Quickie Impressions: Wolfenstein

By Alec Meer on August 25th, 2009 at 12:56 am.

Just a few thoughts on a few hours of Raven’s latest suckling at id’s IP teat… Lest word hasn’t reached you yet – perhaps unsurprisingly if so, given the dearth of pre-release reviews – BJ Blazkowicz’s latest corridor-based Nazi-gibbing adventure seems disappointingly flat. Given id are now a part of the Bethesda/Zenimax machine, it’s highly unlikely Raven will ever get a crack at the game universes they’ve (for better or worse) helped build, making this something of a sad farewell. At the same time, there’s a relief to knowing that some of the most formative names in PC-based man-shooting are no longer left in the hands of an Activision-owned studio who’ve not truly excelled themselves for years. Hopefully this isn’t Wolfenstein’s last gasp, but from what I’ve played so far it’s not going to be its proudest legacy.

[I’ve not had a dabble in the multiplayer as yet, but I hear particularly bad things about that aspect of the game, which was farmed to another studio still. Anyone got any thoughts on that element?]

The really peculiar thing about Wolfenstein is that, even though it ends up feeling like one one, it’s certainly trying incredibly hard to not be just another desaturated run’n’gun shooter – borrowing (or so it appears to mine cynical eye) so many elements from recent hits that it’s alternately tragic and comic. Gears of War’s roadie run, Resident Evil 4/5’s peculiarly exploitative weapon salesmen, F.E.A.R. et al’s slow-motion, Assassin’s Creed’s semi-open world and side-missions, Half-Life 2’s civilians’ awed reverence of the player character, Call of Duty’s well, everything… “Do you like me now? What about now? What if I do this? Or this? Love meeeeeeeeeeee!

Beneath this cold mountain of blatant influences is just a hollow space – no personality of its own, no central core of either invention or absolute focus on getting the essential formula of shooting from the third-person exactly right. For all its freelyish-roamable hub city and RPG-light upgrade system, it is simply there, an overwhelmingly and depressingly familiar experience. Not only that, but it’s entirely departed from dear old Wolfenstein 3D in everything but name – not silly, not colourful, not broadly satirical about Nazis… Just tiresome gothic/bio-mechanical mysticism in a brown world, with a few gimmicky if near-vital magic powers and a fairly sadistic line in death animations.

The flow of action, meanwhile, is disrupted absurdly by the need/desire to collect gold and paperwork necessary to unlock weapon upgrades. When you’re fighting for your life and the survival of the world against Nazi necromancers, scouring dingy corners for bags of coins is openly ridiculous – worse, the inevitable obsession with unlocking everything means such loot-hunting occupied my thoughts far more than did beating the bad guys.

More pleasingly, some of the arcane weaponary is gleefully unbalanced in the player’s favour – I’ve enjoyed the experimental death-cannon that brutally atomises anyone you point it at, even if it is fundamentally a quicker-firing take on Half-Life 1’s Gluon Gun. I’m only around a quarter or a third of the way into the campaign, and losing interest fast, but if it further escalates in such a manner it’s possible I won’t be entirely contemptous of the thing.

It’s possible to kill a lot of Nazis and demony things very quickly and very bloodily, lending it that superhuman killing machine element that’s not lately been quite as prevalent in the genre as it once was. So if you hanker for some kind of Good Old Days when combat tactics were more or less optional and body counts sky-high, it’s very likely this will please you. Because I’m either incredibly discerning or poisonously elitist, that kind of shtick only works on me when it’s openly playful about it, unfortunately. Perhaps I shouldn’t be passing any kind of judgement yet, but I really can’t deny how dispossessed I’ve been with several hours of the thing so far.

Sure, it’s consistently tolerable in its point, shoot, kill loop rather than ever openly awful, and certainly a step up from the icky Quake IV, but the sad inexplicability of its nothingness nags at me. Why would id or Raven or even Activision be happy to treat one of their famous names so apparently carelessly? The conspiracy theory part of my brain is spasming with insane, unfounded thoughts as to why – id’s impending Bethesda partnership meaning they wanted to wash their hands of this last deal, id throwing out all quality control in the face of another big cheque but minimal elbow grease, Activision too focused on Call of Duty/Modern Warfare to give a hoot, miserable guys at Raven desperately overworked or committing critical suicide in the hope of escape…

Pfft. All of ‘em likely just the conjecture of my paranoid mind. But what I find it impossible to yield to is the knee-jerk accusation from some quarters that ‘Raven are rubbish.’ I suspect there’s far more to it than that, and one day I hope we’ll hear what the often sad 21st century Raven story really was.

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73 Comments »

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  1. neems says:

    “Quake IV was better.”

    Ouch.

