FBT plays Wolfenstein. No, the other one.
This 2009 Wolf effort has seemingly been scrubbed from existence. Maybe because of rights issues; it was released by Activision who own devs Raven, but the franchise is owned by id who were bought by Bethesda; maybe Bethesda wanted it gone so folks wouldn’t confuse it with the reboot; or maybe it’s just not very good. Either way, it’s been MIA since 2014. But I have a copy I don’t remember playing - time to replay Wolfenstein for the first time. Maybe.
A sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, we’re back in the boots of blonde and blue-eyed BJ, except now he’s a brunette as he’s ‘undercover’. Which lasts roughly 5 seconds before he’s discovered and heroically sinks a Nazi battleship, escaping with a strange medallion. BJ is then sent undercover in a Nazi-controlled mining town where crystals within the medallion are found. Which lasts about 5 seconds before he’s recognised; BJ’s surname is ‘Blast’owitz, he was never going to be a master spy.
Saved by a resistance group, BJ begins doing missions for them while investigating the strange crystals and discovers, via another secret group, that the crystals let the medallion connect to ‘The Black Sun’ alternate universe and focus its energy. BJ must stop the Nazi’s experiments before they weaponise the crystals and use Black Sun to win the war.
The medallion is very handy, granting BJ in-game power-ups; Mire, which slows down time, Shield which reflects attacks and Empower which gives weapons a boost. But the best one, Veil which reveals secrets and lets you pass through walls, is so tightly scripted what seems like a great edge quickly becomes a chore. You can only pass through areas marked with a Sigil and naturally, they’re located only where the game wants you to go. Usually to locked rooms with treasure, or a scripted get-around. Often the only way to proceed is by using Veil so it feels contrived, which makes it less of a cool power-up and more of a lockpick. I wasn’t expecting it to let me leap around the battlefield untethered but – okay, that’s exactly what it should have done.
There’s a strange sense of conflict within Wolf. It looks and feels like a game that has a lot to say but doesn’t, ending up frustratingly unrealised, and it also feels a little old-school. The cut-scenes and plotting jar with the linear, mow-them-all-down tone of the missions, and that’s most evident by the free-roam town we doss about in.
Isenstadt, the town, has two areas each with a resistance base you strike out from. Within those bases you can chat to forgettable characters and pick up missions, several of which can be active at once but the two camps, ‘drive out the Nazis’ and ‘uncover the secrets of the crystals’ don’t converge or conflict so there’s no emotional investment in their plotlines, no final choice for BJ. They don’t even coincide within a location, so Isenstadt ends up like a multiplayer lobby. A really confusing, easy to get lost in lobby with loads of dead-ends, confusing paths and pointless areas. The whole town is one big empty frustration that slows the game to a crawl; I’m too heroic to ask directions, but the marker is no help and neither is the map.
Isenstadt isn’t just a chore to walk through, it’s filled with respawning Nazis. They constantly repopulate, obsessed with finding the world’s worst spy, yet stop shooting if you enter a safe-house then resume when you leave. At the very least we should be either sneaking (like, with a medallion that can let you pass through walls) or killing all witnesses before entering a safe house? At one point we enter a bar and not one Nazi in there reacts – I was literally followed in by Nazis trying to kill me but now they’re all like ‘will ein Pint?’
You can upgrade weapons and the Medallion by using gold and trinkets, but that causes you to waste time searching instead of shooting and Veil just becomes a metal detector. Intel and “Tomes” (from Heretic, why no return to Heretic, Raven?) will unlock some of the upgrades and finding all of them makes upgrades free. I never find them all.
Once you’re finally free of the town, you’re into familiar shooter levels. A hospital, farmlands, mines, a dig, the standard paranormal base filled with freakish experiments, an airfield and a castle (not Wolfenstein), before a zeppelin and a detour into Black Sun which feel very cut-short and reveals nothing about the Medallion. It's just such an 'almost' great game.
Thing is though, it’s a great shooter and loads of fun. The levels, while linear are all epic both to fight through and look at, and once you get your aim in, it settles nicely between modern shooter sensibilities and retro mayhem; there were times when I was just blastowitz’ing everything in sight and loving it. The Nazis are strictly Indiana Jones types and BJ is a bit of an Indy himself, cock-sure and one-liner driven. He can even pick up sledgehammers and axes to throw; that’s never going to get boring. Firefights are given a nice edge by canisters filled with the crystals; shooting them causes Gravity to take a short break which is great, while the medallion’s powers also add levels to the mayhem.
It does show its age occasionally - the Nazis are not as clever as they make out, they’ll yell out my position but not react, shout ‘flank him’ and not move or ‘he’s reloading!’ and not take the opportunity to fire, revealing they’re scripted rather than AI led, including tell-tale signs like sniping one Nazi only for the other to carry on talking like he wasn’t covered in his mate’s brains. But still, I never got bored and they’re varied enough to keep it interesting, going from grunts to SS troops; in one level I sneak into a house at night and get confronted by Nazis in their PJs, which is a different look for the master race.
In later levels we face off against armoured sons-a-bitches, scampering experiments, invisible assassins and a wicked crystal-using Nazi who makes like those twins in the Matrix sequels and is great fun/annoying to fight, especially as they can also pass their powers onto nearby troops. We even have the catsuit-clad female Nazis from Return, which is a welcome sight, as is a Nazi dominatrix complete with whip, while in the Veil there’s odd aphid critters which you can shoot to create electric storms. Pisses them off though, as you’d expect.
All in, it’s a fine shooter, you just get the feeling it was intended to be more; there’s a subplot of not one but two betrayers in Isenstadt and we don’t get involved in that, let alone Black Sun; a big bad from there pops up, makes like the Alien Queen then it’s never mentioned again, and there is a good mini-boss fight where you can only damage them while in the Veil, where it’s revealed they’re actually a monster - but it’s unexplored; is he just an experiment too, or are the Nazi elite actually from another dimension? Wolf just seems headed for something bigger but doesn’t get there, and it’s frustrating because you’re up for it. Maybe it was all being set up for a sequel; if they’d revealed more there might have been one instead of the oh-so-serious second reboot.
Ultimately, Wolf is derivative and half-realised and I can see why it’s forgotten. But I really got into this; Wolf deserved more than just being wiped from alternate history and I won’t forget it this time. I’m brunette BJ all the way. Easily my fave of all the Wolf reboots and it deserves a rediscovery if you can find it. It deserves a Steam sale at least.
2009 | Developer; Raven Software | Publisher; Activision
Platforms; Win, PS3, X360