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GDC09: Wolfenstein hands-on

Kevin Kelly

During our Activision GDC preview, we got a closer looks at id Sofware's Wolfenstein reboot and the game's supernatural aspect, "the Veil" -- or as we like to call it, "turning on the HUD." This new Wolfenstein features mystical powers that are learned during the course of the game and activated through the d-pad or button combos. It's an element that's fairly common in many games today, but it's still the only feature of Wolfenstein that makes it anything more than a ho-hum World War II shooter.

The drawbacks we noted in our Comic Con preview are still present in the current build, especially the poor enemy AI. There were times when enemies were clearly looking at us and tracking our movements, yet weren't firing their guns. It was almost as if they were saying, "Just go ahead and shoot us. We're Nazis. We deserve it."

Gallery: GDC09: Wolfenstein (3/30/09) | 15 Photos

It was hard to not think: Hellboy.

Although the supernatural is nothing new to Wolfenstein, it was hard to play through the levels they were showing off at GDC and not think: Hellboy. There are Nazis, weird portals into the unknown, and a lot of strange happenings going on in general. (The only thing you'd need is a Big Red Guy to complete the illusion.) The game takes place immediately after the events of Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and we were shown one of the opening levels and another level about a third of the way into the game.

Our demo was focused on the game's aforementioned Veil functionality,. Once your character finds the mysterious Veil amulet in the game, he starts learning how to develop Veil powers; the first being "Mire," which is basically bullet time. Turn it on by hitting right on the d-pad, and everything slows down. It'll chew through your Veil meter pretty quickly, but obviously gives you the upper hand in combat situations.

Why didn't the Nazis make their entire uniforms out of the indestructible hat material?

The other Veil power we were shown was "Veil Vision," which can be switched on at any time (it barely affects your Veil gauge) and highlights hidden areas, shows you the path you should be following, and reveals invisible baddies. It will also reveal the location of "Veil pools," which you can wade into to recharge your gauge. The Veil recharges slowly over time, but standing in one of those pools will top it off quickly. You'll also see creepy floating bugs, called "Geists," while in Veil Vision, and you can shoot them to blow up Nazis that happen to be near them.

The amulet has four slots on it, and it twists and rotates like the puzzle box in Hellraiser, but we didn't get access to any other powers during our demo. We did encounter a large boss called the Heavy Trooper, however, and he blasts at you with an enormous Ghostbusters-like particle cannon. Once you've defeated him (Veil Vision will paint his vulnerable spots red), you can take his cannon and use it as your own. One interesting note: the particle cannon will totally obliterate enemies ... except for their hats and guns. Food for thought: Why didn't the Nazis make their entire uniforms out of the indestructible hat material?

Besides basic enemies, we encountered the Trooper, a Scribe (who creates shields around fellow soldiers using the Veil), and a boss known as the Despoiled. He's a glowing green skeletal Nazi officer ... who doesn't like you much. He can take you down with just a couple of hits, but once you learn the secret to offing him, he's a piece of cake. [Spoiler alert: Pop a Geist near him, and he drops like a sack of potatoes.]

"Veil will be in multiplayer," Raven assures.

Apparently every weapon and Veil power in the game is upgradeable, although we weren't able to do so in the demo. To upgrade weapons, you'll have to spend gold, looted along the way, and stop at weapons shops to tinker with your guns.The Veil powers are upgraded using collectible Tomes.

As we previously noted, Wolfenstein's look and gameplay is dated -- and not in a retro chic way. Wiithout the Veil, the game could be mistaken for a last-gen title, so the game's success rests on how compelling this feature will be throughout an entire playthrough. We didn't get to check out multiplayer, but developer Raven did assure us that "Veil will be in multiplayer."

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