  2. Larington says:

    Pretty sure I read something about the Wolfenstein multiplayer team getting sacked around the same time as the games release. Also that the mp team wasn’t in house with the main development team which I suspect could introduce all sorts of communication innefficencies that might explain said mp issues.
    Having seen and very briefly chatted with one of the folks involved in the game on twitter, I’ve managed to get a sense of what its like to have your game reviewed in a not-positive light, its easier to do when you can mentally humanise at least one of the people who worked on said game.

  3. Andy says:

    Just as a point of clarification, Splash Damage weren’t the developers of the original RtCW as suggested above. It was done by Grey Matter who have since become Treyarch and it’s multiplayer was done by Nerve Software (made up of ex-id bods). Splash Damage were tasked with making a full expansion for RtCW and ballsed the AI up sufficiently that the single player component of said expansion was binned and instead Enemy Territory was released as the free multiplayer shootyfest we all know and love.

  4. Carra says:

    I didn’t think much of the previous wolfensteins singleplayer. The multiplayer was however the first game I played untill 4 am. And still one of the best shooters I’ve ever played. It was done by a separate developer, nerve software. Too bad this games multiplayer is not up to point.

    And I wouldn’t be ditching Raven. They gave me the Jedi Acadamy games after all.

    PS: I just see that someone else pointed to Nerve Software. Three cheers for them.

  5. Premium User Badge

    Vandelay says:

    @Gap Gen – The reason the guns in Jedi Knight 2 became useless after you got the lightsaber was because they were completely rubbish guns. Using the stormtrooper’s rifle made it pretty clear why the stormtroopers in the films were such shit shots. The greatest sin of JK2 was the fact that you had to put up with using them for the first five levels. Just to add insult to injury, as soon as you get the lightsaber you are thrown into sniper’s alley Nar Shadaa where the lightsaber isn’t very useful for most of the level. The game doesn’t really get good until the second half and reaches very good when you get into some lightsaber duels.

    Personally, that is why I, controversially, preferred Jedi Academy. You never really needed to use the still hopeless weapons and could stick with the lightsaber throughout. There was also many more lightsaber wielding opponents.

    Having said that, Jedi Knight and Mysterious of the Sith are still the pinnacle of the series for the reason Dracko gave earlier. I remember spending a long time trying to defeat the boss to get the dark side ending and it was immensely satisfying to achieve it.

  6. SuperNashwan says:

    I found this breezy fun, not innovative in the slightest, but I couldn’t really say in anything that’s been borrowed that the execution was lacking. There’s way too much talking at the start, but once you’re over that and a few missions deep it’s a solid old school FPS. It’s been so long since I’ve played something this traditional that I quite enjoyed searching around for the gold and all that, it’s a welcome relief from being ferried from set piece to set piece with your eyes barely open.

  7. l1ddl3monkey says:

    Going to buy it anyway, need to give it a try.

  8. Senethro says:

    Andy: Do you want to cite a source for your claims about Splash Damage or are you going to hide behind internet anonymity? Because it was my understanding that SD weren’t developing the sinple player component of the commercial Wolf:ET expansion.

  9. Jim Rossignol says:

    Splash Damage did not develop the ET single player, despite pitching for it. The single player that was developed (by another company) was canned before Activision finally decided to release ET as a free multiplayer game.

  10. Azazel says:

    Am I the only one who doesn’t understand the reverence in which Jedi Outcast is held?

    If you’re talking about multiplayer you might have a point, but the single player game was just full of frustrating insta-death irritation, alleviated slightly by some fun lightsabre fights.

  11. abhishek says:

    Howard : If you have an nvidia card, you can force antialiasing through nhancer. You need to enable the Stalker compatibility mode (in nhancer, it’s 0000F0C1) and then force SSAA. Some people say it leads to a dip in performance but I didn’t notice it and it looks much better. If you use ATI, you’re shit out of luck.

    The lack of ammo is correct though. Most of the game is spent with the MP40, MP43 and the sniper rifle. In fact, you can probably finish the entire game with those weapons only. I’m a couple of levels from the end and I can only think of one instance where I’ve had to use a supernatural weapon. It’s a shame though, because they are quite fun to use.

    I’m curious why everyone seems to be so obsessed about gathering all the gold and intel though. So far I’ve only collected between 20-30% of both and I’m doing ok. The intel just fleshes out the story, it’s not a requirement when you consider that it’s a B-grade story in the first place. As for gold, you don’t need to upgrade all the weapons. Upgrading the main 3 and a couple of veil powers is enough to get you through the game. And you can even sell the upgrades you bought to get money back for others. I don’t actively look for gold but I pick up whatever I come across and it seems to be ok so far. If you think picking up gold while playing is ridiculous, well, it is. It’s also classic Wolfenstein. When we played Wolf 3D, we used to keep ‘using’ walls all the time to look for secret rooms. You can’t complain when a game is true to the series… It has always been like that.

