Tis the season to be killing Nazis in alternate history epics. Or at least in my life it is. First there was the history-bending, tense-monologue laden glory of Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds. Now there's Wolfenstein, one of the oldest game franchises around and the mirror image of Tarantino's talky WW2 pic. Here we have action, action, action, as befits the latest iteration of the very first First Person Shooter ever. There's a similar story too a tale of a Jewish American soldier fighting behind Nazi lines, only instead of fancy-pants allegories about the power of film, Wolfenstein offers occult powers, particle cannons, and other-dimensional monsters. That's the beauty of our modern media marketplace Nazi-killing options are more diverse than ever.
The new version of Wolfenstein has flown a little under the radar. It feels like EA is kind of just shoving it out the door now that they no longer have an ongoing distribution deal with Id Software. Likewise it's sad to say that the game is getting more negative reviews than I think it warrants because of its lackluster multi-player. There's some expectation of good multi-player from Wolfenstein since Return to Castle Wolfenstein had what was, for the time, an innovative and engrossing class-based on-line system that was more fun than the single player. Here matters are reversed the single player is well made, engrossing, and a lot of fun. The on-line... I'm sorry, but typing these words is the last thought I'll ever give it in my life.
The campaign mode is familiar enough to any first person shooter aficionado. Like most Id games, you can carry all the different weapons you gather over the course of the game, from sub-machine guns to Tesla Cannons, and each offers just enough unique combat experience that you'll enjoy using them all at one point or another. The shooting is fast and furious, with Nazi soldiers going down by the squad. Additionally, you get a magic medallion that unlocks special Veil powers over the course of the game. I'm a sucker for these kinds of things in shooters. You start with the now almost standard slow down time mode (called Mire), but I seldom used that once I got the other two. The Shield creates a force field that will bounces bullets back to kill the shooter with them. Empower not only increases damage, but lets you shoot your enemies through cover. Pegging a Nazi while he cowers behind a wall with a sniper rifle? That's entertainment!
Wolfenstein also innovates when it comes to arranging the content. Your mission takes you to the fictional German city of Isenstadt, where you hook up with resistance fighters to take on the Nazi occultists who're doing crazy experiments to develop some sort of super weapon. The city itself is an open world, where in order to get to missions and contacts you move through the streets either avoiding or eliminating Nazi patrols. Missions then take you to a nice variety of levels both inside and outside the city, in one case to a farm, in another to an old creepy hospital, in another out to a giant castle. Eventually you end up aboard a super-Zeppelin. These changes of venue break up the setting well and I found all of them rewarding and fun. There are a few annoying as hell boss fights, but only a few. For the most part the game offers exactly what I want from a shooter: lots of tactical gun fights where I balance my ammo and weapons and skills against the oncoming hordes. It perfectly hits the sweet spot where I'm a bad ass, but not so bad ass that I won't die if I do something stupid. And when I do get cocky or careless, the last save point was only a minute or so away, at most. Plus melting Nazis with a flamethrower is always fun.
Wolfenstein fans, shooter fans, and Nazi killer fans will all find plenty to enjoy in this newest game. A good, enjoyable 10 hours of game play awaits you, more if you're a masochist who likes crappy on-line multi-player. It's available now for $60 on X-Box 360 and Playstation 3 and for $50 on PC.