REVIEWS -- Wolfenstein -- PC
Too easy and too tacked on
by Carl Batchelor
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Rent
While the effort is admirable, Wolfenstein is clearly not designed to please oldschool fans with many gameplay features blatantly adapted for consoles.
The original Wolfenstein 3D was my very first FPS game, and with that piece of software went a good portion of my teenage life. As I hogged my cousin’s computer in a desperate effort to beat it, I nearly pulled the joystick out of its rubber casing because of how intensely I grasped the controls while meandering through the wood paneled mazes. Though I laugh about it now, I fondly remember how the 3D perspective seemed to make everything so much more frightening and realistic than the types of games I had been playing before that. All of a sudden, the block-by-block movement of Dungeon Master didn’t captivate me as it once did and I found myself forever spoiled. Though eventually I’d go back to those games in my young adulthood, I would never forget the good times I had with Wolfenstein 3D, and have always had a soft spot in my gaming heart for any game or spin-off bearing its name.
Thankfully, the series had a rather solid sequel in 2001’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein while also managing to steal a small bit of Counter Strike’s thunder with its addictive player-made “Enemy Territory” mod two years later. So even though Wolfenstein hasn’t produced as many sequels and expansions as Quake or DOOM, it has still managed to continue on despite the gaming industry’s best efforts to create new intellectual properties.
Ye olde engine
Which leads us to the latest Wolfenstein game, designed by ID Software’s ever-eager and immensely talented outsourcing studio, Raven Software.
Though ID Tech 4 is an engine clearly on its last legs and unable to stand up against Crytek’s Cryengine or Ubisoft’s under-appreciated Dunia, it manages to create some fairly impressive visuals just the same. Granted, this isn’t Crysis, but to be honest very few shooters have even scratched the surface of what modern graphics cards can do anyway. What is here, however, is more than enough to please even a graphics-hungry serial upgrader like myself.
With textures about on par with Bioshock, but without the horrible texture loading lag that the Unreal Engine still exhibits even on bleeding edge hardware, I was pleased with what Raven was able to squeeze out of ID Tech 4. Especially since anyone with a relatively new PC can ramp everything up to max and experience perfectly smooth, uninterrupted framerates thanks to the endless tweaking that has been done on what is now a half decade old graphics engine.
You have now entered “Hub-space”
Gamers who’ve played the other games in the series will be surprised to see that while the core “shooter” component of the game remains unchanged, the rest of it has been re-imagined to better fit in with modern FPS design standards. No more will you simply exit a level after beating a boss and immediately enter a new one, now you have a centralized “Hub” that allows for entry (or re-entry) of each level. It’s a system similar to Far Cry 2 or Clive Barker’s Undying, though it doesn’t seem to really need it.
Like Far Cry 2, enemies will randomly spawn in the hub areas, requiring you to either avoid them or destroy them in order to make it to each level’s entrance. While this made Far Cry 2 unnecessarily tedious at times, it doesn’t drag Wolfenstein down nearly as much as it did in Ubisoft’s shooter. Thankfully, the spawns aren’t all that frequent and, to be brutally honest, they aren’t too hard to take out either since nine times out of ten you’ll take them by surprise and can headshot most of them before they even pick up on your location. Still, it is a bit strange having to kill the same spawns in the same area every time you come back from a level completion screen.
In these hubs, you will find more than just enemies. In a rather unexpected twist, you will actually discover weapons traders who will sell you gear and even a few side-quests given by nondescript NPCs that beg for your aid. Though RPG aspects like this are commonplace in today’s shooters, I never quite expected them to end up in a Wolfenstein sequel. Still, it’s not as damaging to gameplay as I thought and even adds a bit of spice by allowing you to pick-and-choose what upgrades you need as well as giving you an option to take those sidequests in order to fatten your wallet with Nazi gold. My only gripe would be that there are barely half a dozen of these “Side-quests” in the game, and it almost feels like they may be holding them back for an upcoming DLC add-on or a boxed expansion of some sort.
The Hubs, NPC merchants and side-quests all help make this Wolfenstein sequel more of a “cinematic” game than its counterparts in the series, which though not exactly needed is certainly appreciated. This, in turn, brings me to the biggest fault I found with the game...
