If there is one game that we have to thank for first-person shooters, it is Wolfenstein 3D. Despite being by any modern standards an extremely archaic game, it is the first FPS of any note, and it introduced a lot of the staples of the genre in some form or another, from secret rooms to the never-ending fun of fighting supernatural Nazi creations. While the franchise never quite reached the same popularity as Doom, the original Wolfenstein 3D is still a fondly remembered game. The follow-up, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, might not have been as fondly remembered as its predecessor, but it still offered a fun and interesting gameplay experience. The latest game in the series, the simply titled Wolfenstein, is shaping up to provide more of the same Nazi-killing pulp fiction action as its predecessors, and that looks to be a very good thing.
Players are once again thrust into the shoes of B.J. Blazkowicz, the protagonist of the last two games. As per his usual M.O., Blazkowicz is busy making the Nazis' lives a living hell in an attempt to single-handedly stop their supernatural exploits and plans to use mad science and dark magic to gain a foothold on the allied forces. The Nazis' latest plan involves a mysterious power source called Black Sun, which could grant untold power and must be accessed through something called The Veil. Blazkowicz stumbles upon a mystical artifact connected to The Veil and, unsurprisingly, sets out on a quest to kick the ever-living crap out of the Nazis and stop their evil plan. It's something right out of a classic pulp style novel, and it completely unashamed about being so, which fits right in with the tone set by the previous games.
Wolfenstein is a fairly traditional FPS on the surface, although you've got a few special abilities to spice things up. The biggest of this is Blazkowicz's mystical artifact, which grants him the ability to use The Veil to his advantage, in the form of four exclusive powers: Empower, Mire, Shield and Sight. Empower, allows Blazkowicz to improve the penetrating ability of his weapons so that they go through objects they normally couldn't. Mire slows down time, allowing Blazkowicz to attack enemies with supernatural speed or get through normally dangerous areas unharmed. Shield projects a force field around him which nullifies damage, and Sight allows him to see things that he normally can't, which is great for sneaking up on enemies or finding hidden objects. Each of these powers takes up a certain amount of Blazkowicz's Veil energy bar, so they must be used sparingly. The real fun is that the powers can be upgraded as the game progresses. For example, powering up Shield will allow you to sustain more damage, and there's even a hint that you could upgrade the shield to do damage to anyone who touched it. Upgrading Empower increases the penetrating ability of bullets, allowing you to shoot through thicker materials or walls. It's certainly not the first time that we've seen a protagonist with these abilities, but being able to customize them is a nice touch that isn't very common.
Blazkowicz also has access to a number of weapons, both Allied and Axis. These weapons range from the classic machine guns, pistols and shotguns, to experimental science-fiction tools. For example, you can find a Tesla Cannon, which fires tremendous bolts of electricity to reduce Nazis into charred skeletons. There is also a Particle Cannon, which launches bolts of deadly energy and converts Nazis into piles of glowing green goo. The real fun comes from the fact that, like your Veil powers, you can upgrade your weapons. Throughout the game, the player can find gold, which you can spend at the black market to upgrade your abilities. These upgrades can come in a number of forms, some of which may be classic damage or defense upgrades, and some of which may be useful for certain playing styles. For example, you can purchase silencers for your guns at the market, allowing more stealthy players a chance to get the drop on enemies. One can only imagine the fun that will come from a silenced weapon and the Empower ability.
Of course, the Nazis are not just sitting on their hands while Blazkowicz becomes more powerful. They've been researching the Veil as well and have come up with a number of uses for it. For example, they've armed a group of skilled assassins with Veil technology, which allows the assassins to cloak themselves or teleport around. It's not quite enough to make them a match for the Allies' prime Nazi killer, but it certainly makes them more of a threat. The Nazis have also been undertaking experiments with the Veil, which caused horrible mutations and transformed regular soldiers and scientists into abominations. Perhaps their most dangerous bit of research are the Veil inhibitors, which disable all Veil powers within their radius, including Blazkowicz's. This is symbolized by the entire world becoming black and white, like something out of a period film. Finding and destroying the inhibitors is a bit of a puzzle element to the game, since you need to do so in order to discover hidden areas or ensure that you fight enemies at full power.Wolfenstein doesn't seem to be doing anything particularly new or innovative for the FPS genre. You're killing Nazis with the aid of supernatural powers, which isn't going to stand out particularly much from the many other shooters of similar tone. However, what Raven Software has established is a game that looks rather fun. It has a sense of humor about it that can't be denied, whether it's Blazkowicz's amusing facial expressions during cut scenes or the over-the-top pulp serial way that Nazis turn into charred skeletons when hit with a Tesla Cannon. In its own way, Wolfenstein is just continuing the same ideas set by its predecessors so many years ago. While it may not appeal to those who are looking for something genre-changing in their FPSes, gamers simply looking for a quick and fun title will want to keep their eyes out for Wolfenstein when it hits stores this August.
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