Nazis and necromancy mix once again in this flawed but fun sequel.
Nevertheless, Wolfenstein is a fun journey that more often than not shies away from that kind of unfair trial and error. The tension of combat culminates with several fantastic boss battles, each of which requires you to think on your toes and utilize Veil powers to the best of your ability. The final boss fight is the finest of them all--the kind of exciting and extended epic conflict that you rarely see in recent shooters. Your struggles against bosses, along with some terrific set piece battles, help energize the more predictable firefights that light up the streets of Isenstadt. In a very early scenario, for example, you'll discover that shooting the containers of blue goo will cause enemies near them to rise into the air as if immune to gravity. You'll fight your way across the room, sending Nazis into the air and filling them with lead as they flail helplessly (it's unclear why they won't use their weapons once airborne, but perhaps it's best not to ask). Other memorable sequences include an escape from an underground base on the brink of destruction and an assault on a sinister stronghold that is replete with Nazi flags fluttering in the wind. Even in the less intriguing battles, soldiers flail around when they catch on fire and headshots result in a gruesome spattering of blood. If you're looking for an exaggerated and occasionally exhilarating spectacle of violence and mysticism, you've come to the right place.
These long, noisy battles make a big impression, yet a number of small flaws eventually add up to make impressions of their own. Wolfenstein displays a noticeable lack of refinement that manifests itself in a number of ways. For example, you'll open a lot of doors, often to be greeted by enemies on the other side. Yet the doors close on their own without any regard for how close you are to them--and they do so very shortly after opened. You'll often have doors shutting themselves in front of you as you shoot through doorways, and you will need to keep opening them again. Or sometimes, they'll get stuck on objects on the other side simply because so many cramped environments are overfilled with physics-enabled junk. This happened to us twice; a grenade proved an effective resolution in one case, while reloading a saved game was the only viable option in another. They way the camera view pitches to the side when reloading is a distracting departure from the genre norm that keeps you from lining up shots as you reload. Checkpoints don't always work as you'd expect them to, and there is no manual save function, so you may or may not return to the most recent checkpoint if you quit. These and other issues may seem modest imperfections, but they have a combined impact--and they accentuate some missing attention to detail that separates good games from great ones.
Upon its release in 2001, Return to Castle Wolfenstein was lauded for its incredible visuals. Wolfenstein didn't take a cue from its predecessor in this regard; your first visual impression won't be a positive one partially because the mediocre cutscenes and rigid character models are prominently displayed front and center. But while the technology isn't striking, the environmental design is terrific, and special effects, such as the electrical streams from your Tesla gun, dramatically light up rooms and corridors. The levels are highly varied; you'll trudge through sewers and battle aboard a colossal zeppelin, but the color palette and general artistic vision remain consistent throughout. The visual effect upon entering The Veil is slick; it's as if the real world is being peeled away to reveal the hidden dimension beneath.
Wolfenstein's class-based online multiplayer was wholly inspired by its predecessor's terrific multiplayer modes. There are three modes total: Team Deathmatch, Objective, and Stopwatch (RTCW's Checkpoint mode was jettisoned). Objective and Stopwatch modes provide the core online entertainment, assigning the resistance team to a series of objectives that the Axis team must thwart. The main difference between these two modes is that in Stopwatch, players take turns on each team to see which can earn the fastest completion times. Regardless of which mode you choose, you'll play as a soldier, a medic, or an ever-helpful engineer. Each class also gets a Veil power of its own, though these don't mirror the campaign's Veil powers. Soldiers perform an explosive Veil strike, medics possess an area-of-effect heal, and engineers can run really fast (which is a bit freaky to watch).
Multiplayer shooters have come a long way since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was released, and even the free RTCW spin-off Enemy Territory dug deeper than Wolfenstein's throwback modes. But with eight solid maps loaded with opportunities for close-quarters firefights and run-and-gun chaos, it's hard not to like the online game. The action is constantly on the move, and the class abilities keep battles dynamic and consistently interesting. And if you don't find the game fun enough to keep you coming back, a system of unlockable upgrades should keep you interested. If you like the core gameplay, you can find greater depth in Quake Wars or more compelling unlockables in Call of Duty 4 and Killzone 2, yet like the campaign, Wolfenstein's multiplayer is packed with action, even if it doesn't represent the pinnacle of the genre.
Wolfenstein proves that even as first-person shooters progress, there is still plenty of room for traditional shooting unhindered by modern frills. Big bosses, crazy weapons, and exciting scripted firefights are the focal point of this nutty tale. It's also an ample one if you take on all the side missions and scour environments for intelligence, hidden tomes, and secret money stashes. Yet while it's pleasingly old-fashioned, the unimpressive AI, aging technology, and general lack of refinement make this sequel feel like a missed opportunity. But there are enough great battles here to keep you entertained, so while Wolfenstein may be the video game equivalent of a B movie, it's the kind of mindless merriment that shooter fans can get behind.