Wow, this franchise and I go way back. I remember playing it in high school on my 486 I had just gotten my hands on prior to becoming a freshman. It held a special place for me, as I honestly preferred it’s pure and simple flat layout to the levels offered by the shareware version of Doom (I didn’t get that full masterpiece till much later) or the still good but not as good Doom II.
As a result, I have taken the time to get and play each game of the franchise, though this is the first one I actually planned to get my hands on and started playing the week it launched. And now, I put it down, I am both pleased, and rather annoyed at the same time. The game for the most part was very good, if not a masterpiece, but that ending has left a bitter taste in my mouth. Please, come inside and we will talk.
Story: It is one of the last battles of World War II and BJ Blazkowicz is doing what he does best: fighting the Nazis tooth and nail. When we meet up with him, it is during a direct assault on Death’s Head’s castle to end the war! However, things do not go as planned and during the escape from that followed, BJ winds up with a few inches of shrapnel through the skull and a 14 year coma-like state.
When he wakes up, the world is a VERY different place. The Nazis won the war and now rule over the entire world… and as his body is slowly starting to respond to him again, he is forced to watch as a squadron of them systematically kill off the other patients in the asylum he finds himself.
From this point, you will play as BJ as he fights for his life, the life of the nurse who rescued him, and ultimately finds and assists the very last resistance cell in all of Germany to finally fight and take back the country from the 3rd Reich. Along the way, you will get to know your allies and enemies as this installment actually focuses a lot more on plot then previous ones. Prepare for a lot of cutscenes, where most of them are either to show you how BJ is handling the current events, how others react to him, or actually pushing along a human detail of the story. Of course each of the 16 chapters is buffered by a cutscene as well, moving the general plot along and explaining nicely exactly why BJ is where he is. And those locations will vary, from Berlin, to London, to even the moon and back.
Just, don’t expect the end to be very satisfying. I won’t spoil it, but wow did that last scene disappoint me.
Graphics: [System Specs: AMD Phenom II 6X 1100T (6 core) processor running at 3.3 Ghz, 4GB RAM, Nvidia Geforece 760 GTX with 2GB VRAM, and Windows 7]
Wolfenstein is a tough game to rate the graphics of… at all. On the one hand, the game absolutely floored me in it’s opening scenes. The ocean around the plain you were flying in looked spectacular, and the detail in this small 3-4 room map is actually very well done. But on the same token, the game was supposed to be one of the first “next generation” games with “next generation” graphics, and here it utterly fails as I have already seen much better graphics last year, and demanding a lot less for system requirements to do it. And before anyone tells me “don’t compare it to Crysis 3” I kind of have to. Both games are primarily linear shooters doing the same thing graphically.
However, in Wolfenstein’s case, the game was setup with iD Tech 5 engine: the same one that powered their game “Rage” back in the day. This means the game engine was designed around the topography of the map being one huge graphic file, and makes the game exceptionally VRAM hungry. As a result, most graphic cards in use today will be (unlike Crysis 3) taxed for VRAM and not actual processing power, resulting in images that will look good and for most gamers run at a locked 60 FPS (no matter what card you use), but nothing like you expect when you hear the words “Next Gen.”
And if you are already expecting issues from this, let me assure you, they may exist, but they are not NEARLY as bad this time around. While playing this game, the most I found were some bitmaps that were compressed terribly on rare occasion making a wall look god-awful, and a ghost of the pop-in issue “Rage” was known for. If you turn around quickly in a large room, expect the details to generate around you rather then be there. The process should be very quick, but it is noticeable.
Overall, the game does a great job of looking great, however. There is plenty of detail on the enemies (and allies/BJ himself), there are lots of interesting and diverse places to look at, and it all feels cohesive and part of the same world. Just be aware when you play this game, it’s not going to impress you like you expect for the game being based on the version from the new consoles.
