Luckily it’s really not all bad news, and it’s the missions themselves that save the new Wolfenstein from disaster. Sure, some are still hugely uninteresting – you can guarantee that any mission where you have to infiltrate building X and steal document Y will be a tedious Nazi-blasting session straight out of old-school Medal of Honor – but there are still sections where Wolfenstein suddenly remembers exactly what it should be all about, and at these times the game takes off with a bang.
The classic Wolfenstein formula isn’t especially mysterious or complex. Take BJ, add Nazis, throw in weird technology and an element of horror, then shake well and leave until the bullets start to fly. Raven showed with Quake 4 that it could put together well-structured levels and orchestrate big action moments, and Wolfenstein does pack in a few corkers. An early mission in a mysterious ruined temple is just a taster for the treats that follow, including an infiltration of a huge Nazi underground research base, an investigative mission in, around and beneath a most unsavoury hospital, and an all-out assault on a Nazi super-weapons plant.
Skilfully throwing in creepy new foes, dishing out deeply lovable new weapons and putting together fierce, challenging encounters, the best levels in Wolfenstein leave you wondering where the inspiration disappeared to for the rest of the game. These might be riffs on old themes swiped from past Wolfensteins, Gears of War, Resident Evil, F.E.A.R. and Half-Life, but they’re nonetheless entertaining for that, and the chills and thrills come at a pretty steady rate. You can’t downplay the importance of a top-notch score either, and Wolfenstein has one of the best in recent memory. There are times in this game where everything just gels, and the experience is everything I hoped for, if not more.
To give it full credit, some of Wolfenstein’s additions to the formula work perfectly well. The biggest is ‘the veil’ an otherworldly dimension BJ can access through an ancient, magic artefact. In its most basic form, accessing the veil enables you to see enemies in the dark and move through secret passages or up mystic ladders, but new crystals soon add new abilities. Again, there’s nothing new about these – hello F.E.A.R.-style slowmo, enhanced damage and a shield – but these new elements work well within the game, and some attempt has been made to integrate them into puzzle elements or make them the keystone of specific combat set-pieces.
Sensibly, Raven has also lifted another cool idea – this time from the Resident Evil games. Weapons and veil powers can be upgraded at black markets with gold cheekily snatched from Nazi hangouts, giving you the chance to buy telescopic sights, ammo upgrades, damage upgrades and accuracy upgrades for your guns, along with crystals that enhance your veil powers. By being reasonably tight with money Raven has made it hard – if not impossible – for you to maximise all your guns and all your powers, so instead you need to think about how you’re going to fight and the sort of weapons and skills you’ll need to do so. Personally, I turned the default rifle into a top-notch sniper weapon, beefed up the assault rifle and lightning gun equivalent and never looked back, but I’m sure there are other ways you could go that would prove equally effective against your supernaturally boosted Nazi foes.