No one can knock Wolfenstein’s pedigree. The first supernatural shooter, Wolfenstein 3D from id Software, is the unquestioned foundation for the modern first-person shooter. In the years that have passed, however, myriad World War II games have dulled our taste for Nazi slaughters, and haunting thrillers like F.E.A.R. have raised the bar for atmospheric shooters. The latest title from the storied series features many nods to its predecessors, but ultimately clings to convention to a fault.
After successfully dismantling the SS Paranormal Division’s Übersoldaten program in Return to Castle Wolfenstein, special agent B.J. Blazkowicz accepts another mission deep in Nazi territory when intelligence reveals that the SS is harnessing a dark energy called Black Sun to create an army of mutated men with supernatural powers. Upon arriving in the fictional German city of Isenstadt, Blazkowicz joins an underground resistance group called the Kriesau Circle and begins disrupting the latest far-fetched occult-based Nazi scheme to turn the tide of the war.
Isenstadt serves as Blazkowicz’s base of operations, where he can consult with resistance fighters to receive new missions, purchase weapon upgrades on the black market, and search abandoned buildings for intelligence or gold. While the hub serves these practical purposes, the limited Nazi skirmishes in these regions come off as nothing more than minor hindrances between missions, and the barren city streets feel like a wasted opportunity to create an oppressive mood and lend the world some much needed atmosphere. Maybe if there was more activity within the city I could buy the fact that the Nazis can’t find the rebels even though the resistance emblems on the safehouse doors are larger than the signs for local businesses.
B.J. frequently leaves the city limits to infiltrate the Nazi ranks at nearby mines, farms, and castles. On the battlefield, Wolfenstein vets will find comfort in the array of WWII and supernatural weapons, including bolt-action rifles, machine guns, tesla cannons, and weapons that harness the Black Sun energy. The occult medallion in B.J.’s possession also enables him to access The Veil, an alternate dimension that exists between Earth and the Black Sun. Here he can survey the battlefield with a pseudo night vision, deflect bullets with a shield, and pierce through light cover and energy shields with ammunition.
Depsite B.J.’s array of engaging weaponry, the gunfights fall flat thanks to the limiting corridor-based environments and meat grinder AI. The Nazi soldiers feature the decision-making of chess pawns, either poking from cover in predictable fashion or running right into your crosshairs to take the place of a fallen comrade. Even the the stronger Nazi enemies fall prey to poor AI; one supernatural soldier wielding Black Sun powers ran into a nearby fire and killed himself.
In contrast to the single-player campaign, Wolfenstein’s multiplayer demonstrates a degree of evolution with persistent ranks, unlockable weapon upgrades, and well-tuned maps. Unfortunately, the 12-player cap keeps firefights firmly entrenched in mediocrity, since many of the objective-based battles end quickly due to the limited number of soldiers stationed in strategic positions.
Speaking of strategy, Wolfenstein is in dire need of a new one. Grinding through waves of predictable enemies in corridors is no way to pay homage to the franchise’s unquestioned legacy in the genre.