I don't know if you've noticed but FPS's have gone all clever on us lately. Over the last couple of years we've been inundated with games claiming all kinds of shiny new features. We've had conscience pricking moral choices, all kinds of time control shenanigans, super duper building destruction, sticky or non sticky cover systems and even RPG elements all making appearances in a genre that used to simply be all about headshots and frag counts. That's not a criticism by any means, things move on and we don't want to stand in the way of progress after all. However, sometimes it'd be nice to play an FPS where you can disengage your brain a bit and shoot everything that moves, just like you used to.
Thankfully it seems those simple prayers have now been answered, step forward the new Wolfenstein. Raven's belated sequel to 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein cheerily sticks its middle finger up at almost all recent FPS developments in favour of a more traditional approach and, to be honest, proves all the more enjoyable because of it.
Plot wise this is pure B-movie gold, we've got Nazis dabbling in black magic, Nazis possessed by demonic forces, powerful artefacts that grant the holder special powers and an all American hero. Throw in German accents that appear to have come straight from the 'Allo 'Allo school of dramatic acting and you've got a WWII shooter that's never in any danger of being confused for Call of Duty or Medal of Honour.
Once again taking control of B.J. Blaskowicz the game kicks off with the discovery that the Nazis are trying to harness the power of a mystical force called the Black Sun to help turn the tide of the war. Allied command send Blaskowicz to Isenstadt to help local resistance groups investigate and ultimately scupper the supernatural plans of those pesky Nazis. So begins an all action adventure that takes in city streets, archaeological digs, airfields, country farms and in one memorable moment a spectacular zeppelin before it reaches its conclusion.
One concession to modern gaming ideals Raven have made is to present a small area of Isenstadt as an open world style hub, a place that you'll continually return to after missions to buy and upgrade equipment, talk to NPCs and pick up new missions. It's not a huge chunk of city by any means but it serves its purpose well and gives a welcome illusion of freedom in an otherwise firmly linier game. Interestingly this hub area isn't the safe haven you may be expecting it to be and you'll regularly come up against Nazi patrols as you dart around between safe houses and arms shops. This continual element of danger adds nicely to the sense that even here, on what is meant to be your own turf, you're very obviously part of a resistance movement that's firmly underground.
Gameplay itself is very much your traditional FPS fair, largely linear levels see you wading through wave after wave of enemies towards a goal of some sort before often fighting your way back out again. That's not to say it isn't fun, because it is, it's a lot of fun in fact. Being a one man tide of death against enemies that, while not completely stupid, aren't exactly engaging in a delicate game of cat and mouse is refreshingly enjoyable. Initially you'll get to dispatch these enemies with a selection of realistic WWII weapons including the likes of the MP40 SMG and the Flammenwerfer. All are well implemented with the all important 'feel' factor perfectly judged meaning even the most basic gun feels like it can always be of use. As the game goes on you'll gradually come across weapons pulled from an alternate reality called The Veil. Here Raven have let their imaginations run wild making these weapons instantly more fun. The Tesla gun, which gives off multi directional streams of deadly electricity and the heavy duty Leichenfaust 44 that completely vaporises enemies are two of the most entertaining to use. As you play you'll earn, and find, money which can be used to upgrade the abilities of your weapons, there's nothing wonderfully new here but it's nice to be able to increase damage none the less.
Wolfenstein is very obviously one of those FPS titles where the world revolves firmly around you and your actions. Enemies forever lie in wait around corners till you wander within range, set pieces are triggered by you walking over invisible hard coded trip-wires and any allies you may have on a battlefield will always require you to do the job for them no matter how long you hide in a corner. It's one of those things that you'll only notice when you play through a section more than once and in a weird way it's even comforting at times, especially when the going gets tough and you realise how nice it is to be able to rely on Mr Nazi36 appearing from behind the same door every time you walk into a room.
Of course the real ace in Wolfenstein's hand in the use of The Veil, the parallel dimension I mentioned earlier. Once you've unlocked the ability to access it, something which happens near the beginning of the game you'll be pleased to know, you can drop in and out of it at will with the touch of a button. Once you're in the shimmering alternate dimension you'll find you're not only able to move faster but enemies glow making them far easier to spot. There are also strange floating creatures called Geists bobbing around who explode with a blast of energy that can shock and kill any nearby enemies.