Check out our video review:
I’ve always loved the Wolfenstein series because they’re more than just World War II shooters. These games take the whole Nazi paranormal thing and just roll with it. They’re not historically accurate but use actual historical elements as a backdrop for awesome gameplay. Nazis were so evil that I think these games aren’t too far off in depicting how power hungry and sadistic they were back during World War II. It’s truly scary to think what if these games were historically accurate? Mecha Hitler, raising the undead, horrific biological experiments, malformed violent creatures, could you imagine if this shit actually happened? Developed by Raven Software and published by Activision, Wolfenstein was released in August, 2009. I remember when this game was announced. I followed it right up until it released, and bought it day one for Xbox 360. Some time later I ended up buying it again on Steam, which is the version I played for this review, and, unfortunately, it was removed from Steam some time ago so I guess I’m lucky I acquired it when I did. Wolfenstein is yet another story about Nazis using the supernatural for the greater evil.
Once again you play as our favorite American hero, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz. The story opens with a cut scene depicting B.J. stealing a medallion from a German battleship. He’s eventually caught and unwittingly unleashes the power of the medallion, killing all of the enemies which enables him to escape. B.J. then returns to the Office of Secret Actions, abbreviated OSA, which should feel familiar to anyone who played Return to Castle Wolfenstein. There he’s given his new assignment. He must go to Isenstadt, a German city under Nazi control, meet up with the Kreisau Circle, a group of resistance fighters, and learn about mysterious crystals the Nazi’s are looking for. It turns out these crystals, when combined with the medallion B.J. stole, let you access the Black Sun dimension. The city of Isenstadt acts like a hub world with different areas, separated by loading points. You meet up with NPC’s to obtain missions and progress the story. None of the characters are really memorable, the voice acting is decent, and B.J. only seems to speak during cut scenes. I’m not going to lie and say the story is amazing but I did enjoy it. I would say story is on the same level as previous Wolfenstein games only with more characters and voice acting to flesh it out. Classic Wolfenstein series villains make a return including Hans Grosse and Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse but this time there’s no portrayal of real Nazis like Heinrich Himmler in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I actually like B.J. as a hero. Granted, he doesn’t say much here but he kind of reminds me of Indiana Jones.
The medallion, otherwise known as the Thule medallion, is one of the major elements of the game. Once you acquire the first crystal, you can use the medallion to enter the Veil, a barrier between the real world and Black Sun dimension. When in the Veil, you move faster, see better in dark areas, can easily spot enemy weak points, and can use it to find secrets. For example, you may see a ladder only accessible when in the Veil that allows you to access normally unreachable areas or you may find a Veil door which is basically a hole in a wall, and you can walk right through it. As you progress you’ll acquire three more crystals that will grant you new Veil abilities including Mire which lets you slow down time. When using Mire you can quickly eradicate nearby enemies, easily dodge machine gun fire, and even avoid environmental hazards. The Shield crystal lets you activate a shield that surrounds you, protecting you from gunfire, and you can even use it to walk through hazards like electricity. Finally there’s the Empower crystal which amplifies your weapon damage and it also lets you shoot through shields. You can activate multiple Veil abilities at once but you need to be aware of your energy consumption. Using Veil drains your Black Sun energy and, luckily, you can refill your energy from energy pools and canisters that are scattered everywhere. When in the Veil, you also need to be careful that you don’t shoot or attack Geists, flying creatures that will attack you if they’re angry but they can also be used against enemies. The Veil abilities are what really makes Wolfenstein stand out among other shooters and utilizing these abilities is really fun.