Sound: Honestly, this game sounds exactly as you would expect it to. People are played properly, Nazi voices yell commands to each other in German, and your guns all sound just about right to be the standard for the genre. The only real sound effects you can hear stand out are the meaty thud as you take hits from enemy fire and the metal clanking of super soldier boots you will become all too familiar with. The impacts on you are the kind of visceral sound that gets you panicked as it happens repeatedly and in quick succession. They actually manage to add some tension to the scene in their own right, making them absolutely perfect for the game.
And then we can get to the metal clunking. In this game, there are super-soldiers who literally walk around as 8-foot tall metal covered monsters, carrying the energy-based super-powered machine guns you find mounted on the walls from time to time like BJ does an ordinary rifle. And their approach is genuinely a threat as it can take several clips of ammunition to take down one. When you hear these, you will want to find a safe place where you can hide and they wont look (and preferably can not be cut into with your welding torch, as their guns can also punch holes in such cover).
As for the music, I have to admit, it simply works. For the most part, you will not notice it, but for dramatically heroic moments, it brings the tone in perfectly to show you are about to either turn the tide or make that Nazi scum pay. You will get pumped, and you will be ready to kick some ass. Absolutely perfect in effect and timing. Although personally, I’m just glad this game resisted the urge to run with a 1960s soundtrack as much as it did. It might fit a few moments, but it would not be good for the game in general.
Gameplay: The original Wolfenstein 3D was a game from 1992 and one of the first 3D FPS games made. To that end, it established a lot of the standards we still use in the genre today. This Wolfenstein title, while a lot more modern, is very much a celebration of that old school gaming.
You will play from a 1st person perspective as BJ as he destroys Nazis through 16 chapters of gameplay… well, almost 16 chapters. The truth of the matter is that there are a few chapters with no (or very limited) combat as they take place in the resistance base, getting ready for the next mission in the campaign to take back Germany. The result is that while the action is great, the pacing of it is a little bit broken up. For those who like story with their gunning, this will be a great change of pace, though.
While in the middle of that run-and-gun gameplay, the player will notice a lot of old school habits in this title. Gone are the 4-gun limits, as you will get to carry everything you found in the level with you right up until the end… of that level. Sadly, there are many points that will dump whatever you have picked up down to a specific default the next part of the game will have you geared up with. And while they make sense, they will annoy anyone who enjoyed the shooters of old a lot more then the ones of new.
In addition, the health system is an odd hybrid of the two worlds. When you hide behind cover, you will only recover up to 19 of your health, instead of getting to full. You see, your health is divided into 20 point intervals, with 100 being full and 0 being dead. Getting a reprieve will allow you to recover up to 20, 40, 60, 80,or 100 points of health, depending on which one you are under. If you are at 75, you can only get back to 80, where 81 or higher could get full health this way. To ensure full health, you will need to find medpacks or food throughout the game, which will heal you various amounts. You will be unable to store them for later use, however. I personally found this hybrid of system pretty satisfying, although I would have enjoyed going back to the old ways on this one entirely, assuming the game was balanced for it.
And that brings us to the real issue this game has… balance. Let me be up front and blatant. Overall, Wolfenstein is a very easy game. When I finished I had about 20 deaths over about 16 hours (according to Steam) of playing. Most of these deaths were for stupid reasons on my part, as it was really easy to flank and take full advantage of the enemy as I saw fit. However, the game decides to ramp up the difficulty at the end without any real warning with the last 2 bosses (one after another). Suddenly and without any explanation of what you are supposed to do, you will be fighting a robot with only your knife and tesla grenades to stun it, followed quickly by the final boss (which gamers who remember the original game will INSTANTLY recognize in play and visual style) who’s stages include a shield that does not die and following him into an enclosed room that would make Freddy Krugar feel a little warm for the final one on one fight: It effectively becomes 3 phases of boss, two with little to know explanation and a last one with no where to go, no cover worth having, and fire literally everywhere.
Compared to the rest of the game and even the only boss before this where you can not only find, but are encouraged/required to find hidden places to plan your attacks from, this is a complete 180 that really does more to annoy than anything else, leaving a rather unsatisfied final impression… and that’s before we get to the “are you shitting me?” ending.