One sentence to describe it: Not exactly needed
Perhaps inspired by Bioshock, Raven decided to add a special amulet to the player’s inventory that grants four special powers when used in combat. These new abilities are basically a time stop effect, a cover piercing bullet power-up, an aim assist “FEAR 2 Enemy Glow” effect and a projectile deflecting shield. Though each of these seemingly typical bonuses can be upgraded for a few thousand gold at the weapons trader, the game is far too easy to even warrant using them. Though the time stop can be used to swoop in and get headshots on normally untraceable targets such as the “despoiled” soldiers, it just makes an already simple game even more casual.
The guns, much like the amulet, seem to be far more than you actually need. Most of the new weapons are so over-powered that they almost feel like cheating when used for any decent amount of time. Especially the particle cannon, which can one-shot most of the game’s enemies with ease.
What’s worse is that the standard 5-round rifle will one-shot kill any human enemy in the game even if you so much as graze their toenail. Though headshots are satisfying when done, there isn’t any need to do them since a shot on the arm will drop an enemy just as easily as one in between the eyes. This is clearly a compromise done for the console owners and gamepad users that was unfortunately not removed in the PC port.
You could do much worse
Amongst all this change and needless addition of new features and weaponry, it’s nice to know that the story is still inter-connected with the previous Wolfenstein game. Without spoiling anything, an important character from the last game makes an appearance near the end that, while a bit anti-climactic, was a much welcomed nod to the game’s past. I might not be happy with the “Leather-clad biker” look that BJ has this time around, but even I’ll admit the mundane garb he had been wearing in the previous game made him look too normal to be considered the game’s hero. This is, like it or not, evolution at work.
There are some nice touches though that shouldn’t go unnoticed, such as the enemy’s ability to see what weapon you have equipped and scream out orders to their allies accordingly. I never get tired of hearing soldiers blurt out “He has the particle cannon!” every time I scroll down for it.
In the end, your enjoyment of Wolfenstein depends squarely on how many caveats you’re willing to make. If you hate the idea of hub area, shortened levels, treasure hunts for cash to buy new upgrades, random enemy spawns and overpowered equipment, then you might want to wait for ID’s “Rage” next year. If, however, you’re willing to deal with a Wolfenstein that has been streamlined for the consoles, you could do much worse.
While I enjoyed Wolfenstein and have begun to go through it again on the hardest difficulty setting, I can’t help but shake the feeling that this is just another case of consolitis afflicting a once proud PC-centric game series. Just like F.E.A.R. 2 I can’t help but cringe whenever I see the glowing enemies, gigantic hit boxes, generous splash damage and claustrophobic levels. It just screams “Xbox” and I can’t guarantee this game will stay on my Hard Drive the rest of the year. While the effort was admirable, it was clearly not designed to please oldschool fans.
I can’t deny enjoying the game in certain areas so a very low score would be unfair, but then again the last FPS I played was F.E.A.R. 2, so take that into account. The game has its moments (such as the boss fight with the unnaturally creepy looking General Zetta) but hardcore FPS’ers and PC diehards might want to wait until it hits the bargain bin. It’s a shame too, because it’s been so long since an oldschool PC FPS came out. Painkiller and Crysis seem so far away in the past, don’t they now?
Developer: Raven Software
Release Date: August 18, 2009
Review Date: 15-09-2009
Numbers of Players: 1-12
Players Online: 2-12
Notes: Downloadable Content, Leaderboards, Player Stats, Min Req: Win XP/Vista, .2 GHz Pentium 4 Processor, 1 GB RAM, 256 MB Video Card (NVIDIA Geforce 6800 GT / ATI Radeon X800), DirectX 9.0c
Adequate use of bloom, textures and water effects, but nothing that pushes the envelope. Solid looking at maximum detail levels, though gamers with powerful PCs will feel cheated.
Tries to be innovative but the powers feel “tacked on”. Weapons are significantly over-powered as well. Gold collecting, while enjoyable at first, quickly gets annoying.
No option for manual saves in the menu screen. Cinema scenes before each mission aren’t done in real-time and are instead separate movie files which makes them stick out due to their graininess. There is an attempted love interest during the main story, but it’s halfheartedly done.
Enemies shout commands to their men according to the type of weapon you bring into battle. Voices are well acted, though the infrequency of background music when not in a mission as well as how few tracks there are doesn’t help the audio stand out.
With no multiple endings and no alternative outcomes to your missions, the only reason to go through single player again is to attempt a higher difficulty. Multiplayer isn’t well populated and can be a bit unbalanced, especially if you’re used to CS:S or Enemy Territory.