The combat in Wolfenstein is very satisfying. You can perform melee attacks which when performed from behind, can kill enemies in one hit, however, this game hardly employs any real stealth mechanics. You can also pick up and throw items. But I doubt you’ll be doing any of those things often because accompanying the Veil abilities is an arsenal of eight weapons and even hand grenades. There’s an MP40, MP43, Kar-98 rifle, rocket launcher, flamethrower, a Particle Cannon that can disintegrate enemies, a Tesla Gun that will electrocute enemies, and the Leichenfaust 44 which fires a sphere of energy that will just vaporize your foes. One of the coolest things about this game is the ability to upgrade your weapons and even Veil abilities. You can spend gold found hidden throughout the environments to purchase upgrades at the Black Market. Other collectibles include Intel and Tomes of Power. Intel provides backstory and lore and unlocks some upgrades and Tomes of Power unlock Veil ability upgrades. The game does make it a point to inform you that there’s not enough gold in the environments to purchase all of the upgrades so it’s best to only upgrade the weapons you use most. You can sell upgrades for half the purchase price. When it comes to the weapons, you can purchase silencers, scopes, improved rifling, recoil compensators, stabilized rockets for the rocket launcher, a beam intensifier for the Particle Cannon, and things like that. Now I can’t talk about this game without pointing out the Kar-98 rifle. The improved rifling upgrade makes it sound extremely powerful and the big bore upgrade makes it one of the most satisfying weapons I’ve ever fired in a video game. With the big bore, you can blow off enemy heads and even other body parts in just one shot. It’s amazing. Veil upgrades include things like the Piercing and Penetrating crystals that allow you to shoot through all types of cover when using the Empower ability. The Reflective crystal upgrade lets your Shield reflect bullets back at enemies. The Veil sight upgrade lets you see enemies through solid matter. The Slowing crystal upgrade brings time to a virtual stand-still when using Mire. All of the upgrades can make a big difference during gameplay and all of them are worth the purchase. I guess it depends on your play style and what weapons and abilities you prefer to use. Ammo for the traditional weapons is everywhere so spending money on ammo at the Black Market is not recommended. But if you enjoy using some of the serious firepower like the Particle Cannon and Leichenfaust 44, you may want to consider buying ammo for those. It’s because of the upgrades and satisfying combat that exploration becomes an important part of the gameplay. You’ll want to check every nook and cranny for gold, intel, and Tomes of Power, so you can buy that next upgrade and experiment with different weapons and Veil combinations. I’ve played through this game at least four times now and each time, finding collectibles and upgrading weapons is just as fun as it was the first time I played it. It’s always satisfying to acquire that remaining gold you may need to finally be able to purchase that upgrade you’ve had your eye on.
When you first start playing you’ll be up against your typical German soldiers. But eventually you’ll encounter some of the tougher enemy types like SS soldiers that wield MP43’s, Drache Troopers that wield flamethrowers, and even Rocket Troopers that fly around using jetpacks and fire rockets at you. These guys can be really annoying, actually. Then there’s the other enemies that can use Veil abilities or other supernatural attacks. Elite Guards who I’ve always referred to as “sexy Nazi ladies”, originally seen in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, make a return a here. They’re acrobatic, can move very fast, and will sometimes fire red projectiles. Heavy Troopers are heavily armored, carry Particle Cannons, and are equipped with a Veil-infused powerpack. They’re actually more intimidating than they are dangerous. You just need to shoot their Veil canisters and then you can watch them explode. Scribes are these bald assholes that use Veil abilites. They may actually be the most dangerous enemies in the game, minus bosses. Scribe’s fire extremely deadly energy blasts, can generate shields that protect nearby allies, and they can use the Mire ability to rapidly move around areas. Later in the game you’ll find Scribes leading packs of Sniffers which are these mutant creatures. Apparently Sniffers are the results of human exposure to Veil energy. There’s an enemy type known as Despoiled, a creature with a skeletal appearance, created by the energies of the Veil. They have a very powerful melee attack and can also fire Veil energy. Finally, there’s the Veil Assassins which are the results of Nazi experiments performed on humans and are first encountered in the hospital. They only attack you using their glowing dual Veil blades but they move extremely fast and can become invisible at will. Now I really enjoyed the enemy variety in Wolfenstein and it’s one of the reasons I love this series. Most of the enemy designs are pretty cool and each enemy requires a different strategy to defeat. The enemy AI could be better but I wouldn’t say they’re downright stupid. They seem to throw grenades a lot to flush you out of cover and many times I would be clearly visible but they couldn’t see me. They’ll run around and get behind cover, run away when you toss a grenade their way, and even shout to attack when they see you’re reloading. Now Wolfenstein consists of four major bosses including Altered which is this horribly grotesque beast. Viktor Zetta is the second boss as well as a head Nazi figure in researching the Black Sun Dimension. I like this boss battle because you need to enter the Veil to see his true form. The Queen Geist is this massive Geist creature and it kind of reminds me of the Alien Queen in the movie Aliens. The final boss is Hans Grosse and this battle is probably the most tedious out of all of them. You fight him in the Black Sun dimension and you have to defeat him across four stages. Thankfully, there’s checkpoints. For the most part, the boss battles are pretty cool with Viktor Zetta and Queen Geist being my favorites. They all pose a decent challenge, have different attack patterns, and just like the standard enemies, require different strategies to defeat.
