In many respects, this is the definition of a decent, classically-minded FPS. The weapon set is strong and varied, with a carefully considered arsenal of machine guns, rifles, rocket launchers, flame-throwers and more esoteric heavy weapons. Enemy-wise, it scores well too. Admittedly, Raven gets few points for originality. Its fast-moving, wall-crawling attack zombies were last seen in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and F.E.A.R. 2. The heavy troopers might have been pinched from F.E.A.R. or Killzone 2, and the creepy, cloaked ninja-types are straight from Half-Life and F.E.A.R. All the same, each and every beastie fits well into the game’s Himmler meets hellspawn style, and there are just about enough tactical wrinkles in fighting them to keep the core combat interesting. True, your regular Nazi troops could have done with a bit more training – the ‘I’ll pop my head up in the same place every three seconds’ strategy has never been an effective method for survival – but when Wolfenstein is at its best, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable genre effort.
Enjoyable, but not exceptional. The fact is that the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Killzone 2, Half-Life 2 and Gears of War have so forcefully redefined the single-player shooter in the last five years that Wolfenstein no longer feels as thrilling as it should. Set pieces we would have called spectacular in 2005 now feel run of the mill, and the quality is not consistently good enough. What’s worse, the same goes double for the graphics. Wolfenstein undoubtedly stands at the pinnacle of what’s possible with iD’s current Tech 4/Doom 3 engine, making skilful use of detailed, high-resolution textures, focus blur, pseudo HDR lighting and a range of other post-processing effects. And yet there are still signs that this is an old engine, whether we’re talking about the blocky looking characters and monsters or the cramped, lifeless exterior spaces. Frankly, when Wolfenstein isn’t at its best, you haven’t just seen and played it all before; you’ve seen and played it looking better.
If the single-player campaign is a mixed experience, then the multi-player portion of the game is less so. I can’t say I’ve put many hours in, but my basic impression is that it’s not much good. The graphics are – inexplicably – even more dated and even less detailed than those in the single-player game, while the gameplay has little if anything to offer over what we’ve already seen in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. The mechanics of the main ‘objective’ mode worked well there, and they work well here too, but I really can’t see much else that would keep anyone away from CoD4, Killzone 2, Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Battlefield 1943, Battlefield: Bad Company or probably a handful of other games that I might mention. The fact that ET:QW itself both played and looked noticeably superior is really just rubbing salt in the wound.
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I hope, then, that you can understand my confusion. I like Wolfenstein. There are moments, even lengthy stretches, where it’s everything I want a new Wolfenstein to be: a slice of fast-paced, frantic Nazi blasting with a cool supernatural twist, and even the city-wandering stuff is not a total loss. Yet I come away from it feeling that this is a game that lost its sense of what it is somewhere along the line, and as a result is a bit of a mess. Fans of the series and hardcore fans of the genre will find enough here to remind them of what made the series so great in the first place, but this isn’t a game that stands any chance of putting Wolfenstein back on the first tier of FPS franchises. Given the series’ heritage, that has to be slightly disappointing.
A decidedly mixed effort. On the one hand this is a solid FPS let down by some odd choices but driven forward by a handful of great levels. On the other, it’s not quite fit to compete with the modern greats.