Fourteen hours. That’s a videogame completion time alright.
It was rarely a slog like Bioshock Infinite but I can’t say I ever really properly enjoyed my time with it either, too many little niggles between me and the videogame. If it had been released in a different year, sort of when there were lots more FPS being made to go round it’d probably sit easily somewhere around average but we’re not there anymore are we? It’s either free2play multiplayer stuff or straight down the line corridor shooter following someone then watching them open a door for you. It’s not lumpen and dull like Raven’s Wolfenstein and at least lets you play with the toys it has somewhat but never really enough. But y’know, people don’t make many FPS like this anymore so is it an anachronism or a breath of fresh air? Probably depends on your tolerance, right? I’m erring more towards the former and I don’t really want to damn it for that but man, it’s got some videogame problems.
This is a videogame so let’s start off talking about guns because if there’s one thing videogames have, it’s guns.
So! You have dual wields on most of the weapons and that’s OK and a bit exciting after years of being told you can only carry two guns and a hat but you’ve never quite enough ammo to use them for maximum shooting funzies. It’s kinda obvious this is so you have to keep switching guns around but there’s not really that much difference between the guns. It’s like, OK, I’m going to swap this laser that kills a grunt in two shots for a machine gun that kills them in one but all of the guns are going to need me to make multiple shots to kill one of the bullet sponge enemies that are going to crop up in pretty much every shoot out. So dual wield ends up pretty much just something that saves you from watching a slow reload animation quite so often.
Which is good in a way because switching between weapons really is a slow affair and it’s slow because you have to watch this stupid reload animation that seems to be there to convince you that you’re a real person with hands rather than a camera with a gun in a game where you’re charged with moving round a camera and shooting things with a gun. To top it off the dual firing modes of the weapons makes it awkward to know which mode you’re in so you end up switching to the laser cutter which has two modes (one for cutting, one for killing), watching the slow animation of you switching, pressing fire only to have it in cutting not killing mode, changing the mode quickly then being dead in a firefight because the animation is a bit on the slow side. Gnnng.
Enough about guns though, what about the world of Wolfenstein? A videogame isn’t a videogame without some places to videogame in.
I’m not going to say too much because spoilers and all that. What I will say is that in true videogame fashion, there’s a lot of variety in the locations (it has more than six) including some more enjoyably insane than most would bother with but it suffers from that disjointed “we’re going here now” thing that a lot of modern videogames do. Where Valve have worked at pushing things like this whilst making it feel like a journey, here it seems just like someone going “over here now”, “over here”, “underwater bit now” and so on. If you’re not paying attention properly for 5 seconds or whatever, it’s not really clear why you’re there. Except it’s not worth paying that much attention to anyway so probably doesn’t matter, it’s only a videogame after all, right? I definitely know it’s a videogame, it has a water temple.
Thing is, when it works it’s like an almost Rodriguez style “screw it, this is my world and we’re doing this now” and that’s really fantastic but it’s not really that for the most part, it’s just off to shoot the same 3 or 4 bad guys but in different uniforms and with different set dressing and with guns that look slightly different but do the same thing. “Just like Rodriguez” you might argue and I’m not sure I’ve a sound counterargument there so ssshhh, let’s just move on. I think I’m just maybe a little annoyed that it squandered its silliest moment on “doing the same thing again” rather than really running with the silliness of it all. And yeah, it is very silly at times.
Moving around in this silly world can be a right awkward pain though, it’s really easy to get stuck in the scenery. In arenas where you’re tasked with clearing out a load of super soldiers, you can try and zip around the arena but you just sort of end up getting stuck on the corner of a table or a bit of the floor or you make a dart for a door and miss it by an inch and end up stuck to the wall for a second. That’s not good! I know it’s kinda par for the course in an FPS with such detailed environments but maybe there’s an argument here for a bit less clutter or something? Dunno. Coming from a 30 hour binge on Tower Of Guns and man, Wolfenstein feels like a step down. I’m fairly sure that’s not how it should be but hey, videogames.
For bonus points, Wolfenstein is padded out with old school videogame QTE style stuff. Maybe I’ve been fortunate in the games I play but I thought we’d got over the whole “have the player guess what they’re going to do in the next 30 seconds or kill them” but I guess not? Every time I saw a giant mechanical dog after this one particular segment where I had to run away from one and press some buttons in the right order so as not to die I’d just sigh in case the game expected me to instinctively know what sequence of events the designer was tasking me to do without telling me again. And it did a few times, giant mechanical dog or not. Thankfully not too many times but one time for this stuff is enough, right? More than enough, even.
