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Previews

Wolfenstein

Preview: Bark at the moon...

Five years ago people would openly mock you for using "Google" as a verb. Five years before that, you'd have your teeth kicked in for using "email" as a verb. And before hit 2001 single Party Hard was released, the word "party" was rigidly considered a noun in most civilised social circles. Now we've got a new doing word courtesy of Raven: "Wolfenstein", meaning to take regular World War II history and skew it in a hugely entertaining, highly embellished and occult-twisted way. You might as well tear up the dictionary now.

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Our trip to Raven's snowbound studio in Wisconsin gave an insight into how "Wolfensteining" is achieved: scanners are used to, and this is no joke, turn genuine Nazi trousers into 3D models - apparently to get the creases "just right". Once the entire uniform is downloaded and turned into a workable model, they use it to dress a skeletal-faced Third Reich hellfiend. Authenticity still means a lot to Raven, despite absolutely everything you see on these pages.

Spying game
Before I'm ushered into a dimly lit room to play one of Wolfenstein's opening levels, I'm presented with the game's introduction cinematic. This movie is spectacular enough to warrant its own appraisal. It's night on a German aircraft carrier, some panicked sailors rush up behind a man standing on deck. He wears a long captain's jacket, and is staring wistfully at the moonlit horizon. "General!" yelps one of the crewmen in a bad German accent, "Ve believe zer iz a spy on board! Should ve delay ze missile launch on London?"

The camera pans back to the supposed General. He turns around to face the sailors - it's 'BJ' Blazkowicz! The hero of the game! The General was the spy all along! Shocker! Before they can register their surprise, the sailors are shot dead. Anti-aircraft guns turn on BJ as he ducks behind crates and does magnificent cartwheels about the place. Finally cornered, he reaches into the pocket of his stolen jacket and pulls out a medallion, the mysterious centrepiece of the game - it explodes with light, and the Nazis are seared to death by occult energy.

You should now be getting a measure of exactly how shamelessly ridiculous Wolfenstein is. If you're still not convinced, here's how things carry on: having killed most of the Nazis, BJ hijacks a Stukka bomber and flies it to safety. Behind him, the carrier explodes for no discernible reason, and thus the incredible, unbelievable adventure begins. Wolfenstein is, as it's always been, an insidious mix of science-fiction and history. Real-world weapons sit comfortably alongside ray guns and an alternate dimension is casually layered atop our own. This dimension is called the Veil, and from a certain point in the game onwards it can be entered into at any time at the push of a button. In spite of these off-kilter leanings, the game opens in a straightforward manner.

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Wolfenstein's first scenes begin with you emerging from a train car to meet a member of the Kreisau Circle (who are themselves Wolfensteined into a gun-toting Resistance group, rather than the mundane, politically focused reality). A jaunt through some sewers brings you to a military train yard, a place jammed with swastikas, sandbags and mysterious tankers. You're handed an MP40 and some grenades, and what follows is a fairly solid, if by-the-books, shooting experience.

Swastika masala
Wolfenstein is, on the face of things, a very decent WWII shooter. The trappings of Bavarian architecture, train yards, cobblestones and chateaus reek of early Call of Duty games - certainly a benchmark worth aspiring some years ago, but hardly something even approaching revolutionary today. At this point, the ability to slip into the Veil dimension hasn't yet been revealed and the game plays out with a worryingly straight, trope-ridden face.

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