Platform: Xbox 360
Developer - Raven Software
Publisher - Activision
Offline Players: 1
Online Voice Support
HDTV 480p, 720p, and 1080i Support
When Return to Castle Wolfenstein arrived on the original Xbox eight years ago, many praised the game for its highly enjoyable online gameplay. Many people also claim that the franchise was the grandfather of many features that online multiplayer FPS games use today. Wolfenstein for the Xbox 360 has been in the works for quite some time, yet the game did not generate much hype and the limited pre-launch chatter was not quite what I expected. I have to be honest, the lack of hoopla had me a little concerned. Well after some extended gameplay, I must say some of my fears have been confirmed and I cannot help but be a little disappointed. That being said, Wolfenstein has many fantastic elements, so not all is lost with the sequel that fans of the franchise have long since been waiting for.
Overall the visuals in Wolfenstein are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, some of the character animations and environments are slick looking. All the characters, including B.J. Blazkowicz, our main hero, have a nice retro look about themselves. Likewise, the enemy animations are also stunning and the level of detail we see with each character is quite good. Most of the game’s environments are also very sharp looking. When you enter into 'Veil' mode (which I will explain later) not much is lost in the transition and the paranormal view of the world is quite amazing. For fans of the franchise, many will be pleased to discover the game stays very true to the franchise and there is no doubt you are playing a Wolfenstein game as you progress along in the single player mode.
On the other hand, the cut-scenes look a tad blurred and somewhat bland. I expected a high level of cinematic production but sadly I did not get it. Simply put, the cut-scenes lack some polish. Additionally, the weapons seem to lack some detail, especially when compared to other Activision games (e.g. Call of Duty). Even the multiplayer aspects of the game have a very basic look about them as they almost seem dated. Another concern with the games graphics rests with some of the frame rate drops when things get a little too hectic on the screen or when certain weapons are deployed. These slow downs occur far more often than they should and do somewhat hamper the gameplay. All in all, there is simply nothing incredibly innovating about the games graphics and there really is no jaw dropping visuals as you progress along in the game.
Unfortunately the sound left very little lasting impressions with me. That is not to say Wolfenstein is a bad sounding game, it is just that it could have been a bit better. On a positive note, the game’s soundtrack is very well done, albeit repetitive. The music really gives you the feeling you are immersed in a messed up WW2 environment where things have really gone sideways. As we typically see with games in this genre, the music amps-up as the action becomes more intense and settles down after you have zapped up all the Nazi's in sight. Sure, there are some moments when the music seems ill-timed, however for the most part it went quite well with the game.
The weapon sounds on the other hand seemed to lack some punch. Perhaps I have been spoiled as I have some high standards when it comes to any games weapon sounds, including other games from Activision. Unfortunately for me Wolfenstein did little in this respect. I wanted to feel and hear some ‘shock and awe’ in the sounds of the weapons, yet sadly, I didn’t get that as my 5.1 surround sound system was barely tested. Additionally, the voice work is not the best we have seen in recent years, but it adequately does the job. Most of the voice actors are forgettable and seem like they are just going through the motions. Finally, in-game sound effects sound as good as they should but they are nothing spectacular. Explosion effects are great; otherwise nothing really stands out in this area of the sound department.
Wolfenstein takes place in the year 1943 in the fictional town of Isenstadt. The Second World War is at its peak and Hitler's War Machine has Europe up against a wall. Thrown into the mix is a feared Nazi enemy leader named Heinrich Himmler who has developed an 'SS' which has a mysterious power source which no army can overcome. Enter B.J. Blazkowicz, our main hero from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, who is back once again and ready to single-handedly shut down the SS and thwart the Nazi advances. As far as storylines are concerned Wolfenstein is not bad but not great either. Despite sharing essentially the same name as the original Return to Castle Wolfenstein game, this game is not a remake or extension of it so any prior knowledge of the previous entry is not required. At the end of the day however, the storyline really takes a back seat to shooting Nazi's.
