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to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War
Score: 8.7 / 10
Besides having a really long name, Return
to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War (ToW) has a pedigree that most games
can only dream of.
ToW can be traced all the way back to 1983 (Castle Wolfenstein) then
through the rag tag group at a small company called id Software in 1992
(Wolfenstein 3D). The two games only have similar subject matter –
you’re trapped in a Nazi castle and it’s your goal to escape, killing
Nazi’s along the way – but their approach was quite different. ToW
sticks to the path laid down by id all those years ago with first-person
action and an unending stream of Nazi’s.
You play as B.J. Blazkowicz, sent to investigate a Nazi archaeological
dig in Northern Africa with another agent of the OSA (Office of Secret
Actions). This portion of the
game is completely new. In the PC version,
you simply began in Castle Wolfenstein. The new section fills in the
background details of why and how B.J. ended up at the castle. The rest
of the game is nearly identical to the PC version – blast Nazi’s, stop a
paranormal plot, take on a horde of half-dead “things”, uncover hidden
treasure, navigate and escape the huge castle,
save the world, etc. – with a few exceptions.
It’s probably nit picking, but you can’t pick up chairs for added cover
(as is possible in the PC version). This always proved handy when armor
was in short supply. My other gripe is the checkpoint save system –
mostly because the PC version sported a “save anywhere” setup. Max Payne
had it, why not ToW? In places I would slough through areas thick with
enemies before reaching the next checkpoint, which is fine when I don’t
have to replay the same friggin’ areas over and over because I made a
misstep very close to the checkpoint. Some of this can be attributed to
the difficulty levels (I recommend "Bring It On!"), which make a drastic
difference in terms of challenge even though most of the big events are
completely scripted and don’t rely on the enemy AI, which scrambles all
over the place in terms of intelligence.
The AI is hit and miss; it's not as consistent as one might like.
Sometimes they’ll behave believably (i.e. running for cover) and other
times they’ll suddenly become super-soldiers who can spot you from a
mile out. Some of this super-soldiering can be mitigated by the fact you
can go through the single-player game in a split-screen co-op mode.
(Which is a stroke of genius!) And a big roster of weapons like
grenades, Lugers, Muasers, MP-40s, can make things easier too.
Nothing bad can be said about control. Nerve did a great job converting
the PC layout to the Xbox. Although a keyboard and mouse are just better
for first-person shooters, the controller does a good job. There is some
customization available, but the most important is the vertical and
horizontal sensitivity. Without this, I would have been pulling out my
hair. The default settings are painfully slow. On the easiest difficulty
settings this isn't a problem. On the higher difficulty levels (and
multiplayer games) it's common to be dead before you even can even turn
around during an ambush situation.
Graphics take a backseat to no one. The much-praised and acclaimed
flamethrower looks as good as ever (particularly when you’re using it)
and the rest of the game is no slouch. The environments look great too
but the star is really the weapon effects especially the Tesla gun. You
may notice the very occasional instance of graphical stuttering but
that's just you being anal retentive. Cutscenes get a special mention
too, especially the lip sync.
ToW just wouldn’t be complete without a robust multiplayer mode so it
will gladden Live subscribers everywhere that it ToW has some of the
best multiplayer available. The balance is near-perfect between the
Allies and Nazis making online battles extremely engaging. There are the
typical classes available – from engineer to medic – so you can pick a
class that suits your play style. While the 16-player limit might seem a
handicap at first, it’s more than enough for the maps you’ll play on.
It’s not high on story or heavy stealth elements, but Return to Castle
Wolfenstein: Tides of War delivers in liberal and visceral amounts of
action. And you get what you pay for.