  12. Doctor Doc says:

    Raven did make SoF but they also made SoF II. Nuff said.

  13. Andy says:

    There was no animosity towards Splash in that comment, I only meant it as a means of indicating that Splash damage aren’t exactly known for their single player exploits and the fact about the single player component being dropped for bad AI was dredged up from the dark depths of 7-8 year old memory (and I’m sure I read it in PCGamer).
    Still a quick hunt around on google and I find this:
    http://en.allexperts.com/e/r/re/return_to_castle_wolfenstein.htm
    which supports my position a little but I am in no way 100% about it and I’d be more inclined to believe Jim!

  14. cannon fodder says:

    I’ve given up on this game in disgust:

    Installed it.

    Loaded up for the first time and adjusted settings including setting resolution to the same as my desktop (1280×1024 @85hz driven by a radeon 4850). Played for a couple of hours then turned off computer as I was going out.

    Came back to it and everytime I tried to load it from desktop It crashed (rebooted) my PC. Consulted Ravens tech support forums and f***ed about with command line parameters until I got into it (no .cfg file to edit that I could find with or without the internets help).

    Played for another couple of hours and actually enjoying things after I upgraded my trusty KAR98 (when fully upgraded its a railgun xD). Unfortunately the game then decieded to crash corrupting the savegame file as it went. As it’s waypoint based (trans: consolified piece of s***) I couldn’t go back to a previous save, so faced with playing through the same 4 hours again: I uninstalled it and doubt I’ll bother having anything to do with it again.

    Strikes me as poor judgement on Id softwares part to have thier logo first on the intro, because lots of people will assume that they’re responsible for this game being so frustrating.

  15. Andy says:

    Just a final little comment about the whole Splash Damage thing, this Gamespy article:
    http://uk.pc.gamespy.com/pc/return-to-castle-wolfenstein-enemy-territory/5520p2.html
    while citing Splash as the developers (in the technical blurb at the top of the article) goes on to mention that many other companies were involved and in fact this article from gamespot:
    http://uk.gamespot.com/pc/action/returntocastlewet/news.html?sid=2910749&mode=news
    states that the single player part was developed by a company called Mad Doc and was cancelled due to bad AI. You were quite right Senethro, apologies.

  16. Ian says:

    I liked Quake IV. :-(

  17. Xaxis says:

    I thought Wolf was far worse than Quake4, at least Q4 had some suspense/atmosphere, with some nicely cinematic moments later on. Wolfenstein has nothing. It never makes you jump, never impresses, it’s just about as bland and generic as you can get. The fantasy/occult theme falls flat on it’s face from the get-go, becoming laughably bad as you face a constant stream of glowing fail later on. They couldn’t even copy STALKER’s snork’s right…

  18. tapanister says:

    “t the same time, there’s a relief to knowing that some of the most formative names in PC-based man-shooting are no longer left in the hands of an Activision-owned studio who’ve not truly excelled themselves for years”

    I agree with this part, and completely disagree with the “sad farewell”. After Quake IV, I say good riddance, Raven sucks.

  19. Hunam says:

    I completed this on the PC yesterday and I really enjoyed the single player. It’s exciting and is true to it’s old school audience without neglecting the way shooters have come along. It’s actually fucking nice to have something that isn’t some hard core shooter these day to be fair. The multiplayer is a disaster though.

  20. We Fly Spitfires - MMORPG Blog says:

    Yeah I heard Wolfenstein was pretty “meh” so I’ve decided to pass on it and go for Arkham Asylum instead.

  21. Melf_Himself says:

    Scouring dingy corners for gold coins for weapon upgrades is not believable… so what? Is eating a leaf that gives you a racoon’s tail that allows you to fly believable? Etc, etc… games don’t need to be believable, they need to be fun. If the gameplay itself isn’t fun, well, there’s a problem.

  22. ripclaw says:

    What bugs me about the game is its mediocracy. The whole Wolfenstein IP is a nice backdrop, but somehow it can’t evoke the feel of the old games. Also, the steering makes you feel immediately that it was meant for the console. Anyone else noticed that left/right is faster than up/down? I find that annoying. And “Aim Assist” turned on by default? Please. But what really got me right from the start was the appaling level of attention for detail. And by that I don’t mean the often dodgy textures, but the fact that right from the start the German posters have massive spelling mistakes. “Fiend” instead of “Feind”. “Befolgen Sie!” which makes no sense at all. Another treat: the resistance stocks Deutschmarks. Quite forwardthinking of them, seeing how that was only introduced in 1948, AFTER the war was over.

  23. Biz says:

    Wolfenstein sequel has finally arrived. The good old formula with WWI and occult is still working. It was worth to wait so long.