REVIEW: Wolfenstein, a second opinion and full review
Now that I've got Wolfenstein running after fixing what turned out to be a simple problem, it's probably due a fair review now, having been played for a good few hours.
WARNING: Photosensitivity. Be aware that Wolf contains a numbers scenes and sequences with flashing lights that may induce a photosensitive reaction.
General observations ^
First it's probably best to clear up some misconceptions that seem to have built up surrounding what 'type' of game Wolfenstein is. Hands down it's a First Person Shooter, so it keeps in place all that 'history' the franchise has built up over the years, there's no getting away from the fact that it is an FPS at heart. However, where the game deviates from being a straight FPS is in its story-line, its not necessarily linear, i.e. you don't progress from mission "A" to mission "B", to mission "C" and so on, and it's here that the RPG elements come into play.
Your base of operations, as a player, is the centre of town in Isenstadt. From there you have the ability to 'explore' various streets, back-alleys and sewers all the while meeting up with allies, acquiring missions, finding treasures, or coming face to face with various enemies which usually have to be dispatched so you can get to mission rendezvous points. So what you eventually end up with as you progress through Wolfenstein, is a list of missions in your play-book, each of which can be selected and done as and when you feel like doing them. That's very 'RPG' in nature and makes the overall game play seem more natural and involving, it might take some getting used to if you're expecting the linear game play of a traditional FPS, but this is Wolfenstein and as a mechanism that immerses you in the world more thoroughly, it works. It's the difference between being led by the hand through the game, or exploring and making up the game play as you go.
Part of Wolfenstein central hub level where missions can be collected and the world explored
Wolfenstein interface keeps the 'diary' of Return to Castle Wolfenstein and upgrades it with more game related information; maps, objectives, intel, upgrades and statistics
Wolfenstein graphics ^
Graphically, Raven appear to have done something interesting with Wolfenstein on PC that not many people seem to have noticed or commented on. It may very well be an accidental hangover from the porting the PC version from console but, Wolf uses the same graphical setting no matter what or how you play it, it fundamentally looks the same on whatever computer its played on; the only qualitative difference between 'high' and 'low' is really in the details; better lighting, shadows, texture details, specular (shininess) and so on. The first image below is the game running in 'low', in effect it just looks quite flat. The second is with all the extras turned on which gives the games appearance much more depth.
Wolfenstein running on 'low' settings
Wolfenstein running on 'high' with all graphics options turned 'on'
Wolfenstein running in 'high' graphic mode
Running in 'low' quality settings which turns off shadows and other dynamic content
Make no mistake though, Wolfenstein will tax your computers graphics card and CPU, for myself I have to play the game at 640x480 resolution (Wolfenstein is physically running at 640x400 in 16:9 wide screen) in order to get, keep and maintain a solid 60 FPS at all times, something you really need as it makes all the difference in terms of how smooth the game handles when there's a lot of action on screen. For reference, I'm playing Wolfenstein on a Fujitsu-Siemens Amilo Xa 2528 17" laptop/notebook with an AMD Turion 64 dual core CPU (TL-60, 2GHz per core?), a 256MB nVidia GeForce 8600M GS with 4GB of main system ram (although 1GB is basically used as shared memory on the GFX) from a 250GB HD, it's about 'mid' range as best I can ascertain, so if you're wanting to bump up your screen resolution you'll likely need to have a relatively decent spec'd PC. In terms of graphics tweaks, there aren't that many available via the main in-game menu so if you're wanting to do that you'll need to be editing your Wolf2.cfg file, be warned though, you might crash Wolfenstein doing this and it appears that as of Patch 1.1, very few of the standard Doom 3 CVAR don't appear to be functional - hopefully this will be fixed in later patches for PC (assuming we get them after Raven recently announced letting the dev team go).
Wolfenstein's general game play ^
As noted above, Wolfenstein revolves around a centralised 'hub' where missions that are picked up and started, usually by going to some intermediate rendezvous to then launch the mission level. This hub is where the central story tends to play out with quests being done usually at the behest of characters you meet as you explore the hub area. Due to the RPG nature of this aspect of the game there's no real locked progressive order to the missions so they can be done as you find them, as they appear in your quest log, or indeed any order you want. They can also be replayed, usually you'll find you're doing this to pick up the treasure or unlocks missed the first time round and some levels do have quite a few of them. There's a much higher replay value with this type of story/game play presentation than would otherwise be available with a linear one.
Although there are a good few weapons available in Wolfenstein you'll likely find yourself tending to stick with one or two favourites, so although you have access to upgrades via various black market sellers dotted around Isaanstat, you'll probably find yourself improving on the ones most frequently used, especially since there isn't enough treasure available to pay for every upgrade which does then forces you to think about what you do here rather than allowing unfettered boosting of everything. Be warned though, you can only upgrade when in the hub and not whilst on missions.
One of Wolfenstein's Black Market sellers
Weapons upgrades purchased from the Black Market, it can get expensive.
Speaking of which, the missions themselves are, as you'd expect from an FPS, pretty much find 'X', destroy 'Y', make it back alive. The locations vary quite a bit and there are some unexpected surprises with regards to that, it's worth taking your time and looking around to take in some of the more dramatic ones, hard to believe Wolfenstein is using the same core engine technology that Doom 3 used. Some of the missions are quite long so be warned, don't start playing late at night else you'll finish a level as the sun comes up. That slight caveat of not being able to create your own save points mentioned in the previous "First Impressions" post isn't as big an issue as expected once you actually get into the game, Raven thought to make sure the game-play gets saved often, usually as you enter or exit from some quest area or in a quiet spot during a mission, and not always right before some action.
Hidden lair of the Golden Dawn where you'll meet a number of characters and get mission quests
The 'farm' mission, Wolfenstein
One of many secret underground 'lairs'
Sneak around Isaanstat via the sewers, but don't think there's nothing down here though.
Wolfenstein-ian Conclusions ^
Although the game is essentially an FPS, it doe takes some features from the RPG genre and put them to use, they're not overly distracting or detracting from the overall feel and play of Wolfenstein, so, even if you're not too keen on the RPG elements of story/mission management you'll still enjoy the rest. If, on the other hand, you're looking for something a little different than the usual straight-shooting FPS, then Wolfenstein will also satisfy. Make no mistake though, Raven haven't developed a game that's simply a smorgasbord of other genres types, enhancing an FPS with RPG elements makes Wolfenstein a much more interesting prospect to play through at your own pace, it makes you feel as though you are in control of the stories development; you meet characters in random order and get asked ask to do things, you decided "meh, not yet" if you want and go off and do something else. So, bottom line... should you buy Wolfenstein? Short answer to that would be "yes", the long would also be "yes", the single player experience is by far the best game so far on idtech 4, Raven should be proud of what they achieved with Wolfenstein.
On a side note, I hope Raven and Activision do decide to release the tools for Wolfenstein's single player because the way it's set up right now could be used as a basis for some interesting mods from the community.