When Wolfenstein 3D launched in 1992, it helped to define the first-person shooter for years to come. It wasn’t the first game in the series, but it was the first Wolfenstein title to take on this genre, where it has remained ever since. It has now been seventeen years since Wolfenstein 3D, and almost a decade since Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the last console game in the franchise. First-person shooters have evolved quite a bit since then, and unfortunately, it does not seem like Wolfenstein was able to keep up. While the game is an enjoyable and functional shooter, Wolfenstein lacks the innovation or addictiveness to make it worth a purchase.
In Wolfenstein, the first current-gen game in the series, players can once again take the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, an American agent of Polish descent who can kill Nazis like no other. This time around, Resistance forces in Isenstadt, Germany find out that the Nazis are dabbling in supernatural powers and are trying to access the Black Sun, an inexhaustible power source that would assure world domination. However, B.J. has got some supernatural tricks up his sleeve as well—more specifically, a medallion that allows you to enter the Veil, a sort of parallel dimension that makes everything appear shades of green. Finding crystals to use with the medallion also gives you access to several new abilities that you will acquire throughout the course of the game.
These abilities help to make Wolfenstein different than your average shooter, though they still didn’t feel all that original. There are four Veil powers to uncover in Wolfenstein, all of which are upgradable if certain requirements are met. Veil Sight is the first ability you will get, and it’s basically night vision, allowing you to see your enemies better in the dark and from distances. Veil Sight also uncovers secret entrances that only exist within the Veil, as well as highlighting enemy weak spots. Mire slows everything down, similar to bullet time, Shield protects you from bullets and can eventually reflect them, and Empower makes your weapons more powerful, cutting through enemy shields and taking down stronger foes. Of course, they don’t come free; using these abilities drains your Veil power, which can be replenished from pools of mystical energy strategically located throughout the game. Mire seems to drain it the fastest, making it hard to use frequently. The Shield ability is actually kind of useless, since soldiers can still knock you out with a simple melee attack, but Empower, Mire, and Veil Sight add a lot to Wolfenstein.
In addition to his new powers, B.J. has access to the usual gamut of World War II-era weapons, like submachine guns, rifles, grenades, and a flamethrower. There are also some neat devices that provide different ways to obliterate foes, such as the particle cannon or Tesla gun. Weapons, like Veil abilities, are also upgradable, but upgrades are usually expensive, and gold is hard to come by in Wolfenstein. Because of this, you will probably end up sticking with two or three favorite weapons and ignoring the rest, focusing your efforts on upgrading the ones you use most.
Unlike previous games in the series, Wolfenstein is not a completely linear experience. Instead, the city of Isenstadt acts as a hub of sorts, from which you can visit the black market for upgrades, enter the hideouts of resistance groups, and find new objects. You’ll eventually find yourself allied with three different groups, which provides some leniency in the order you choose your quests. While at first it seemed that there would be a good amount of optional side quests, it soon becomes apparent that you will need to complete most of the objectives that you are assigned, just not necessarily in the order they are given. Near the end of the game, however, more side missions become available, which help extend the length of the game. You could probably shoot through Wolfenstein in six or eight hours, but completionists will spend plenty of time collecting gold, tomes, and intel for much longer.
The multiplayer aspect has always been a big part of the Wolfenstein franchise, and this game offers a solid online gaming experience. There are three modes: Team Deathmatch, Objective, and Stopwatch. Deathmatch is obviously nothing new, and Objective is similar to Capture the Flag, but instead of a flag, one team will be trying to capture a document or location, while the other team defends it. Stopwatch has players competing against the clock to finish an objective. Additionally, there are three classes available in multiplayer matches: Soldier, Medic, and Engineer. They each have different jobs and also get a multiplayer-specific Veil ability, such as being able to heal for the Medic. All of the weapons are available online, but cash earned in matches can be used to upgrade them. Each mode serves as a fun distraction, but offers nothing new to the genre, making it easily forgettable.
Although the game looks good most of the time, there were occasional moments when a direct lack of polish was apparent. One time, as I tried to enter a room, the environment appeared black except for gray soldiers; nothing actually rendered properly until I ran out into the middle of the room, leaving me an open target. There were a few framerate hiccups, and occasionally Wolfenstein would freeze momentarily and make me worry that I was going to have to restart my system, but play always resumed. I also found enemy AI to be somewhat inconsistent; while half of the time, soldiers would hide behind cover, alerting their Nazi friends when I reloaded or moved out of hiding, other times they would just stand there and shoot at me without even trying to move to safety. Of course, since enemy soldiers constantly respawned, it didn’t matter how many I killed anyway. This could make moving through Isenstadt repetitive and annoying at times; often, I just wanted to get to my next objective, but had to keep wasting ammo on never-ending waves of Nazis.
Wolfenstein comes so close to being a really good game, but just falls short. The fact that it came near its former greatness is almost more disappointing than if it had been terrible; with a few original ideas, this could have been the must-have shooter of the summer. Instead, Wolfenstein offers a weekend or so of entertainment, but will quickly be forgotten in the onslaught of triple-A titles coming later this year. There was definitely something comforting about returning to that castle, but nostalgia alone is not enough to make Wolfenstein worth a purchase.