There is something wonderfully old-school about Wolfenstein, the new Xbox 360 shooter. First, it's a direct sequel to the decade-old PC shooter, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was itself a remake of sorts to the original id Software PC shooter, Castle Wolfenstein. And second, despite the many years between these titles, and some graphical embellishments in each subsequent game, precious little has changed: You're BJ Blazkowicz and your job is to kick some Nazi butt while avoiding (and in this case, taking advantage of), some decidedly non-historical paranormal weapons. What's old is new again.
Even the setup to the game is old-school, with one of those Bink Video trailers describing the Indiana Jones-like exploits of your protagonist in the days leading up to the events of the game. And then the actual game starts and ... wah, wah, waaaaah ... The graphics aren't as nice as those in the trailer. This stands in sharp contrast to most modern shooters, like those in the Call of Duty series, where the game engine itself is so advanced that it's used for the trailers and in-game transitions, creating a more seamless experience.
But you know what? That lack of continuity is actually somewhat comforting to an old-timer like me. I played through virtually every single shooter that came out on the PC over a decade and a half span from about 1992 on, and that includes the entire collection of titles that came out of the id Software/Raven genius farm. And this just feels like an extension of those games, a way to reward old-timers like myself, and not just cash in on a well-known game of the past. (And let's face it, with 10 years between installments, no one can accuse these guys of milking Wolfenstein in any way.)
Die, Nazi scum!
OK, so aside from those few nostalgic people like myself who don't mind a blast from the past, is Wolfenstein a worthy alternative to modern shooters like Call of Duty: World at War?
No, not really.
Who sees the collaborator?
Overall, Wolfenstein is decent at best. The single player campaign bits I've played so far are familiar territory but don't break any particular ground. Compared to its direct predecessor, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which I've been revisiting lately for comparative purposes, there isn't much difference, aside from an annoying jerkiness to the movement. The narrative and gameplay are all very similar, and the new game has better graphics (of course), and more destructible and slightly more open-ended environments, but that's about it. I'm OK with that, because arguably the single player experience wasn't broken to begin with.
It wouldn't be a Wolfenstein game without some crazy paranormal stuff.
Where Wolfenstein really falters is the multiplayer experience. There are only three modes, Team Deathmatch, Stopwatch, and Objective, and you don't choose a game type when you get into the Multiplayer mode but must instead choose from games in a list like you'd see in a PC game from a decade ago. By comparison, Call of Duty: World at War offers several multiplayer modes, as well as co-op play and a unique (and now beloved) Zombie Nazi mode. Furthermore, COD:WW has been updated with three largely excellent map packs over time; I don't see anyone bothering with doing that for Wolfenstein.
Oddly, when playing one of the multiplayer modes, Wolfenstein's graphics change pretty obviously, and not for the better, and the game seems slow and jerky.
Nazis. Graveyard. We're only one step away from Nazi Zombies. I'm just saying.
I'll at least play through the entire single player campaign--hey, I have to pass the time until Modern Warfare 2 ships somehow--but I can't imagine spending any serious time playing this online. (I have COD:WW for that.) And I can't honestly recommend it to anyone, even those who, like me, have a soft spot for World War II-era shooters. On a scale from Hour of Victory (which is worthless) to COD:WW (which is near-perfect), Wolfenstein appears to sit somewhere right in the middle. And in this era of superb console shooters, that, sadly, is just not good enough anymore.
Tip: By the way, if you're looking for a truly good modern Wolfenstein game and you have an iPhone, check out Wolfenstein RPG, which is sort of a turn-based shooter. It's surprisingly playable.
Wolfenstein RPG: Nazi-killing-fun to go.