It goes without saying that most of us aren't too keen on Nazis, so when Hitler orders his mindless minions to hunt down a set of ancient artifacts with supposed magical properties, you know things can only go from bad to worse. That's when it's time to return to the castle and place my size 10 1/2s in some digital Nazi posterior.
Tucked firmly under the GR microscope is Return to Castle Wolfenstein: Tides of War, a commendable console fragfest. Though the single-player won't win any wars, the exciting multiplayer experience via Xbox Live makes shooting Nazis as rewarding as ever.
The Wolfenstein series has a long history on the PC, with Wolfenstein 3D jump-starting the whole FPS genre. RTCW: Tides of War is the console port for the PC sequel of the same name (aside for the 'Tides of War' part).
You again play as B.J. Blazkowicz, a US Army Ranger recruited by some higher-ups to travel deep into Germany to stamp out some Nazi wackos who are attempting to resurrect an ancient, dusty German sorcerer-wacko. You with me? Good! Needless to say, their success could mean the end of the world as we know it, and no one feels fine. Except for me, because I love shooting digital Nazis.
However, there aren't enough of the hateful little buggers toward the later stages of the game, as you will discover while traversing level after level (30 in all) blasting whatever is fool enough to try and stand in your way. This is really the bulk of the game, with the plot unfolding through memos and other pieces of info you acquire along the way.
Your opposition consists of various Nazi baddies with some decent albeit not mind-bending AI. Nazis will duck for cover when shot at and pop their heads out to lick off a few shots in retaliation before seeking that comfy hiding spot yet again.
Popping these guys is great, but as you descend deeper into the Castle you will be annoyed by the ubiquitous zombie menace. I swear, these guys are getting more and more work these days. I have nothing against the undead - apparently they need to get paid, too - but with zombies comes mindless AI. Obviously they eat brains for a reason; namely, the lack thereof.
Still, the action in Tides of War is pretty good. The control is oddly decent, even if it still isn't as good as the mouse/keyboard setup. The firefights are intense and B.J. Blazkowicz get his hands on a number of real life WWII weapons to help stick the swastika where the sun don't shine. Nearly 20 shell-spitters will please any trigger happy digital fragger. There are knives, handguns, semi and fully automatic machine guns and hand grenades, both foreign and domestic. You'll even find some dynamite, a flamethrower, a tesla cannon and other goodies.
Some of the weapon sounds aren't that impressive but others are spot-on, as is much of the other audio. The Dolby digital makes for a good killing backdrop. Explosions, machinery and the general sounds of war are more than adequate.
Also slightly above average is the in-game graphics. Textures are smooth and crisp, although they are a bit dark and gloomy. I'm sure this is intentional to keep in pace with the Dr. Frankenstein theme of doom and gloom. Nonetheless, it all comes together nicely with good character models and animations to add the coup de grace.
However, at the end of the day Tides of War is just a shooter, and what helps it over the steep hill of monotony is the exceptional Xbox Live multiplayer support.
There are a few ways to get the social fragfest going. You can play with a single friend in a cooperative game via split screen, yet here you can only play on levels you have accessed in the single player mode. There is also no save feature in cooperative play, so it's all or nothing.
While cooperative play leaves a soldier hungry for more, the four team vs. team game modes really give you a good taste of what a well-rounded online console experience should be. Objective, Stopwatch (same as Objective but with a time limit), Checkpoint (Capture the Flag) and Elimination (Deathmatch) comprise the options. Each offers its own brand of excitement, but I find myself gravitating toward the plain old Objective games. Online supports up to 16 players, though you will rarely find a server at full capacity. When you do, it's all-out warfare and a lot of fun.
Finding and starting a server is easy enough with plenty of options to tweak when hosting a game. There will also be downloadable content to add new life once the war gets old. Watch for additional maps, and let's keep our fingers crossed for new weapon as well.
RTCW: Tides of War is a solid addition to your FPS library and another feather in the Xbox Live hat. The single player is okay, but it's really all about sticking with a friend and coordinating offensives with your fellow teammates over Xbox Live. This one should keep you in the field until Counter-Strike and Halo 2 make their way out of developer boot camp.