Nazis plus a haunted castle equal a great game

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

Something's rotten in Bavaria.

The Nazis are cooking up trouble and you, as Army Capt. B.J. Blazkowicz, are the one-man army sent to unravel the mystery in an excellent new Xbox title, "Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War," from id Software, Nerve and Activision.

The first-person action game plays off the Third Reich's well-documented fascination with the occult. In this case, SS honcho Heinrich Himmler believes he has found Heinrich (no relation), a Saxon prince who raised a vast army of the undead and then was entombed by a powerful monk.

Bringing Heinrich back, Himmler believes, will give the Nazis yet another powerful weapon in their bid to rule the world. You're pretty much all that stands in their way.

The game follows the current trend toward the use of stealth rather than overwhelming firepower.

Your enemies are an interesting lot, ranging from grunts with pistols to horrible mutants and zombies. While the zombies pretty much bumble around and are easy pickings, the human soldiers use cover effectively and are fairly decent shots. You'll die a lot as you progress.

Fortunately, you can save the game at any point.

There are plenty of secret areas and hidden treasure to pursue, and you get a tally at the end of each section which shows how you've done.

Graphics get a B. Lighting and shading are excellent, and so are the weapons effects and the character models. Slowdown does cause some problems -- more than it should -- and you've certainly seen better-looking games, but "Wolfenstein" is, overall, fun to look at.

Sound gets a B. Weapons sounds are good, and the chatter among the Nazis is often hilarious as they discuss their personal lives, unaware you're taking notes behind a door.

Control gets a B also. Handling B.J. is easy, and targeting, with or without the help of the console, is no problem. Picking items from your stash is fairly fluid, a good thing because you'll be changing weapons often to suit your situation.

"Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War" gets a well-deserved B. It's a great way to pass the time until "Halo 2" arrives.

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