As far as the single player experience is concerned, Wolfenstein plays out like your standard first-person shooter but has a bit of an open world feel to it. In many ways the game reminds me of Biosearch, sorry Bioshock, as well as 2K's Prey. You are not forced to play a linear level, moving from point A to point B. Instead Wolfenstein takes place in a psuedo open world environment where you search for gold and intel to go along with all the Nazi killing. The single player game takes place in one town, so unfortunately there is a fair amount of backtracking and in no time flat you will find yourself stating, "haven't I been here before". Needless to say, the game’s areas are not particularly large and seeing some of the same sights over and over can be disappointing.
As you proceed along in the game you are given various objectives which are usually obtained from a contact you will have to seek out. Here is where the game becomes fairly enjoyable. Soon after your little 'chit chat' you generally start facing a wave of enemies where you will eventually be able to use an arsenal of weaponry. Early in the game you will be limited to only a few standard weapons such as a Bolt Action rifle and MP-40; however later on you will gain access to some great weapons such as the Particle Cannon, Tesla Gun, and others. My favorite was the Particle Cannon as it just shreds Nazi enemies.
Early on in the game you acquire the Thule Medallion which gives you Veil powers. When in Veil mode you are introduced to the games parallel world. Such things as secret passages, doors, and ladders are revealed in this mode. Veil mode also makes you faster and detects weak points on enemies. Of course a few enemies that you face have this power as well; so effective management of your Veil powers is critical to the gameplay. The medallion also allows you to enter Mire mode. This is a slo-mo mode of sorts and becomes useful when attempting to avoid enemy fire. The final two powers of the medallion are the ability to deploy a giant bubble shield and the ability to inflict extra damage. All in all the medallion gives you a nice break from your typical run and gun game. My only beef with the Veil mode is the fact I could proceed throughout the entire game with it activated. Veil pools and canisters are located everywhere and recharging your Veil juice can be made at virtually every corner.
Overall, Wolfenstein does a decent job of keeping you occupied with things other than shooting Nazi's. Yes, about 80% of the game involves killing, but such things as the collectible intel can be interesting as it can reveal more background information for those that are engulfed in the game’s storyline. Also, finding gold located throughout the game can help you upgrade your weapons when you hit the black market. The black market is ultimately where you purchase your weapon upgrades and other weapons. When you are not on a mission or objective you have the ability to freely roam the city of Isengard visiting various safe houses that allow you to power up your weapons and Veil powers. I enjoyed this open world approach as it allowed me to decompress after blasting away an endless stream of Nazi's. For those that loved games like Bioshock, which involved a great deal of searching, you will enjoy this element of the game.
There are several difficulty levels in the game and I played the majority in the normal mode. Overall, the enemies were not too difficult to take down and I can see how many experienced gamers will find playing the game on ‘normal’ a little too easy. There are areas where you just breeze through, but there are also some choke points where the firefights can get a little crazy and you will find yourself retreating before you bite the dust. Granted, the enemies can often seem oblivious to the firefights going on around them, that being said they do throw a ton of grenades at you making for an often difficult challenge.
In terms of the games controls, Wolfenstein is fairly deep and controls as most shooters on the 360 do. The game features a gradual introduction to the controls and various powers as you progress along. Overall I had no concerns with the games controls and managed to pick them up fairly easily.
Last but not least is Wolfenstein’s multiplayer mode, which for many was the most anticipated aspect of the game. Sadly, Wolfenstein disappoints when it comes to the online gameplay. On a positive note, up to 12 people can play online and I had some great moments on Xbox LIVE; however the "wow" factor was not there and overall I simply got bored of the online gameplay in a hurry. If Wolfenstein had come out 3-years ago it might be different story, but overall the online gameplay seems dated and unoriginal. There are only three gameplay types to choose from and the selection of available maps is limited as well. Your typical Team Deathmatch is back to go along with an Objective and Stopwatch mode. There are also different classes you can choose from, which is a staple from Return to Castle Wolfenstein, as well as a variety of weapons. The Veil comes into play online too which mixes up the strategy a little bit. All in all the online gameplay has its moments but it simply lacks the refined gameplay or the sheer intensity of much better shooters like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, World at War, or Halo 3.
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