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Reviewed: Wolfenstein
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: September 24th, 2009
Page: 2

Wolfenstein starts out with a pretty impressive cutscene - BJ Blazkowicz escaping a Nazi ship, carrying a secret medallion with some pretty crazy shield powers. After a short shift and exposition, he's shipped right off to the game's hub, the city of Isenstadt. Every mission in the game revolves around this central city, and at least half of a player's game is going to be spent either sneaking around it to get from mission or plot point to mission, or else exploring it for hidden upgrade fodder (tomes or Nazi gold).

The game uses id's "Tech 4" engine, and controls very similarly to your average Call of Duty game (unsurprising, since it's a game primarily about shooting Nazis). Players get the ability to haul around one weapon in their hands, and switch to one of the various inactive arsenal (Blazkowicz must be carrying one heck of a gunrack on his back) with a click of the stick; crouching increases gunning accuracy but reduces movement rate and visibility/firing angles; and of course grenades function like you'd expect WWII-era can-on-a-stick grenades to function, oddly. The ability to chunk them back at enemies (provided they don't pop in your hand) is a nice touch. Weapons range through the standard-issue MP40/MP43, Kar90 (sniper carbine), rocket launcher, flamethrower, lightning gun, and on.

Despite this being a Wolfenstein title, however, the "main" weapons aren't the real draw. The main focus of the game, and what all the missions are going to require, is use of the "Veil Medallion", the source of Blazkowicz's superhuman-like abilities. The Veil's got four main modes; the first, a basic "vision shift", is actually powerful. As long as it's up, Blazkowicz runs a little faster than normal and can "see" secret passages. Upgraded, it also lets him spot enemies hiding around corners or behind cover. The second mode, "Mire", slows the world to a crawl - but only for a few seconds before it runs out of power. Upgraded, it can kill nearby enemies just through being turned on.

Unfortunately, the next two powers aren't nearly as interesting. The shield is just that; a shield that catches and bounces bullets back at opponents. The final upgrade, "Empower", is more of a "rock-paper-scissors" setup; without it, certain enemies almost can't be killed, and at its highest level it also lets you shoot through walls just for fun. The "rock paper scissors" setup tends to be how non-grunt combat works in the game in general; either you're ducking into the veil to find little balloon-ish critters for an indirect explosion hit, or you're charging up weapons with Empower to bust through someone's shield, or you're tricking them into melee for the same effect.

Mission-wise, Raven decided to go their traditional route, the route they've loved since Hexen, and used Isenstadt as a gigantic hub. Each mission has its own map and loading zone, but more than half the action is going to happen between them, and Isenstadt is where it happens. Enemies constantly respawn here; depending on how complete the game is, they range from the easy-to-defeat grunts up through the insane power-armor types, or even the sneaky veil-based enemies. Kill the right ones, collect ammo, keep moving. Isenstadt also offers a chance (provided there's no currently active mission) to go back and "re-play" finished missions for missed loot, somewhat important when upgrading powers to the maximum. Despite the game's own tip, if you collect every single bit, you can pretty much max out on every important skill or weapon; just don't go selling them back to change up, and make sure you're complete (or within 1-2 bits of Nazi gold) each time, and you're set.

Isenstadt has three factions besides the Nazis; the Kreisau Circle, a group of German renegades; the Golden dawn, a group of Russian "scholars" researching the Veil; and the Black Market, who care only about getting your money and selling you weaponry. Between each mission, a stop to each is not ill-considered; there's also a small set of "side missions" to perform, worth only a bit more money and a chance to wander some extra maps. At one or two points there are multiple missions available, but it really doesn't last long; the game quickly forces you to catch up and get back on the plot wagon for the last few, including the "climactic showdown."

Overall, the AI is passable; it tends to bounce around a lot for the sorcerors, and simply hide and fire for the grunts, but it at least stays in character most of the time. There are no "keep the idiot alive" escort missions; if you've got an escort or "guide" and he dies, it's not hard to find the next area (which is usually on the Isenstadt map). In each mission, the tracking map goes dark; on larger ones, especially the Farm, this can be somewhat on the annoying side when trying to figure out what and where have already been explored.

Pick it up and play it; enjoy the story, then the multiplayer. It's not perfect, but it's worth owning.

Added:  Thursday, September 24, 2009
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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