Far and away the best Wolfenstein yet, far and away the most enjoyable single player shooter since the PS4.
A long time ago in a world without broadband a genre was taking shape, the first person shooter had humble beginnings in the guise of Wolfenstein. Taking the role of super commando BJ Blacowitz the player was given a gaudy castle to infiltrate, using all manner of weapons to despatch all manner of Nazi bad guys and find all manner of secrets.
It might have been ugly by today’s standards, but it had bags of playability and as rose tinted gamers know those bags have survived the passing years. As a franchise the series has popped up regularly in various incarnations, the last it has to be said was both ambitious and perhaps a little disappointing when stacked up against other juggernaut shooters of the time.
This time it’s different.
The game opens in-transit to assault the lair of the evil Deathshead and being stuck inside a plane for the most part it’s pretty much a by the numbers opening. Go here, press this, get knocked over by an explosion, cut something, use turret in a rails section. It does the job, but doesn’t inspire. Even getting to the second section of this level and assaulting the castle still feels a touch over familiar, but once inside it picks up and you realise as a prologue it served the purpose. Then after making a tough choice the game begins for real.
Speaking of choices, many games throw moral decisions at you with big promises, here was choice where I actually laboured over my decision and this was down to that first level. The subtly scripted actions and behaviours around two characters had given me reason to stop and actually think about what I was doing for the first time in a lot of games.
Moving the story along, fourteen years pass while BJ recovers from a catatonic state in an Asylum. During this time the Nazis won the war and the world became a grey place. Things come to a head when an attack on the Asylum wakes BJ up and gets him back in action. From that point on it’s a hell of a rollercoaster.
The setting and world are well crafted, the levels offer a great spread of environments to clear a path through and never feel overly contrived. The game also does its best to keep true to an older, more classic style of shooter and this is one of the reasons I get the warm fuzzies while playing. There are secrets to be found, there are no infinite spawn areas and there is always plenty of ammo to get you through. While there are in-game cinematics they are by no means the overwhelming intrusions that have become the norm for that other shooter and its annual franchise. When they do happen, like running away from a Panzerhound (a cybernetic armoured dog beast the size of a mini-van) they flow through the gameplay well without being a distraction.
Between level cutscenes are impressive in their make-up and the acting, while the writing won’t win any awards it’s really very entertaining. More often than not I have been impressed at the square jawed hero-ness of BJ, there has never been a more stoic and brooding champion for good, besides I’m incredibly jealous of his Matrix style sweater. The hub world, an underground resistance base is fun to explore between levels while you fulfil a few RPG lite fetch quests to flesh out characters and their backstories. There is also a nice easter egg tucked away upstairs where you can play a bout of classic Wolfenstein, for those that aren’t faint of heart.
Graphically the game is mostly gorgeous, apart from the odd texture that lets it down and to honest if I wasn’t poking around for secrets I might not have seen them. As for reused textures, my favourite has to be the flat fountain pen that crops up all over the place. The roster of enemies is plentiful and full of some quite macabre inventions, there are also vehicle sections which are different enough to spice things up without being a purely on rails experience.
Most importantly, how does it play? It plays beautifully, the gun play is loud, gory and satisfying. The weapons really carry some weight, especially when compared to a game like Shadow Fall. Besides there is something unnervingly pleasant about duel-wielding two massive automatic shotguns, tantamount to BJ’s huge biceps and the destruction they can bring about. Weapons can also be upgraded through chests that are dotted around, the ricocheting shotgun shrapnel being a most effective corridor clearer and takes me back to N64 Turok (I think).
Add to this the valuable perk tree that unlocks as you play in various styles and the stealth option in combat which encourage you to be a little sneaky. Just enough to take out Commanders quietly, this gives you the bonus of highlighting any secrets on the map and reduces the amount of troops you have to face off against. Because an alerted Commander is particularly effective at calling in reinforcements and they do get tougher as the game progresses.
Overall Wolfenstein is a gamers game, it delivers the things the genre is best at and thankfully didn’t succumb to tacking on some redundant multiplayer modes. I know I’ll get heaps of replayability, because I want to experience the second timeline and I need to find all the secrets and solve the enigma codes without Google. I look at my unfinished campaigns on the big budget shooters so far this generation and struggle to find the energy to go there, whereas Wolfenstein is concerned we’ll be spending too much time together.