As I sit here trying to type up my thoughts on my jaunt through Wolfenstein, the most recent update to the classic first-person franchise, I can’t remember anything but my frustration with it. I beat the game. I completed a lot of the optional missions. I earned a handful of achievements, even a dumb one for smashing 1,000 destructible objects in the environment. Something compelled me to complete the single-player campaign, but I couldn’t tell you what. Wolfenstein does a few things right, notably offering players an arsenal of excellent weapons to wield, but overall it’s an underwhelming and, at times, an aggravating experience.
Series hero B.J. Blazkowicz is once again tasked with single-handedly foiling yet another Nazi scheme. Somehow or another, B.J. gets his hands on a special medallion that gives him access to a strange, blue-tinted dimension known as the Veil. His handlers at whatever fictional government agency he’s involved with figure out that the Nazis are attempting to harness an energy source found within the blue dimension in order to unleash it (with devastating effect) on ours. B.J. is thus sent to a fictional German city to team up with local resistance fighters to stop the Nazi threat.
Locals serve as mission providers in this dull open-world shooter. You start off any given mission by running to the headquarters of one of the two resistance groups in the city, where you receive an assignment and briefing. From there, you then have to run across the city again to get to the start of the mission. While the formula works alright in other games, it quickly grows tiresome in Wolfenstein. The town is divided up into districts, with enough loading between areas to detract. Also, adding additional segments where we need to kill dozens of Nazis in a game where every mission boils down to simply killing as many Nazis as possible only adds repetition to an already shallow experience.
Killing Nazis, obviously at the heart of the game, teeters between periods of enjoyment, tediousness and annoyance, with all three feelings cropping up in almost every firefight. The game features an inventory of fun weapons like a lightning gun, a flamethrower and a particle cannon that vaporizes your enemies. Stopping a charging enemy in his tracks with a blast of electricity can be fun, but for the most part, I stuck with the standard arsenal of machine guns and rifles found in every other World War II shooter, saving more powerful weapons for boss battles.
There’s a wide variety of enemies to kill, ranging from typical Nazis to Black Sun-enhanced enemies. While the average infantryman is no sweat for B.J., the rest of the enemies range from being bland to aggravating. The most boring enemies do very little damage and require that you make timed shots at specific areas; a particle-gun wielding enemy decked out in full armor has very limited range and requires that you hit three areas of his body to get him to explode, so simply hiding out of range with a sniper rifle takes all the excitement out of taking down one of the most intimidating looking enemies. In the aggravating category falls female Nazi ninjas that sneak up behind B.J. and one-hit kill our hero. While not particularly difficult to take down since they lack armor, you won’t always see them coming and will die unexpectedly.
Then there are the boss battles, which range in difficulty from being very simple affairs to others that are infuriating. Many involve using the amulet to hop into the Veil to find some exploit revealed only in the special dimension. Once the trick is revealed, which takes about, oh, five seconds, the battles end rather quickly. The Veil powers are typical of what you’ve encountered in other FPS – a time slowing mechanic, a power that increases your attack, another serving as a shield. The final battle against series staple Hans Grosse requires players to use all of these powers. It also requires players to muster all of their patience as they work through one frustrating segment after another. While the battle is straightforward, it was made frustrating by the Xbox 360’s clumsy D-Pad, where all of the Veil powers are assigned. I don’t know how many times I mashed that mushy piece of plastic expecting one power to trigger only to find I hit another. Since you’re limited by how long you can use these powers by an energy meter, this can get especially frustrating.
While playing through the game, I couldn’t help but feel like it was constantly taking a step forward and then a step back. The weapons are very good, but combat becomes tedious. The Veil is an interesting concept, but executed poorly since it doesn’t really evolve past abilities that we’ve come to expect from games at this point. Boss battles, a series staple, range from being humdrum to controller-throw inducing. For everything that Wolfenstein does right, it does another thing wrong – many times painfully so. Series veterans will get something out of it thanks to some obligatory references to the past and cameos from series villains, but most will find this a boring, shallow experience.