Wolfenstein was at the forefront of the first-person-shooter explosion, but like an addled codger, the franchise is stuck in the past. Devastating weapons and scary Nazis remain high in the mix in the new Wolfenstein, but rather than breaking hero B.J. Blazkowicz out of his corridor-shooter confines, developer Raven Software just adds acts of supernatural derring-do to his repertoire. Magic isn’t just for evil Nazis anymore.
Blazkowicz winds up in the town of Isenstadt in the thick of World War II. There, he scores a medallion that lets him slip into the Veil, a sort of between-dimension in which he moves a bit faster and can see enemies glowing like neon signs in the night. And while the Veil is a neat idea, it also obscures much of the game’s better visual design. Enemies are much easier to see within the alternate dimension, so you’ll spend most of the game in the Veil’s grey/green space.
Even with the Veil factored in, the basics of Wolfenstein are resolutely old-school: point weapon, shoot Nazi, repeat. On one hand, it’s good that the magic angle does little to change Wolfenstein’s formula; no one looks to this series for anything other than shooting, shooting, and more shooting.
Yet games like Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare have pushed simple shooting into new territory. A few elements here attempt to emulate new shooter trends, like some pseudo-sandbox gameplay within Isenstadt, and a plethora of dialogue-heavy story sequences. But even with those concepts augmenting the dimension-hopping, the game’s ideas are threadbare. As in days of old, the standout ideas are weapons, like a Ghostbusters-style beam gun that dissolves Nazi grunts in seconds.
Maps are large enough that they seem less than wholly linear at first glance, but most are really just straightforward meat-grinders. Between missions, Blazkowicz can explore Isenstadt, but because walking in the Veil highlights secret items, there’s little actual exploration. Primarily, you’ll “discover” leaden dialogue sequences that make even the most corridor-confined action seem appealing.
The action does become more engaging as the single-player campaign progresses. More outlandish, difficult enemies crop up, and points late in the game almost conjure the old spell once cast by Wolfenstein 3D. Still, the effect is dispelled once again by the multiplayer, which feels jerky and unbalanced.