Isenstadt and the mission environments do a good job at giving off that war torn Europe feel. There’s plenty of destroyed buildings, rubble, Nazi flags, and things like that. You’ll traverse through a good variety of different environments including a farm, hospital, SS headquarters, dig site and caverns, and even a large zeppelin, among others. The missions are mostly linear so you shouldn’t get lost but there’s plenty of different paths and rooms to explore which normally house collectibles and items. Isenstadt is the hub world and basically consists of multiple large open areas to explore. When traversing through Isenstadt, you can bring up a map at any time which is actually pretty useless since the star at the top of your compass always directs you where you need to go. From the map screen you can set way points for your next objective, the Black Market, and even mission givers which normally provide you with secondary objectives. You can replay any already completed missions from the Objectives menu which is great if you want to find any collectibles you may have missed or even try some new weapons and Veil abilities. At the end of each mission B.J. will provide a debrief, you’re rewarded with money, and can view your mission stats. Now there’s four difficulty modes – Easy, Normal, Hard, and Uber. I played through the campaign on Hard and after completing the campaign you unlock the cheat menu which is only accessible after starting a new campaign. I would say Wolfenstein provides plenty of replay value. With multiple difficulty modes, fun gameplay, collectibles, and all of the upgrades, I always felt eager to return.
As for the visuals, Wolfenstein looks a bit dated but still holds up. The texture work is pretty good and transitioning in and out of the Veil is smooth and seemless which may have actually been an issue for some back in the day, like it would pause for a second or two, but I never experienced any issues. I’m also running this on hardware that’s well above and beyond the recommended specs. I’m pretty sure there’s some bloom lighting going on but, thankfully, it’s not obnoxious. I wouldn’t say Wolfenstein is noticeably washed out in terms of color like many other games from that time but some more vivid colors would have been appreciated. Watching enemy body parts fly up into the air as a result of an explosion is quite the spectacle as is the blood spatter and bullet holes in bodies. Shooting an enemy and watching him gargle on his own blood before dying is truly awesome to witness. On the technical side this game ran super smooth. I experienced no bugs, glitches, or crashes of any kind. My only complaint is that all of the cut scenes run at thirty frames. Now the audio design is actually pretty amazing. Like I stated before, a properly upgraded Kar 98 rifle sounds incredibly powerful as do most of the weapons in this game and explosions will put your sound system to work. Germans speak in English with some German words thrown in here and there and the music is actually pretty good. Not great, but good. It’s full of orchestral scores. The soundtrack has some catchy tunes and overall it gets the job done nicely, fitting in with what’s happening on screen.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, in my opinion, there is no bad Wolfenstein game. At least not at this time. I’ve enjoyed every game in the series and this entry was my favorite shooter from last gen. Wolfenstein has some of the most satisfying gunplay I’ve ever experienced in a first-person shooter and I’ve played through it several times over the years. Sadly, I think this game is very underrated. Raven Software laid off a ton of people after Wolfenstein released. I guess they weren’t doing so well but they would later release Singularity, which, from what I’ve played is nowhere near as good as Wolfenstein. From what I understand, after that, Raven Software went on to assist with the Call of Duty series and have been doing that ever since. I don’t know why Wolfenstein doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Wolfenstein is just so much fun that I really don’t know what the problem is. I heard the multiplayer sucked but I never tried it. Is that really it? Was that the downfall? The story may not be the best ever but the gameplay is fun and there’s plenty of replay value. I would recommend this to everyone. Definitely give it a chance if you haven’t already.