Wolfenstein and I go back a long way. The original was possibly the first PC game I ever played, sitting at the keyboard of my housemate's 386 not long after the game first launched. Over a two year period I played through the original on every difficultly level, followed by iD's sequel, Spear of Destiny. Just less than ten years later I was captivated by Raven's first re-imagining, Return to Castle Wolfenstein - a game which suffered from comparisons with its contemporary, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but which I found hugely entertaining. I say this because I don't want you to think that I came into the new Wolfenstein wanting to put it down or to complain about iD and Activision milking the franchise. I came into it rooting for the game, wanting it to be good. I don't care if Wolfenstein is backwards looking, dated or lacking in innovation. As long as it looks, plays and feels like a modern day Wolfenstein should, then I'll be happy.
Instead, I'm a little bit confused.
Things could be worse. One hour in, I was merely disappointed. Bar one brilliant section, the first level was a hackneyed approximation of a Call of Duty, making even Treyarch's worst efforts on CoD3 seem inspired by comparison. After that, the game seemed to have taken a weird left-turn into STALKER-ville, opting for the kind of free-roaming, talk to contact X, follow contact Y shenanigans you expect from the love-it/hate-it FPS or Fallout 3. Wolfenstein's hero, BJ Blazkowicz, has come to the charming German town of Eistenstadt to foil yet another Nazi plan with occult props. To do so, he needs to work with two groups: a resistance setup called the Kreisau Circle and a mysterious occult society, The Golden Dawn. Only by travelling around the city, completing missions for one and then the other can you advance the plot and wreck the German plans. Previously just your basic one-man army, the still strong and silent BJ now has to get in with the locals and serve their needs.
It's not necessarily my concept of Wolfenstein, but that doesn't mean it's a bad one. Linear levels, one after the other, are a little passé in this day and age, and the setting - a city slowly being torn apart by war and dark magic - has plenty of potential for atmosphere. Unfortunately, the area you actually get to travel around is surprisingly small and meagrely populated, and the levels are large enough to act as a boring buffer between bouts of action, without being interesting or well-developed enough to turn them into anything beyond that.
What's more, the more the game goes on, the more the streets become populated with Nazi troops, technologically enhanced super-troops and all sorts of eldritch horror, meaning that the stretches between missions turn into more extensive running battles. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, and there is a point at about the halfway mark where you're enjoying some entertaining, challenging firefights in the public squares and major thoroughfares of mid-town Eisenstadt. After a while, however, the fighting just gets in the way of progress, and there's a sense that the game is - essentially - being padded out. It hardly helps that you find yourself fighting again and again and again in the same locations, and while you can evade combat by moving across the rooftops or through the sewers, confusing layouts and artificial barriers make doing so even more irritating.