Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Wolfenstein (2009)

Heir to one of the grand franchises of video gaming, 2009's Wolfenstein epitomizes the fruitful tropes of Nazi super-science and occultic-obsession. The series began in 1981 with the game Castle Wolfenstein, a stealth-type game for the Apple II, DOS, Atari 400 and 800 and Commodore 64. It garnered one sequel in 1984, and both hewed fairly close to credible World War II plots to track down mission plans and assassinate Hitler.

This changed with the 1992 remake of Castle Wolfenstein, entitled Wolfenstein 3D. The latter was one of the first and most enduring of the first-person shooter games, pitting Agent B.J. Blazkowicz against the occupants of various Nazi strongholds, leading inexorably towards a battle with a power-armoured Adolf Hitler himself. 3D was extended to more gaming systems than one can list and spawned a sequel/reboot of its own, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. This 2001 release built on the Nazi super-science themes of 3D, blending them with the enduring urban legends around Heinrich Himmler's interests in the occult to pit Blazkowicz against surgically-altered Übersoldaten and the resurrected Saxon king Heinrich I with his undead armies.

This doesn't look good.

Wolfenstein follows after Return to Castle Wolfenstein, with Blazkowicz in dogged pursuit of the SS Paranormal Division. The opening cinematic has the American agent infiltrating a Nazi warship only to be rescued from certain death by a powerful medallion that strips the flesh off the German troops. Unpacking the significance of this medallion leads him to the town of Isenstadt where weird Nazi activities are afoot.

The medallion came from an ancient race called the Thule, being a reference to the Nazi-associated Thule Society that promoted the idea of a lost hyperborean civilization of Nordic ubermensch commanding the mystical powers of the cosmos. With the assistance of the Golden Dawn secret society and a crawl through a Thule temple beneath the city, Blazkowicz learns to command the power of the medallion himself.

Amongst these powers are the user-friendly abilities to slow time and deflect bullets. It also shifts Blazkowicz into The Veil: the space between this universe and the Black Sun, occupied by Lovecraftian monstrosities. The Veil opens up the secrets of this reality, signalling secret passages, special items and revealling the monsterous true identity of various Nazi officers. These are infinitely helpful in the attempt to derail the SS plot to access Thule technology and the Black Sun universe to power devastating new Wunderwaffen.

That which lives inside the Veil

Gameplay for Wolfenstein is no better and no worse than any other modern first-person shooter game. One essentially runs and shoots their way from cinematic scene to cinematic scene, through massive underground bunkers and alien temples that would harrow Indiana Jones. Interest in this game is maintained almost entirely by the allure of its premise and designs, from how those bunkers and temples are realized to the otherworldly effects of Veil technologies and the domain's inhabitants.

I bet this guy isn't much fun.

Wolfenstein's official website can be found here.

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