The American Mein Kampf
Although modern shooters are violent, they also like to display excessive seriousness and hide behind a world teeming with realism, war and bloodshed. A solid shooter doesn’t have to explain itself, because it represents the roughest sides of reality. And a realistic shooter is always right, because it determines us to confront our violent nature. Moreover, modern shooters are safe, both for the developers and the consumers themselves, because they offer exactly what’s on demand: a lot of useless… shooting.
It is then of no surprise that the exotic nature and vivacity of shooters fade away under a thick layer of military simulation. Cheesy stories, such as the one in the good ol’ No One Lives Forever, lay forgotten with what’s left of the daring producers.
Similarly to the above-mentioned title, the Wolfenstein franchise itself had a daring, narcotic story. Exploiting the image of an occult Hitler, it rewrote the myth of the American hero, throwing him into a desert of genetically and mystically modified soldiers.
To put it short, Wolfenstein took credit for two equally important facts: firstly, Wolfenstein 3D accustomed us with the idea of the pure dungeon crawler shooter, long before Half-Life emerged with its scripted events. Secondly, Return to Castle Wolfenstein impressed us with a high quality story and a mind-blowing multiplayer that revolutionized the genre at the beginning of the millennium. Shooter fans would have been numb not to wait for the third title in the series with various degrees of enthusiasm.
Eine kleine Amerikaner
And indeed, the new Wolfenstein tries to remain faithful to the formula of its predecessors. Unfortunately, although it tries to improve different aspects that it maintained, it chooses not to assume any risks when it comes to innovation. Thus, for the first time in the history of the series, the American agent who is in the limelight of the Nazi army, the unbreakable B.J. Blazkowicz, is finally something more than a killing machine. He has personal opinions and likes to logically get to certain thoughts and conclusions, which is a big step away from the mute hero of the original. Don’t get too happy though, because his words resemble cheap James Bond pick-up lines most of the time. And this wraps up the whole Wolfenstein universe in a cliché atmosphere. So it goes that B.J. arrives in the German town of Isenstadt, where he realizes he has the sacred duty (and reflexes) to save the locals from the happy-go-lucky Reich.
It sounds more familiar than the stories blooming on Oprah’s couch and, all throughout the narrative, Blazko won’t do much besides painting the bland walls of the town in crimson red. At least the setting is not chosen at random. Rather, Isenstadt tries to play the same role that the labyrinths in Wolfenstein 3D had: generating huge amounts of German-speaking enemies on the fly.
The city is comprised of several zones which are a bit larger than the average Counter-Strike map. These zones can be accessed both through the underground system of canals and through the streets, giving the illusion of an open universe at times. They also shelter a series of secondary missions and the hideouts for the main storyline. But these maps take only several minutes to explore, making the urban landscape very tiring. It feels nothing like Berlin, for example, and killing the same enemies over and over in the zig-zagged alleys will become annoying.
This year’s trend: the Pure Race
The good news is that all important missions take place outside of town, where the locations are really inspired, ranging from ancient ruins and astral gates to the quiet German village. It’s outside of Isenstadt where you’ll discover the grim Nazi experiments, that morph the pure German soldier into the most hideous creature belonging to superior existential planes.
If there is something that manages to impress in Wolfenstein, it’s the variety of supernatural enemies, which are also really tricky to kill. You’ll love the bald, slim Riddick that splits into three Matrix ghosts when bullets hit him. You’ll also remember the particle cannon bearers which have exactly three weak spots and which violently explode before going to a better world. And the menagerie wouldn’t be complete without the monstrous Nazi leaders, ranging from bloody Cyclops to the jaw-dropping insect Queens.
Yet no matter how “cool” and “unbreakable” B.J. is, a serious lot of angry Nazis are sure to become an issue. This is due to the fact that the little animated Germans really communicate. Grenades will literally shower you throughout the game. The walking skeletons will be protecting the lesser creatures with force-shields and you’ll have to eliminate them before being able to wreak havoc.
Your only chance is to be always on the move, as the Vin Diesel-clones are always escorted by dog-like creatures that can sense your hiding place. It gets even better. The AI sometimes cheats to gain the upper hand. So reloading your weapon behind a thick wall is never safe, because the soldiers sense it and tend to assault your static position. How can then the charming Blazkowicz survive?