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Wolfenstein
Score: 92%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Raven
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1, 1 - 12 (Online)
Genre: First Person Shooter/ Online

Graphics & Sound:
It isn't often I get excited about a first-person shooter, especially those set in the World War II era (there are just too many of those), but a new Wolfenstein game, that's another matter altogether. I have to say, I am pretty damn pleased with this latest adventure of Agent B.J. Blazkowicz.

Using a highly customized version of id Software's latest and greatest engine means that this new Wolfenstein game's visuals are rock solid. With the exception of some slight shinyness to all of the models (giving them an almost plastic feel), everyone and everything in the game looks good. While the generic Nazi grunts got to be pretty cookie-cutter after a while (then again, I guess they were ... just like most militaries), the sight of these simple enemies becomes a nice vision when you start encountering more and more of the strange experiments that the Nazis are doing with a strange, new paranormal energy source called Black Sun. Before the game is over, you will face off against large brutes with particle cannons and very few weak spots, super fast enemies that project shields around their compatriots and even little wirey enemies that hunt in packs and tear you to shreds. This with each one looking more gruesome and dangerous than the last.

Audio also seems to be top notch. Not only is the voice acting not phoned in, at least for the NPCs that you will encounter regularly, but everything from the constant background explosions and air-raids going on in the hub world to the gun retorts just sound right. The only minor issue I noticed was the lack of variety in some of the enemies' statements. If you are shooting down a hall of Nazis and you reload, you will almost always hear one of the grunts comment on it. If you play things cool and back away to heal or wait for one of them to peek around a corner, you are almost guaranteed to hear someone say "What's wrong, run out of bullets." While not huge, it is definitely more noticeable as you progress through the game.


Gameplay:
Wolfenstein has B.J. once again taking on hordes of Nazis and their strange paranormal experiments. This time, he is sent into a small town (and its surrounding area) to find and assassinate one Colonel Zetta, who is using a strange, new power source to create a new race of evil minions. It seems Zetta has learned about a force the locals refer to as Black Sun power, which when used with an ancient talisman imbued with various crystals, can grant the wielder a variety of abilities. Naturally, B.J. comes in possession of one of these medallions early in the game, so not only does he end up fighting the Third Reich with a nice assortment of weapons, but a few supernatural abilities as well.

The four abilities the Veil Medallion will allow you to do include everything from slowing down time, creating an energy shield around you to stop projectiles, and even causing your weapons to have a more devastating effect on your enemies (as well as any walls they might be hiding behind). But of course, there is a limited amount of energy in the medallion, and the more powers you have active at the same time, the quicker that energy drains. Of these abilities, my favorite and possibly most used, was called Mire, which slowed down time and allowed me to use B.J.'s sniper rifle to take out enemies without worrying about being gunned down. This ability is also useful when you find yourself on the wrong end of a mounted machine gun or trying to fend off one of the big, bad experiments Wolfenstein throws at you.

Wolfenstein has an open world feel to it. Unfortunately, that world is a cramped, confined small town that is under siege. While not in missions, you will explore Midtown traveling between safe houses, black market dealers and mission starting points in order to buy upgrades to your weapons and Veil powers, open up new areas of Midtown and finally stop Colonel Zetta. But of course, this area is also teeming with enemy soldiers, both normal and monstrous (though the latter only starts appearing as you push through the story missions).

While Wolfenstein's single-player campaign isn't the only thing the game offers, it feels a lot better and has quite a bit more polish to it than its multiplayer games. In this mode, you can choose to be a resistance fighter or a Nazi in 12-player matches. These games allow you to choose between three different classes (each with their own purpose in the fight and a class specific veil power): Soldier, Engineer and Medic. The classes are pretty self-explanatory. Soldiers do the grunt work and the killing, while medics patch them up and engineers make everything from ladders to mounted guns and even give other players ammo packs. Overall, this aspect of the game feels somewhat lacking, especially considering the huge multiplayer following that has been a major part of past games associated with id Software.


Difficulty:
Wolfenstein has several settings that primarily change how much damage you can take before you're down for the count. I played primarily on the Normal setting which provided a nice, solid challenge all the way through, at least for me. Gamers who thrive on FPS' will want to up the difficulty some, while newcomers to the genre, or those not quite so confident in their aiming, should probably knock it down to the easier setting. Either way, there are enough choices in Wolfenstein to find a balance point for pretty much any level of player out there.

But of course, that's all the single-player experience, and the multiplayer matches are all dependent on the other people playing against you. Personally, I'm not good when it comes to Deathmatch or Objective gameplay modes. Call it a lack of practice, a lack of time, or a lack of patience, but it isn't something I do often enough to be good at and stay good at, so I rarely get more than a few kills, and always die way too often. But for those gamers out there who see an FPS title as another arena to go online and dominate, that will obviously be a very different story.


Game Mechanics:
Wolfenstein offers a tried and true method for getting you to replay missions and getting past tough areas of the game, upgrades. As you explore Midtown and the mission locations that surround it, you will be able to pick up three different types of collectibles: Treasure, Intel and Tomes. Treasure is pretty obvious, as you will see bags of money, bars of gold and little statues scattered about the world, and you use these to buy upgrades for your weapons and powers at the black market. Intel is bits of information, typically from some Nazi higher up to some other big wig, and collecting these unlocks new weapons upgrades. These upgrades are everything from larger magazines, to scopes, more powerful bullets (or other types of ammo for the later weapons), and even upgrades to your grenades. The final collectibles are books that unlock new abilities for your veil powers. These will do things like cause a shock wave to throw everything back when you activate the Mire ability, or cause enemies to disintegrate when they touch your shield, as well as increase the amount of energy your medallion can hold.

Wolfenstein offers up a solid FPS experience, and while it's multiplayer aspects might not live up to what most genre-fans would hope for, what it offers offline does more than enough to make up for it. This is a game to pick up if you are even a casual fan of the genre or license.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer