Id Software didn’t develop the latest Wolfenstein, but the sequel to its genre-founding 1991 classic Wolfenstein 3D absolutely captures the meaning of the studio’s name: an impulsive, stimulating shooter full of gory, colorful, mindless gunplay.
Wolfenstein embraces over-the-top action like a summer blockbuster movie. As U.S. super-operative B.J. Blazkowicz, you’re tasked with foiling the Nazis’ latest evil archaeology: They’ve dug up ancient medallions and energy crystals to build some scary sci-fi weaponry. The medallions let their holders access a shadow dimension called the Veil, and when B.J. gets his hands on one, it grants him a set of powers that augment his gunfightin’—slow-mo, a personal shield, enhanced damage, and turquoise-colored “Veil sight” that lets him see in the dark.
Though these Veil abilities operate similarly to BioShock’s plasmids, they aren’t the focus of Wolfenstein. Nor is B.J. himself. Instead, it’s the arsenal: Nazi-melters like the particle cannon, a Ghostbusters-like hose that sprays gallons of disintegrating blue-green energy. Or the Tesla gun, a spinning iron coil that feels like an exposed power transformer and sends deadly jolts through anyone you point it at. Basic firearms like the MP40 and KAR 98 are also available, ready to pop the limbs off endless identical Nazi privates.
Nazi skeleten-men hate lightning. But they love cinnamon.
It’s a credit to Raven’s effects artists that operating these overpowered guns is enough to make the game worth buying, especially since the game tours B.J. through very familiar WWII set pieces: industrial labs, box-filled warehouses, and stone-cobbled streets dotted with exploding gas drums and squads of Hitler’s henchmen on patrol. That’s by-the-numbers stuff for anyone that’s played a shooter set in the ‘40s, but developer Raven Software manages to make each encounter completely entertaining—partly due to its expressive enemies that leap, tumble, and scream “Mein lieben!” at the drop of a shell casing, and partly thanks to the cast of crazy mini bosses the game puts in your path: Nazi dominatrices with laser whips, radioactive skeletons, and teleporting Axis sorcerers.
Where you fight these fascist foes is also Wolfenstein’s biggest surprise: This is not a linear game. The fictional German city of Isenstadt serves as a hub for everything you do; within it, B.J. can take on missions from a resistance faction, buy weapon upgrades at a black market, comb the city for secret passages and gold, or just ambush Nazi patrols and checkpoints (that respawn when you return to Isenstadt after a mission) on a whim.
Expect random run-ins with the worst of Hitler's experiments in Isenstadt as you progress in the game.
It’s by no means an open-world game like Grand Theft Auto, but this tinge of freedom creates a pace that isn’t reliant on checkpoints to bookend the action. And that perfectly suits the nature of the gunplay: spontaneous, unfrustrating, and bloody. While Wolf’s boss battles don’t attempt the same surprising design that Isenstadt does, campy, conventional showdowns against the worst that Nazi science has to offer still suits the game’s arcade feel.
A warning to anyone looking for a meaningful multiplayer mode from Wolfenstein: The online content feels shoehorned compared to the quality of the campaign, bringing in up to 12 players for team-based modes that ape the feel of Call of Duty, but excluding the exotic power weapons that make the single-player so delightful, and noticeably ratcheting down visual effects to support multiplayer’s larger maps.
Hungry Like The
Elegant and destructive weaponry; well-animated enemies; bold use of color and visual effects.
Boy Who Cried
Token multiplayer; pop-corn plot; familiar level design and shooter set pieces.