Still, the boss is not the entire game, and I have to give MachineGames props on what has now become the best cover system I have played. Rather then glue you to the wall in any way, shape, or form, taking cover against the wall will let you simply use your iron-site button to look over or around cover, and your position will be the deciding factor on what you do dynamically. To keep the player in the loop of how this will work, a small white arrow will point the direction you will lean. This leads to a lot of precision and control you do not normally have when you have to rip your character off of a wall you stuck him to, and a lot less awkwardness to get used to compared to holding a button down to stay in cover as I have seen in other system in other games. I really hope this becomes a standard way more games use this, 1st or 3rd person.
Overall, however, this game is a very good game. It is not a great game, and the ending is outright terrible, but for most of the ride, this game is a very satisfying tribute to the old-school shooters we used to play when the genre was in it’s infancy.
Bugs: Here is where things get dicey. For me this game ran without any real issues and very few bugs, but before I go over them, I have to address the sheer rampancy of complaints over the internet. Wolfenstein was NOT written in DirectX, but rather OpenGL. This is a common thing in titles using iD’s engines, so no one should be shocked by the reality. However, due to a very limited support of the interface, this wreaks HAVOC on AMD graphic cards, with many of them having graphical glitches (like wireframes being visible instead of bitmaps and framerates of 1 FPS or less). On the steam page, the game’s only recommended requirement is for AMD users to update to the absolute latest driver. Please, do not consider this a recommendation, but a demand you follow. This game will be unplayable without that.
In addition, I have heard reports that sometimes during installation (or starting the first time, I'm not sure which should do this), the game will fail to create it’s required directories under the Saved Games user folder. This is where the game buffers memory for your video card, so if this does not exist, your game will run like absolute shit. Many people have fixed this issue by going to their Saved Games and creating the “Machinegames/Wolfenstein The New Order” folders themselves.
And finally, as much as you can monitor your graphic card and SEE it’s not being pushed, do NOT push it with this game. As I mentioned in the graphics section of this review, the engine is VERY Video RAM hungry, and the reason you are being capped in your settings is how much of this you have available. Increasing these settings via the custom settings could be exceptionally risky as you hit errors for running out of the RAM built into your video card. You are allowed to do it this way, but you do so at your own risk.
And with that out of the way, I have a few bugs I hit myself, though I somehow thing I caused one in my own frustration:
- The grates are guardians of reality: There are many points in this game where you will be required to cut your way through metal grates, which the game handles very well… provided you leave the edges and don’t remove the tile completely. I found this out as I went out of my way to do just that on one where I was having trouble enlarging the hole enough for BJ to fit through. I cut as close to the edge as I could and saw the whole thing drop out. From that point on, facing that grate caused cracks of ever-changing colors to spawn from it randomly. If you didn’t know any better, you would think my GPU was melting down! In truth, I believe it was just the engine not knowing how to handle where I had suddenly exposed space that didn’t have any bitmaps to cover.
- HE SHOOTS THROUGH WALLS: This is actually a bug I encountered when playing against the last boss in the game. You will do so in an arena of descent size with cover along the edges. However, there is one piece of cover that is glass and will likely be where most of the fight occurs. Most of the time, if he shot his “super shot” at me while behind this wall, it would appear on the other side as expected, and the wall would protect me from the ensuing explosion. However, there were times when somehow, the shot would just appear inside the wall with me, rendering any cover useless. Considering this is one of the places where you can charge your energy weapons, you can imagine how aggravating such a bug can be.
Overall: Wolfenstein is a very good title, but it is not a great one. In almost every way possible, the game does a very good job, but at the same time falls short of what one would want from one of the first true “next generation” titles. Instead, it falls a lot more on the old ways, mixing them with current where possible. But never really standing out as something new and all it’s own. If you are a fan of the franchise, I recommend picking it up when you can, for it will not disappoint (aside from that ending). But if you are just looking for a new FPS game to play, you might want to wait on this one till it’s dropped in price some. It just isn’t special enough to warrant grabbing it while it’s still relatively new on the shelves.