Easter Eggs: Wolfenstein

By Andrew Ogley,
Welcome to Easter Eggs, where the TA Team shines the spotlight on games that many gamers might have missed, perhaps hidden away behind the millionth copy of Call of Duty or FIFA. Much like a gamer who finds an Easter Egg hidden away in a game and proceeds to trumpet it from the highest hills and forums, the TA Team is going to be featuring these Easter Egg games on the front page for all to see.
Back in 2009, the development team over at Raven released the latest installment of the popular World War II FPS, Wolfenstein. Unfortunately, gamers were already moving on to more modern combat shooters, spearheaded by the Call of Duty franchise, and the WWII genre was seen as passé and its popularity in decline. Despite often being hailed as the franchise that started the FPS genre, and despite being built on the latest idTech 4 engine, Wolfenstein had a lot of hurdles to clear, and didn't quite set the mark at release. However, tucked away beneath what looked like an old-school shooter, and almost as well-hidden as the game's collectible treasure, was a gem of a game that rewarded those players persistent enough to discover it.

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The Basics

The game takes place in 1943, in the middle of WWII. The occult scientists of the Third Reich have discovered another dimension called Black Sun, and a barrier between it and the real world known as the Veil. To enter the Veil, the Nazi occultists have located a special Thule medallion, powered by rare and mysterious Nachtsonne crystals which are being mined in the town of Isenstadt. The player, reprising the role of B.J. Blazkowitz, is tasked to find out what the Nazi powers are doing and prevent whatever nefarious plans they have. Ordinarily, fighting against such supernatural forces would be a one-sided battle. Fortunately, Blazkowitz is given a copy of the medallion by the local resistance which gives him the same powers and allows the player to move through the Veil and see where the dimensions overlap. Throughout the ensuing campaign, the player faces supernatural enemies and occult powers, and is forced to fight back with both conventional weapons and Veil powers.

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The game oozes the familiar Wolfenstein atmosphere, and although time has not been kind to the character models nor the cutscenes, most of the environments in the game still look stunning as the storyline takes the player from the tight corridors of old castles, to sprawling areas of underground facilities, through to a memorable segment on board a Zeppelin.

The Hook

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Initially, the game starts off as a fairly standard, run-of-the-mill WWII shooter. The supernatural elements are introduced slowly, and don't really empower or aid the player as much as you would hope they would. It's very tantalizing and a little frustrating at the start, with the Veil powers that you have being very restricted, and of more use in exploration than for combat. Like the veil powers, the game's exploration also begins to feel a little restricted. The semi-open-world of the town of Isenstadt begins to feel like the hub it is; a means of hiding collectible gold from the player and providing a gateway to the various missions. All-in-all, early on, the game feels withheld, restrained, and restricted, to the extent that for a lot of players it would have been the stumbling block, putting them off the title, and turning them away before they had chance to discover the secret within the game.

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Most games, over the first two-thirds of a campaign, gradually empower the player, increasing skills, weaponry, combat effectiveness, damage ratios, shields, and various other stats, leaving the player feeling almost over-powered during the later stages, almost to the point where that last third is a little anti-climatic and mundane. Whether it was deliberate, or purely accidental, Wolfenstein does it entirely the other way around. They just didn't tell anyone. The game actually gets better the further you get into it.

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The first part of the game may come across as humdrum and a little mundane, there is a moment, an almost imperceptible tipping point, where the game just seems to open the throttle and really hit its stride. The much-vaunted Veil powers are unleashed and suddenly feel so much more effective in combat situations. Combining this with the ever-increasing arsenal and weapon attachments and modifications that almost look steampunk in the schematics, the gameplay suddenly seems to open up as never before.

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Initially, entering the Veil only allows the player to see through walls which allows the discovery of secret routes and doorways which can be used to outflank enemies and reach seemingly impossible places. The same Veil Sight allows the player to see previously invisible ladders, leading the up to hidden treasure, or further routes across rooftops. However, the additional Veil power becomes essential as the powers of your enemies increase as yours do. The game introduces Nazi priests wielding the Dark Sun power to create shields for soldiers. There are stealth soldiers who taunt you whilst rapidly moving invisibly around you. There are others who move at almost imperceptible speeds, appearing as a blur in your vision, and, crossing from the other dimension there are more inhuman monsters to face.

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Whereas the player initially only has the power to enter the Veil, there are three additional powers unlocked later in the game: Mire, Shield, and Empower. Combining these new powers with the modified weapons makes a world of difference to the combat; it feels as though the player has been granted a whole new level of control in the battle arena. Swapping rapidly between powers, the player is able to gain the best strategic position on the battle, slowing down time with Mire, using Shield to lessen the damage taken, and Empower to massively-increase the damage inflicted by your weapons, shooting through the walls and supernatural shields of your Nazi enemies.

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Such is the fun with the Veil powers, that on the occasions when you run into the vicinity of a so-called Veil Inhibitor - a machine that stops you from using your powers - you start to feel vulnerable and under-powered again. As the screen fades to black and white, indicating the presence of suppressor, you start to move more cautiously around the area, trying to find the machine to destroy it before any trouble heads your way.

As you move inevitably towards the final climactic showdown, you begin to realize how much you have become reliant on the Veil and its powers. You also begin to realize how much that latter portion of the game has sucked you in, and how much fun it has been, and ultimately and regrettably how short that same last part feels.

The Achievements

There are 49 achievements, split between 25 for single player and 24 for multiplayer. For the achievement hunters and completionists that's bad news as multiplayer is pretty much dead at this time. In my region, only 184 people had bothered to play in the week preceding this feature.

Single player achievements are generally a mix between story completion, weapons, collectibles, and exploration. There's nothing too difficult or missable, although completing the campaign on Über difficulty could be brutal.

The Stats

At the time of writing, 23,502 tracked members have played the game, but only 687 players completed it fully. However, 8,594 gamers saw the single-player campaign through to the end.

The TA community have given the game a score of 3.1 out of 5, whilst Metacritic has the title rated at 72, with mixed reviews, although the Metacritic user score is a slightly higher 7.6.

The Price

As with all older titles, it is worth shopping around for the best deal, however UK gamers can pick up the title from Amazon UK for £21.95. For our community members in America, there is a slightly better deal at Amazon.com for $9.96

The Verdict

Wolfenstein is a game of paradoxes, and remains so even now. Character models look dated, yet the environments still look good. The gameplay is pretty old-school, yet it incorporates the Veil powers wonderfully. It starts out mediocre, and yet at some point, you find yourself irrevocably drawn in and thoroughly enjoying it. Playing through it recently reminded me of the combat and gameplay from Crysis, switching between the suit powers to gain the upper hand in combat, or Dishonored, combining supernatural powers with weaponry. It was the same feeling with Wolfenstein with the Veil replacing the technology of the nanosuit and Corvo's mystical powers. The final paradox, is that Wolfenstein although dated, could well have been ahead of its time.

The game was far from perfect and does have its faults; the multiplayer is not even worth considering, the AI is not the sharpest, the cutscenes look awful, and the storyline is just a little cliched almost to the point where you could have expected Indiana Jones to pop up. Yet, despite it all, it does have that small gem of gameplay tucked away in it. When you have complete control of both conventional and supernatural weapons, the game becomes a fun and enthralling shooter, worthy of the title it carries. It's only a shame that it took so long to get to that point, and an equal shame that it doesn't last longer.

If there's a game you'd like to see featured in Easter Eggs, be sure to let us know in the comments!

We've got the full list of Wolfenstein achievements - check the list for guides to unlocking them.
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Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.