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01 Oct 2009

IT’S 1943. The tide of war is turning against Nazi Germany. Undeterred, the Third Reich seeks to harness the power of the occult to achieve victory over the Allies. Nazi scientists are experimenting with the mysterious trans-dimensional energy of the Black Sun. Their goal is to fulfil Hitler’s dream and create an unstoppable army of supermen. Activision’s new paranormal WW2 shooter, Wolfenstein, has a pedigree that is akin to gaming royalty.

In the early ‘90s Wolfenstein 3D revolutionised the way computer games were produced, popularising the first-person shooter genre and turning it into the staple gaming fodder it is today. The well-received follow up, Return to Castle Wolfenstein saw release in 2001, which again pushed the genre to new heights.

The series draws from the intriguing suggestion that the Nazis were investigating ways of using the supernatural to aid them in their war against the Allies. In the Wolfenstein universe, the Nazis have somewhat succeeded in this aim, creating monstrous mutants and hyper-advanced weaponry. Wolfenstein tosses historical accuracy aside, preferring to give you a particle cannon over a bolt-action rifle to take out the acrobatic, flame-throwing, leather-clad Nazi femme-fatales.

Call of Duty, this is not. Wolfenstein is pure B-movie escapism. The sci-fi /paranormal take on the WW2 setting makes for a refreshing change to an overused historical gaming era.

All-American hero, William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, returns to take us deep behind enemy lines on a daring mission to stop the Nazi scientists from unleashing Armageddon. With the help of the resistance, B.J. must overcome the fruits of the Nazis’ forbidden labour, including the hideous mutants known as The Altered, armoured Veil Heavy Troopers, as well the reanimated corpses of The Despoiled. On this outing B.J. has some tricks of his own in the form of a special medallion that when charged gives him access to The Veil; a sort of parallel plane, green in colour, populated by weird highly explosive blue puffer-fish thingies.

In The Veil B.J. has access to special abilities that enable him to slow time, move super-fast, stop bullets and increase his weapon damage. There are also hidden routes that can only be accessed whilst in The Veil.

But while Wolfenstein has all the hallmarks of a great game, it plays remarkably blandly with only the odd glimmer of excellence. Wolfenstein uses the same, albeit modified, visual technology as 2004’s Doom 3, and unfortunately it shows.

The game looks OK, but that’s it. Some of the environments are impressively huge and well detailed, but it’s not enough. Although obviously a marked improvement on the 2001 game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, the graphics just don’t cut it for a late 2009 video game.

It's not that Wolfenstein is a bad game; it’s just that the competition does it so much better. Don’t get me wrong – I had a blast playing the game, but personally I’d have had a lot more fun playing through Call of Duty: World at War again.

Where Wolfenstein really lets itself down is in the multiplayer game. It feels so clumsy and tacked on that I’ve no idea why they wasted their time putting it in. It’s like a multiplayer game of Quake circa 1996, with everybody jumping around like bullet-dodging kangaroos. A few Veil special abilities spice up things up a bit, but not enough to make it interesting.

With brilliant online multiplayer modes in games like Call of Duty 4 and Killzone 2 available to us, we should expect much more than Wolfenstein’s abysmal offering.

Wolfenstein is a first person shooter by the numbers, feeling more like a contractual obligation rather than the careful updating of a classic. Ordinarily, I’d recommend this as a casual diversion if you had money to burn, but with the Christmas rush of ‘triple A’ titles on the horizon, your money ought to stay in your pocket for now.