Wolfenstein – The Verdict
It must be a little annoying to be a German in the modern day.
The usual place to begin when characterising an antagonist, according to the American media especially (although I admit it is not exclusive to them) is Europe. Depending on exactly what kind of villain they want will depend on where they look, but the top two choices are England and Germany. Depending on the current global climate, the prevalence of each choice will swing one way and then another.
That said, Nazis seem to never go out of style.
Wolfenstein is a game that takes every single Nazi stereotype and crams it into one game; from the Thule Society to busty blonde assassins, this game has it all. There’s even the odd Nazi zombie and jet-pack trooper. Oh, and a blimp.
That’s Wolfenstein in a nutshell really. The very first Wolfenstein was a game where you shot Nazis, hundreds of them, for essentially no reason other than Nazis are clearly very evil. While there was an arguable plot, it was so thin as to be irrelevant. Raven have learned a little over the years, but still the game boils down to shooting Nazis in the face because they are Nazis.
To be fair, this iteration does have a distinct plot. You play the Polish-American super spy William Blaskowicz, a name that is made even more ludicrous when shorted to his nickname, B.J. Apparently following on from the now dusty Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Billy has been sent to the obscure German town of Isenstadt to help the local resistance bump off a particularly irritating Nazi General. Your arrival at this town is where the game begins.
The plot is actually quite entertaining, if taken in the proper context. If you come into Wolfenstein expecting a nuanced and deep plot á la Bioshock then you are, quite frankly, a fool who is about to be very disappointed. Wolfenstein is a B-Movie, harnessing everything you expect of a movie let loose upon on the Nazi related myths, dialled up to eleven and shoved into a game. It’s cliché, it telegraphs some key plot points very early on, a little generic, but ultimately very entertaining.
The reason all these strange and intriguing myths have built up around Nazism, the Thule Society and other alleged links to the occult, are precisely because they have a certain dramatic quality that, when coupled with what we know to be true about the Nazis, makes them compelling villains. My brain can never truly comprehend the horror of the Holocaust, the millions of dead for no rational reason, but give me people tapping mystical energies for the means to win a war and become gods and that’s something I can get behind. Not very historical, and it’s certainly not going to win any prizes for it’s treatment of the true horrors of war, but this is a game for entertainment. The occult is a much easier thing to make entertaining than attempted genocide.
This may sound a little like Wolfenstein is a bit lazy in its design, but that’s not strictly true. The story is a bit weak, a bit safe and generic, but on the other hand it is in no way convoluted. It serves as a gentle hand to guide you through the various missions and set-pieces the game has to offer, a strange pre-GPS GPS to usher you through the open world aspect.
It was the open world that made me decide I liked Wolfenstein. It can be best described as a condensed version of the Far Cry 2 model. You get missions elsewhere on the map, you go from A to B while occasionally visiting a gun shop on the way, and the enemies respawn each time you do this. In Far Cry, the respawning enemies was a massive frustration because the commute between missions was so vast, stopping at every intersection to have a gunfight with some locals and then breaking out the socket set to beat your car back into working order. Wolfenstein avoids this by having a nicely compacted world, traversable in five or ten minutes, meaning that while you may get somewhat irked about having to run from your briefing to your mission you won’t be fed up of it by the end. You might not enjoy it, but it won’t actively detract from the game.
I found it hard to find anything that would actively detract from the game, to be honest. My one gripe might be that, difficulty wise, the game is a little on the easy side, until the very end where it becomes far too hard for my liking. This is largely down to the magical powers you accrue throughout the course of the game, some of which get a little broken as you upgrade them.
Allow me to illustrate. Of your four powers, the shield is by far the best. When you first acquire it, it’s soul purpose is to melt bullets aimed at your squishy bits, giving you time to pick off the vile villains at a leisurely pace. Its one weakness is that it does not stop flesh, meaning mêlée centric enemies can still charge right up and beat your face in. This flaw is, however, completely undone with the second upgrade, which causes the shield to disintegrate most enemies who touch it. It’s a very cool effect, but it also borders on being a win button.
There’s a fine line that developers need to walk when balancing supernatural powers inside games, and it is never done correctly. The player has to feel powerful, but also maintain some challenge to the game. Most developers come down on the side of challenge, which somewhat detracts from the purpose of having supernatural powers in the first place. Raven have come down on the side of power, but that has made the game easier and there’s no getting away from that. The difficult thing is deciding whether that’s a bad thing or not.
In my opinion, the powerful feeling Wolfenstein provides works well in context. I must stress how important it is to go into this game in the right way. Its B-Movie nature perfectly suits the gung-ho madness that the powers provoke. Things explode, you fire billions of bullets at faceless enemies, and the whole time you are thinking that Wolfenstein is an Action Game that feeds on the Die Hard definition of the word ‘action’.
The game has a few problems. The deliciously gory bullet wounds are a blink and you’ll miss it affair, vanishing after less than a second in some instances. The toughness of the enemies is very strange, with the first cultist enemy being more dangerous than the crack warrior women who turn up much later. The roster of weapons is relatively small. You could guess the endgame twist after only ten minutes of play. The final boss is monstrously hard and frustrating. The mouse sensitivity is a bit weird at times. The manual lists Xbox controls first. I could go on.
But I won’t.
The problems, for the most part, are minor. When listed like that they seem a lot more numerous than they are, and they are much less noticeable in game. When it comes right down to it, there is a simple question that will reveal whether you will like this game: Do you like action movies? If the answer is yes, you will like Wolfenstein. If you are more of the serious cinema sort of person, you might find Raven’s latest offering a little… dry.
One thought on “Wolfenstein – The Verdict”
Just borrowed this from a friend and while initially disappointed by the out of date graphics, some lazy design choices and the agonisingly easy play (very hard mode could be played with your eyes closed up to about the 50% mark) – BUT – those who stick around will be rewarded. Once you cross that point, the challenge and intensity suddenly kick in with a bang, and the game suddenly finds a greater depth of character emotion, involvement, plot and gameplay. It’s like half the game was a tutorial safezone.
I’m truly enjoying it, now. I hope you will too, readers.