” alternate dimension is really the only “good” gimmick in this entire game. I would have loved to have seen the veil also close areas instead of simply opening them up. Or have more then one dimension and jump around in them to get to an exit. By the time you reach the castle in this game, you can feel the game simply beginning to give out under it’s own weight as there’s no more innovation to introduce.

In my opinion, the franchise can’t continue to live in the “Weird War II” era (why not at least go after the Japanese in the next edition? The Italians?) any more and, like the Call of Duty franchise, needs to step into the modern world to continue to be relevant. While I don’t have high hopes for the franchise since it seems geared now more towards consoles then PCs, the game’s lukewarm sales means it’s likely that we won’t see another entry in this franchise for quite a few years.

“Wolfenstein 3d” was a milestone in first-person gaming; It would be unfair to ask “Wolfenstein” to replicate such a feat but to stumble on some obvious mechanics (save games, regenerative health, bot team play in single player) is more of a regression then a progression. The “Wolfenstein” franchise and, more importantly, PC gamers deserve better.

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