To the casual observer on the train in the morning, I’m just a twenty-something man in a shirt and chinos holding an odd looking GameBoy thingy. Little do they know that, from where I’m sitting, there’s carnage on screen. BJ’s blasting Nazis with two machine guns and casually philosophizing about life. Fifteen minutes later the odious Frau Engel has taken center stage wielding an axe. I feel movement to my left as an inquiring passenger glances over to see what I’m doing, and to no doubt wonder what the heck is going on.
There’s something giddy about being in adult company in a respectable domain and letting it rain lead. I also can’t help but notice that all the other people playing mobile games on the train are lining up blocks in Tetris knock-offs, or hitting balls in crappy 3D golf games, or playing variations of Temple Run. And here I am on my 8AM commute blasting my way through the best AAA shooter of 2017.
Make no mistake: Wolfenstein II on the Switch is a sure-fire delight.
Having wrestled DOOM onto the same platform some months ago, digital wizards Panic Button are back to perform the same Houdini act. To make the squeeze, Panic Button has relied on an adaptive resolution. In other words, parts of the experience look clear and crisp, but other bits might as well be smeared in Vaseline for all you can see. This is chiefly a problem playing undocked during high-bandwidth areas. Blow Wolfenstein II up on a TV and the resolution jumps into higher gear, even hitting 720p in certain stress-free zones. For an idea of the difference, just take a look at the image above, captured during an eventful train journey, and the image below, taken while I was playing on my 55″ 4K TV.
Handheld mode is wonderful all the same. Lying in bed blasting Nazis is a much better diversion than idly scrolling through someone’s boring Instagram feed, and when the resolution hits a good patch you have to pinch yourself to believe that this is even possible. Like all good magicians, Panic Button’s tricks are cleverly hidden. As Digital Foundry pointed out in a recent post, levels are wholly intact, so there are no sudden cuts or irritating loading screens. There are however near-invisible bits of gaffer tape to stop it all exploding at the sames. Take an unobtrusive wall added to the New York level to cover up a taxing bit of scenery; scenery that could grind the game to a halt and ruin the stable frame rate were the wall not there.
As a physical experience, Wolfenstein II fares surprisingly well. Playing the game in your hand, the sticks work well enough and when docked, the pad feels like a decent approximation of an Xbox or PS4 controller. One piece of kit you might want to invest in is an extra charger though. The Switch runs hot and the battery runs dry after about 90 minutes. That’s not going to cut the fun short during an average morning and evening commute to and from work, but if you’re heading on a transatlantic flight, invest in some extra gear to keep the juice going.
As far as I’m concerned, the only negative here comes down to dollars and cents. I’m not a fan of Nintendo’s policy to stick a $59.99 price tag on top of games it hasn’t had a hand in making, and especially games that have been out on more powerful consoles for a long while. That being said, the handheld first-person shooter experience is something you need to experience to believe, and as an example of this new sub-genre, Wolfenstein II is as good a starting place as any. All the little immersive details are present and correct; the jagged bullet holes, the plumes of dust, the red hot orange flames. It goes without saying that this won’t scratch the itch of a pixel nut, but all the same, I think this new incarnation of Wolfenstein is a technical marvel in its own right.
This review is based on the Nintendo Switch version of the game, which was provided to us by Bethesda Softworks.