It's been 17-odd years since I last walked the halls of Castle Wolfenstein, battling the Nazis and their plans for world domination via undead horde. I like what they've done with the place.
The next-gen version of the classic first person shooter, simply titled Wolfenstein ($59.99, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows; Raven Software/Activision) returns B.J. Blazkowicz to Germany to once again battle against the Nazi menace. This time around he's infiltrating the German town of Isenstadt, which the Nazis have overrun in search of ancient relics they can use to transform their war machine. Once in town, you meet up with the local freedom fighters, which take on two forms: the conventional Resistance and the mystical Golden Dawn. Each assigns you quests that take you to old mines, hospitals, deserted farms, and other locations, each of which is crawling with Nazis and their inhuman spawn.
As you'd expect, game play involves an assortment of conventional firearms, such as submachine guns, rifles, and rocket launchers. There's also a handful of weird science weapons, like the particle cannon (which disintegrates enemies instantly) and the Tesla gun (which shoots lightning bolts) Of course, they couldn't just leave it with steel and science; the game also has a simple magic system that allows you to pierce the "Veil" between this world in the next, allowing you to gain otherworldy vision and speed, telekinetic shields, supercharged weapons, Matrix-style bullet time combat. It's all upgradeable, allowing you to transform your favorite weapon into something Jayne might drool over.
Wolfenstein uses the Havok engine, and its visuals are on par with this generation of consoles. While I experienced the occasional odd pause before loading an area, during firefights the game ran without screen tearing or lag. The levels themselves were a good mix of urban, rural and subterranean terrain, although I enjoyed the settings outside of the city best. In particular, I loved in particular the country farm with its pumpkins ripe for target practice and sniper-friendly mining complex. The AI, while not brilliant, did decent job of using cover, running from grenades, and attempting the occasional flanking maneuver.
The game's at its best when you're sticking to its single-player roots, and infiltrating German bases and dealing with the horrors within is as fun as it ever was. Unfortunately I can't say the same of multiplayer.
I had nothing but problems with the multiplayer game on Xbox Live, with games not loading, being dropped once they did load, or the multiplayer interface simply hanging. Others have reported similar problems and that's going to be frustrating for anyone who cut their teeth on Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Assuming you can connect, you'll find a 12-player, role-based game (soldier, engineer, medic) and three game modes: team deathmatch (kill everyone), objective (secure a target while the other team defends), and stopwatch (like objective, but with a timer).
Ultimately, if you're looking to stomp Nazis, occasionally break the laws of physics and save the world, Wolfenstein is the game for you. If you're looking killer multiplayer, then get Call of Duty 5 or save your cash for Halo: ODST when it drops later this month.