I was a big fan of the previous Wolfenstein game on the Xbox despite its many bugs, and so when this latest iteration of the franchise dipped below the magic price point in my local trade-in store I snatched it off the shelf with glee.
The quality of the cut scenes is immediately impressive both in terms of graphics and the voice acting. I was also excited by the fact that the game spanned four disks. To me this hinted at either continually good cut scenes or extensive gameplay. I only encountered one glaring bug – a Nazi walking into a wall who could not be shot – but it was okay because he wasn’t shooting at me either. There’s also some floating gun casings in the air every now and again, but you’ll be too busy fighting to worry about this little glitch.
The gameplay is of the simple first person shooter variety with object or character interactions initiated by pressing ‘X’. As with any other FPS there is a little ‘duck shooting’ to be done especially in the opening scenes, but this thankfully does not continue throughout the game. There is also quite a lot of linearity – a sandbox this is not, but all the same there are different ways to tackle each situation you find yourself in after being pushed along the rails.
There is flexibility to be had in dispatching your enemies – smug Nazis who in this alternate future have won WWII and dominate the 1960s – you can sneak up on them or you can go in all guns blazing (and dual wield is an option so you can really go all John Woo on their collective ass). Your style of gameplay is rewarded by earning perks which can help you during the game – for example a quicker reload or a bigger carrying capacity for grenades. One such perk is earned by shooting from cover – leaning around pillars is a useful feature and can be done without the annoying snap-to feature of other games such as Gears of War.
A gameplay tip is to read up on how these perks can be earned from the ‘Perks’ section of the pause menu – i.e. exactly what you need to do should you wish to get them. I left it to chance for most of the game until I started to struggle a bit as things got tougher. The perks are very helpful and also accompanied by Gamerscore so it’s a double bonus.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
Melee combat is a bit repetitive and inadvisable against armoured foes. Satisfying take downs can be initiated on daydreaming enemies, but don’t try this on big-ass robots – for one thing they’re usually very much aware of your presence regardless of how quiet you might have been. It’s called an FPS for a reason so you will find yourself hard pressed to clear a level Splinter Cell style. Also you can’t go hosing down enemies uncontrollably (unless you’re playing on a baby-ass difficulty setting) – the challenge of conserving limited ammunition is a feature and even when the technology changes to a laser you have to be conscious of your battery level and the location of recharge points.
There are some nice interludes from all the carnage every now and again while you search for stuff that will help your resistance buddies. There are also a few boss fights and as you would expect these occur towards the end of the game. I am not a big fan of boss fights but these were okay – there’s a bit of time spent learning the boss’s behaviour in terms of movement and various attacks and then it’s just a case of timing and aiming at the soft bits (usually the head or orifices!). Unlike games such as the Batman series the bosses don’t have to be taken down by a series of button presses – you just tactically shoot the crap out of them.
The variety of incidental enemies is good. The AI is reasonably clever, but not so dumb or clever to be frustrating. Commanders will call for reinforcements over their head mics if you don’t kill them quickly and so spawn points can still be a feature. If you are completely mental you could avoid killing the commanders and shoot and shoot until your heart is full of joy or you’ve run out of ammo.
What makes this game so good is a combination of all of the above and a really strong and atmospheric story with great characters. There’s also lots of supporting material such as letters and newspaper clippings dotted around as well as the Enigma code pick-ups (getting a set gives you the opportunity to unlock more game stuff – much like in Call of Duty).
Two story time lines are available to you based on a decision you make early on. On the Fergus line you get the opportunity to pick up health upgrades and the ability to hotwire locks, on the Wyatt line you get the opportunity to pick up armour upgrades and pick locks. Also there is a resistance member with more scenes depending on your time line – either a Jimi Hendrix type character or a schizophrenic woman called Telka. There are minor path and dialogue changes in the story, but the main story remains the same along with the ending.
So what I’m saying is don’t sweat the decision – it’s almost inconsequential. I followed the Wyatt line and found that I had an annoying low health level but on the flipside there was armour panels lying around (e.g. when you blow up a robot) that I could easily pick up and use.
The only criticisms I can drum up are the inclusion of two rather daft sex scenes and a bit where you escape with a buddy from a prison and everyone is shooting at you and not him – despite the fact he is shooting at them he seems to be surrounded by a Douglas Adams style SEP field. He doesn’t even have a health bar for you to worry about.