And and and, sorry everyone but the story is a load of gibbering bollocks. The game has nothing to say about anything other than it’s possible to have some sort of moody whispering existential crisis whilst stabbing someone violently in the neck. I don’t expect it to have something to say, dumb action things is fine but it’s doing that thing where it’s all serious face maybe it does have something to say, look here’s some serious music for serious things and that’s kinda weird.
What it does manage is to carry you along with its silliness, with its conviction and how it treats the most ridiculous story beats with a seriousness I couldn’t possibly afford it in return. And it does this really well providing you don’t ever stop and think about it. There’s a few points where it drags but not many. For the most part it carries you from silly to silly fairly skillfully, you’re dropped into a world with half robot nazis and mechanical dogs and it knows not to over explain, these things just are. And that’s great, more like that. I don’t need to know the why, just that they’re there now and this is what’s in front of us.
By the end I was playing the videogame version of Robocop 2 though. No spoilers but yeah.
Touchy bits! I’m sure there’s a whole load of essays to be put down to page on Wolfenstein’s all over the shop tonal thing it’s got going on. I’m not really interested in going too in depth on that now mainly because I’ve just gotten out of bed but also because I’ve already expended enough words on a videogame I’ve just finished.
I was most worried about it including a concentration camp scene in there, y’know, because videogames don’t really have a deft touch or anything for the most part. I’m not really convinced Machine Games entirely dodged the worst of it with the concentration camp scenes either, certainly the introduction to the camp falls into a bit of terror tourism, oh look, fire and bodies and this is how camps work right? But it puts it to one side fast enough for an adventure in Shawshank Prison that it fades fast into a bit of a nothing. But it’s still there and in a game where you’re repeatedly told to “kill ALL the nazis”, it’s still “like a concentration camp but fun” and yeah, I’m reallllly not sure that’s not dodgy ground. But it’s done with fast enough that I kinda get the feeling Machine Games knew it might have been dodgy ground too. Well, until a cutscene later in the game where it’s a bit like “oh, erm, what?” as BJ removes his camp given tattoo in what someone clearly thought was a show of strength, resilience or resistance but really was just a cut scene with someone slicing their arm up on the moon. Videogames and self awareness still not quite managing to be friends there.
So, morning after finishing thinking and it’s not like it’s a bad game. I wouldn’t say “don’t buy this” except to warn about the usual Tech5 on a PC woes that you might have to endure to get it running half decently but I couldn’t give it an unconditional recommendation either. It’s mainly good in a solid “it’s an FPS” sense. It’s nice to have an FPS again that keeps it’s feet on more traditional ground but I’m not going to applaud a game that does it so firmly it repeats a load of problems in games from ten years ago and doesn’t seem to want to fix them.
It’s also stuck in a weird 90′s manly videogame for men thing. It calls you a coward when you try and quit the game because only brave people never turn videogames off. It even does this when you’ve finished the game, killed the bad guys and bravely saved the world. You coward.. Look, everyone who makes videogames, quit that now. Just stop it.
Ultimately, it whiled away 14 hours and I pressed [E] to videogame a lot. When you stand still or have one of the lucky settings or a lucky graphics card it looks astounding, especially whilst pressing [E] to videogame. It has big stompy robots and comic book villains in nazi outfits, a toilet that flushes (press [E]) and some guns you can shoot people in the face with. It has cut scenes, press a button to do stuff ([E]), a lock pick minigame, collectible ammo and armour (press [E] to collect it). It is a videogame.
If this were a review, I’d totally give the game videogame/10 but it’s not so I’ll just leave you with the thought that Wolfenstein is a videogame I played for 14 hours and I didn’t turn it off in anger and sometimes had some fun shooting some people in the face in what could be a *much* better videogame if it stopped doing some awful videogame things we should have buried long ago. And in true videogame fashion, maybe we just need to wait for the sequel to see if that happens because videogames.
Wolfenstein then. Definitely, definitely a videogame. I guess in many ways it’s the best and worst of the FPS genre all at the same time and if nothing else, it’s worth a look for that alone but also, if you like videogames, you’ll probably like Wolfenstein. Sometimes it’s even like a videogame but on acid. It’s a videogame for videogamers. It’s totally and absolutely one of them, for better and for worse.