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Previews

Wolfenstein

Preview: Bark at the moon...

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What we've seen of Wolfenstein's non-occult stuff is plain and unremarkable. id's Tech 4 engine has failed to afford the title any real graphical distinction, while the art style ploughs the same ragged WWII furrows we've seen time and time again in other shooters. Mounted guns summon waves of enemies, glowing transparent yellow boxes invite you to stick dynamite on doors, a compass guides you from one room to the next, and AI allies dawdle about meaninglessly as you one-man army your way through the Nazi ranks.

Veiled threat
This was going to be the bit where I stop and gibber on about how the Veil - that wacky paranormal twist - rescues the rest of the game from mediocrity. But it's worth first pointing out that Return to Castle Wolfenstein had similar occult leanings, and its realistic bits didn't need bolstering by anything especially strange. In fact, a lot of people would argue that the zombie bits detracted from the experience.

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Wolfenstein, however, is definitely in need of some backbone, and the Veil is Raven's attempt at inserting some spine into proceedings. Your first encounter with this world comes about when one of the train yard's mysterious tankers erupts in a shower of blue flame - gravity takes a well-deserved break as unfettered Veil energy causes debris, guns, bodies living and dead, to float upwards towards the train yard's ceiling. Panicking Nazi soldiers fire madly in all directions, their attention rightly turning from you to being suspended 20ft above the floor. You, though, remain safely on the ground.

Naturally, I began to wonder what it would look like if a floating Nazi were to be shot in the stomach in such an environment. So I tried it, and it's satisfyingly punchy. The floaty blokey doubles up in pain and wheels gently and helplessly towards the far wall. The zero-G effect is only temporary, and in a matter of seconds all and sundry fall back to Earth with a thud and a clatter. It's not long until another tanker explodes and you're surrounded by even more sky-bound bigots. This time I used the opportunity to hurl a stick grenade at the flailing soldiers with comical effect, as their limp corpses were violently punted hither and tither. In celebration, I nudged a floating cash register with the butt of my MP40 and watched it gently tumble through space - the zero-gravity stuff is a really pleasing effect.

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Twilight zone
Exactly what the Veil is hasn't been properly clarified yet, and may never be. At times it's an energy, a substance, a dimension, a philosophy, and in some cases it's ammunition. Once you've unlocked the medallion's abilities (the medallion itself acts as a sort of conduit for Veil energy, if you're keeping notes), it appears as a meter in the bottom left corner of the screen, and using your Veil abilities depletes your reserves.

Another level is fired up, this time we're in the streets of Wolfenstein's fictional city, fighting our way towards a Nazi-controlled church which is spewing a pillar of filthy green energy into the sky. I'm now in full control of my Veil powers, and can at any point flip between dimensions. I've also unlocked one of my Veil abilities, Mire, which slows time to a crawl and allows me to dance between sluggish enemies. If you like, you can call it bullet-time and be done with it.

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The effect of dimension hopping isn't unlike slipping into night vision mode in Splinter Cell, or putting on a pair of 3D glasses while driving. The screen is tinted a deep, dark green, elements of the environment change shape, and the sky transforms into a tumultuous expanse of swirling carnage and destruction. You move faster in the Veil, enemies are highlighted and so easier to spot, and critical objects such as exploding barrels are painted a stark red.

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