Thursday, October 22, 2009

Xbox 360 Review: Wolfenstein

There's no denying that Wolfenstein is one of the oldest first person shooting franchise on the market today. It's been around since the early days of 3-D gaming and has seen many installments across several consoles since then. The last time we stepped foot inside the supernatural world where Nazis have made contact with a demonic dimension was back on the original Xbox in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. That game offered all around solid FPS action for the single player and a decent multiplayer component that was rather fresh for its day and age. Now that we're into the next generation it would seem that Wolfenstein still has more ghoulish stories to tell, but the real question is whether or not this classic series can still hold its own in today's market.

The story in Wolfenstein is rather straightforward and very hit or miss much of the time while you're playing through the single player campaign. Basically you follow the exploits of a spy known as B.J. (tee-hee) who is deep behind enemy territory and in the middle of some serious X-files-like happenings. Basically B.J. (tee-hee) gets involved with a Nazi plot that opens up a portal and lets all kinds of unnatural things into our world. Queue up an amulet that allows B.J. (tee-hee) to gain powers from the dimension known as the Veil, and you have a nice little romp through World War II with supernatural powers at your fingertips. The story doesn't really do much to draw you in, but rather it's more of an atmospheric setting that gets the premise going and lets the world around you tell its tale. It's minimalist and not very effective, but there are some cool moments scattered throughout.

Thankfully the single play component is rather meaty in terms of depth and scope. You start out on a rather linear mission and are given the gist of what you need to accomplish, what's going on, etc. From there the game opens up a bit and allows you the chance to develop your powers, accept new missions, and upgrade your equipment. It's set up in a quasi-Grand Theft Auto kind of deal and there are different waypoint markets on a map that indicate objectives as well as people and places of interest. It's not incredibly immersive by any stretch of the imagination, but it's different enough for an FPS title that it feels somewhat fresh, if not clumsily integrated.

The single player will undoubtedly take up most of your time in Wolfenstein. Thankfully the campaign lasts a decent amount of time and the flow of gameplay varies enough to keep the pacing from getting too dry. There are a few difficulty modes to choose from and the challenge certainly scales and varies as you're introduced to new enemy types and given better abilities. You're also forced to think on your feet quite a bit. For instance you'll be slowing down time in the midst of shootouts to allow yourself to dodge bullets, using the Veil powers to show hidden enemies, and trying to find the best ways to get around obstacles all at the same time. It can be a little busy at points, but that's part of the charm really. It keeps you on your toes and you'll get the feeling that you're being pushed along.

Adding to the sense that things continually build in the single player game is the weaponry that becomes available to you. Sure you'll get a basic set of goods at the start, but slowly other more unique armaments are dropped on your lap. There's some top level stuff here that is an absolutely blast to use.

With all of that being said, the single player is easily the highlight of this game. It's a well-polished machine that stays fun from start to finish and it shows that a fair amount of ingenuity went into it. Sure there are the occasional glitches, but the gameplay feels right and the campaign feels fresh by many standards. Of course with that being said we're killing Nazis here and we've been doing that for far too long. Some of the punches feel desensitized and because of that, aspects of the single player game can feel underwhelming.

Speaking of under-whelming things in Wolfenstein; the multiplayer component feels like a tacked on afterthought. It's riddled with problems from the ground up and doesn't even look or play the same as the single player campaign. What you have here is a very basic set of gameplay types ranging from objectives to team Deathmatch. Beyond the modes of multiplayer there really are no options to fiddle with aside from turning friendly fire on and off, selecting a stage, and determining how long matches will last.

There is a decent set of maps to pick from, but in all honesty they all feel very similar. With a few exceptions you'll really find it hard to decide whether or not one map is better than another. They're all kind of bland and ultimately boring. Actually, that's really how the gameplay is anyways. There's precious little added to Wolfenstein to give it legs to stand on, though some additions do help ease the pain.

There are three character classes: Engineer, Medic, and Soldier. Each has a basic weapon set, though the Soldier has access to other armaments such as Panzer and Flamethrower. All three classes has a specific responsibility such as the Medic's need to heal, Engineer's ability to supply ammo, and Soldier's penchant for killing. Adding to that is the fact that there are different Veil powers and the ability to upgrade aspects of your avatar. The unfortunate part here is that new players are at a total disadvantage when going up against higher ranked ones. Until you get some upgrades your bullets will basically bounce off anyone who is ranked 30 or higher and it will only take about 2 bullets to knock you out. Sounds fun, right? Thing again!

The unfortunate part is that even once you play enough to upgrade your weapons, get some armor, and power up your Veil abilities it still won't matter. The game is plagued by lag issues and it's incredibly unstable. In just about every match you'll experience lag or network errors of some kind and it can be extremely frustrating. Adding to that is the fact that even if you play enough to win money and buy upgrades, sometimes the network will forget all of that and reset you to zero. It's a killer to say the least.

Graphically Wolfenstein has two different styles. The single player game looks great with some nice textures, solid animation, and a dramatic use of lighting which all comes together to help create an impressive atmosphere. The multiplayer, however, is the exact opposite. It's ugly. Real ugly. Seriously, it's almost like the game was developed with two different engines and the one used for multiplayer is the red-headed stepchild. Generic character models, muddy textures, boring weapons, and weak effects ruin the experience. At least the single player campaign is nice to look at!

As far as the audio is concerned things don't get much better. The voice acting is pretty bad, the music is cliché, and the sound effects don't exactly do much to improve the experience. On top of all that, the volume controls out of the box are horrifically flat and loud. I had to drop my system's volume by more than twenty points in order to have it at the same level every other game in my collection at. There are also some rather obnoxious pitches in the volume as well as other glitches such as voices that cut out, static, and missing effects.

Ultimately Wolfenstein isn't a game worth running out and buying. We've been killing Nazis, zombie Nazis, and demon Nazis for so long that what Wolfenstein brings to the table feels terribly cliché. The adding of supernatural powers to play with is a plus and I really appreciated the dynamic weapons brought to the table in the single player campaign. If you're just in it for the single player then I'd say this one is a very worthwhile rental. It's not the best at what it does, but it's fun and diverse enough to keep FPS fans happy until the credits role. If you do happen to check the game out, though, don't bother with the multiplayer aspect. It's painful to experience sometimes and it just sucks the fun right out of the room.

Wolfenstein gets 3.5 dead Nazis out of 5.

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