If Halo taught us one thing, it's that the Xbox is actually a viable platform for FPS games, since then there have been many attempts to wrest the crown of glory from one of the best console FPS of all time. Nothing really came close, until of course, Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War, which can be played, Single Player, Multi Player with additional 2 Player Co-op mode and across Xbox LIVE with hosts of other people.
Wolfenstein isn't just a conversion of the PC classic; it's actually an enhanced version that takes advantage of the Xbox's custom graphics processor and availability to a wider audience. It also features refined levels and tuned gameplay. The story is the same as the PC version but it's told with a refined graphics engine and significantly enhanced gameplay.
For those of you new to the Wolfenstein saga, this game puts you in the role of a hard hitting marine, special ops kind of guy who uncovers a typical Nazi plot to bring about the end of the world, as they always seem to be doing. Add in lots of undead and ancient prophesy mix in some evil scheming and you're on to a winner. The opening cinematic/cgi is very good indeed; it seems to be however to be exactly the same as the PC version - the story is also the same, so not much has changed.
At first the controls can seem a little tricky, but soon you'll find yourself into the flow of the game and you'll be popping caps into Nazi generals and supporters left right and centre. The game allows you to play alone or with a friend, the only problem we found is that if you're playing Co-op the game doesn't save your progress through the levels, you have to play the game SP first and unlock all the levels, then you can get a friend to join you and not have to worry about where you left off. This to me is a bit of an oversight and in this day and age, a bit unforgivable really. But at least it does have Co-op mode and that's a big bonus in any game as far as I am concerned. Gameplay is similar to the PC version with the objectives being listed as you play, ranging from destroying or accessing certain enemy radio stations to finding files and information. As always, there is the usual search for hidden treasures and some bonus items are gained if all treasures are found.
You only play one character in the game, and he's pretty a-typical of the kind of gung-ho operative that gets sent on these missions, teaming up for a short while with another character (Who is used in the two-player Co-op version of the game).
It's nice, and it's not going to win any awards for being the best looking game on the Xbox, but what we do have is crisp and well executed with a nice level of detail both in the textures of the levels and the models themselves. The textures are typical drab greys and browns for the interior of most of the levels, with various dungeon walls and castle walls being given a good level of detail. There's nothing here that detracts from the game really, and there's nothing that really adds - overall it's a good and acceptable level of Graphics/detail. There seems to be little or no slow down and the number of enemies taking pot shots at you doesn't bring the machine to a crawl.
I have no major gripes with the design of the levels in this game, for the most part they look and feel the business. The dungeons are nicely made, nicely designed and have the dark and dank feeling to them. The exterior places such as the outside of Castle Wolfenstein itself are very well done and the level of complexity in the various areas is certainly worth mentioning. As a fan of architecture in games there's nothing worse than seeing drab levels with blank walls and wooden doors, Wolfenstein is a feast for the eyes in that respect, with various secrets and hidden areas to discover - inside these is usually treasure that as mentioned previously can lead to greater rewards. Top marks on level design or so I say.
Models and Animations
Nothing stunning here, the detail is certainly nice on the models and the characters, nothing really detracts from the immersion into the game, but nothing really shines. Animations are varied for both opponents and main characters, but again nothing stunning. The usual Quake 3 style graphics engine seems to be at play here, character deaths are usually quite well done and there are some glitches with figures clipping certain objects, some times there does seem to be stiffness to the animations and they lack a certain fluidity.
The usual fare to be found in this kind of genre, nothing really stands out as original or well-implemented, then again weapons in games are a big gripe of mine of late, there seems to be very little in the way of imagination weapon wise. You'd have expected someone to come up with a decent death ray if there's Nazi Super science involved and flesh eating monsters up the wazoo.
Music, Sound and Voice
Reasonable, good sound, good spot and ambient effects and decent music make up Wolfenstein's sound fare. I'm fond of saying this, but there's nothing wrong with the music or the sound, the weapons sound nice and the various hit effects are meaty enough. The Voice work is not sub-par and neither is it going to win awards, some of the Nazi voices sound a little OTT but that's ok, I expect it in this kind of game.
AI in this game jumps from pretty good, to appallingly bad at times, usually the guards will fire off a shot or two, seek cover and act intelligently, but there seemed to be to be times when their AI routines take a holiday to Timbuktu and they become as vacant as a parking lot on a Sunday morning in my home town. Still, there's not much to gripe about when the AI's working properly, they provide a suitable challenge, especially on harder difficultly levels.
Xbox LIVE groans and screams to the sound of the Axis forces Vs the Allies, yes, RtCW: ToW is full of Xboxy MP class-based goodness. Teams compete against each other on various maps to achieve various goals, taking pointers from games such as Team Fortress, Counter Strike and Unreal Tournament's Assault mode, Wolfenstein's MP is a fast paced tactical fragfest that I got to see as my friend who is on broadband + LIVE demonstrated the game's gameplay for me. Connectivity seems to be pretty impressive and the game has a reasonable player-base already with various clans finding their homes on the new frontier. There are a number of special classes and each has different abilities, the Medic being able to heal injured teammates and so forth. I didn't spend as much time on this element as I would have liked but overall saw enough to rate it as one of the best reasons to connect to Xbox LIVE.
I recommend the Xbox version of Wolfenstein to anyone who has a thirst for fairly simple and good-looking shooters. The bonus of 2 player Co-op and the inclusion of Xbox LIVE specific gaming is a good addition to the package, the game itself might not win any awards for originality but it wins awards from me for being value for money.