Castle Wolfenstein has kept many secrets. It was the first time gamers heard "achtung!" on their Atari 800s and Commodore 64s. It was also the first time that video games in general gave you a set of papers and a gun and then told you to go "kill some naahzees." Many years later the castle gates would open again and unleash Wolfenstein 3D on the world, ostensibly ushering in the entire era of the first-person shooter. The last incarnation, 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein was well-received and reviewed, spawning the sequel we see today on the current generation of consoles, the aptly titled Wolfenstein from Raven Software and Activision. The underlying battle the allies find themselves in this time is one of sheer timing and placement; WWII-themed shooters are now a dime-a-dozen. Although the pedigree of the Wolfenstein name carries some weight with gamers, is the storyline and gameplay coming out of the castle in 2009 enough to set it apart from the rest of the platoon? Read on, soldier!
First, let's make something clear... this is not a realistically themed WWII epic. Much like Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," Wolfenstein takes liberties with the stories surrounding the third reich, almost turning them into cartoon caricatures of what history portrays them to be. Are they still genocidal maniacs running loose due to a maniacal leader with delusions of Godhood? Oh yes, but this time they are genocidal maniacs who, from 1939-1945, create other-worldly force fields around themselves and tend to fly about on jet packs due to their recently-perfected occult-style conjuring. (Crickets chirp.) Enter our hero, B.J. Blaskowicz, who just never seems to get enough of wiping these SS (Silly Sociopaths) off the face of the earth. One quick mission briefing later, and players are whisked off to the fictional city of Isenstadt (with an I) where the fun begins in an unassuming train station.
As a first-person shooter, Wolfenstein delivers everything you would expect. Players can choose from several realistic weapons of the time period as well as many that fit into the "alternate reality" scenario brought about by Wolfenstein's storyline. As a shooter the game delivers in the fun factor and expectation areas, but as a new Wolfenstein title it falls short in almost every other regard. Graphically, there seems to be some troubles going on in Eastern Europe. If this game was released at the time of its 2001 predecessor, it would have been considered graphically gorgeous, but by today's standards it's just filled with bland textures and stilted animations. Your compatriots in the resistance look and move like they belong on a Dreamcast game, and considering the voice acting plays out like a bunch of actors with one eye on the script and another on their paycheck what you end up with is a game full of friends you couldn't care less about.
In lieu of today's commonly found duck and cover systems, Wolfenstein offers a mystic talisman that affords players to enter an alternate dimension version of their surroundings called "The Veil." This veil opens the door for the use of many occult-ish powers, such as the ability to slow down time, create force fields around yourself and add extra power to your conventional weaponry. In this dimension also resides bizarre creatures that float about and can be used as multi-dimensional mines of sorts, electrocuting any enemy in their vicinity if you manage to shoot one at the proper time. As you might have guessed, the entire story revolved around this talisman and, more importantly, where the Nazis got a hold of it and what they plan to do with it. That pretty much sums up the entire campaign’s storyline... Nazis, magic and guns... oh my!
The sound effects are decently presented, with a special accolade toward the imaginative veil gimmick sounds. The music seems a bit flat and uninspired, with every piece sounding like a maudlin drum march you would play at a soldier's funeral. While it can not be said that anything here is poorly presented, a great deal of it is just this side of poor, making a largely lackluster title overall with nothing to get really excited about.
The game does offer several online modes, taking the queue from its predecessor. The modes offered are Team Deathmatch, Objective and Stopwatch. These modes speak for themselves with Objective being a goal-based matchup and Stopwatch being a best-time-wins type of scenario. Each side gets a particular veil power to spice up the action a bit. PS3 owners have an extra special gripe, as the online multiplayer modes simply do not work very well. Despite a launch-day patch for both versions, lag and jitter are still the order of the day for PS3 users. This makes the whole online experience far more frustrating than fun. Hopefully the developer will address these issues through further patching, but it is likely that interest will die down before they get to it.
Wolfenstein is a mediocre title from a franchise known to be innovative and exceptional in their offerings. While the lack of coherent story and clunky graphics can be overlooked somewhat in favor of even more Nazi killin', the completely broken multiplayer is enough to sour fans from the whole experience. Considering the WWII genre has so many selections to choose from these days, it is a wonder why this one was not given more time or infused with occult powers of unyielding quality. The verdict is in: Wolfenstein deserves to have a swastika carved into its forehead with a buck knife, just so fans will perpetually know which title in the series was a goose-step, er, misstep in quality.