January 9, 2020 at 9:10 PM #1433
Wolfenstein: The New Order
Rating: 4.0 – Great
I love the smell of Nazis in the morning
Wolfenstein is one of the forerunners of the FPS genre, more or less making it relevant in the gaming industry. Now, decades after the release of the first game in the series, Wolfenstein has been rebooted in the form of Wolfenstein: The New Order, a cross-generational FPS that is a welcome return to the storied franchise.
Wolfenstein: The New Order once again stars BJ Blazkowicz, an American soldier in World War II. After the first mission in the game, the setting shifts to 1960, in an alternate history where the Nazis won the second World War thanks to their greatly advanced machines and weapons of mass destruction.
This game is in no way, shape, or form set in a realistic world, yet the characters somehow feel believable and genuine. The plot developments and the situations the characters find themselves in are unbelievable and oftentimes extremely over the top, yet the characters themselves are surprisingly complex and interesting. BJ himself is absolutely ridiculous, but the characters around him really shine. His relationship with Anya feels real. There are plenty of scenes that are just there to develop these characters to make you care about them more, and these scenes go a very long way in accomplishing that goal.
In between missions, BJ is able to explore the headquarters of the Nazi resistance. This is where all the character development happens, and it also is a nice slow down from the extreme violence in the main missions of the game. Blowing up hundreds of Nazis is a blast, sure, but the downtime in the headquarters helps players recover from all the bloodshed so that it remains effectively disturbing throughout the entire experience.
This Wolfenstein remains true to the origins of the franchise. It features intense, run and gun style FPS combat mixed with even more intense stealth sequences. A lot of games try to shoehorn stealth segments in where they don’t belong, but The New Order handles stealth wonderfully, to the point that I enjoyed many of the more sections in the game more than the shooting sections.
As part of his stealth arsenal, BJ can sneak up behind enemies and kill them by stabbing them to death, but using the throwing knives is much more satisfying. Silenced pistols also come in handy, and his stealth abilities are constantly increased throughout the game by completing stealth related tasks.
Completing tasks, usually of the combat focused variety, within specific categories unlocks BJ new perks related to that style of gameplay. This encourages experimentation with the combat and reveals new ways to use weapons that players might not have thought of. So the perk system is kind of like an achievement system (there’s an achievement for each perk that can be unlocked, just to sweeten the pot), but it rewards players with a more powerful character instead of a meaningless trophy or gamerscore.
The available arsenal is awesome, with all of the weapons having a secondary function that make them a blast to use. It’s hard to choose my favorite weapon as I loved every single weapon in the game, but a special shout out has to go to the shotgun. The secondary ammunition for the shotgun are shrapnel rounds. These bounce pellets all over the place like a sadistic game of pinball after the initial shot has been fired, ripping Nazis to shreds.
A unique weapon in the game is the laser cutter. Gradually upgraded throughout the experience, the laser cutter serves another purpose beyond the combat focused one. There are various objects, such as panels and fences, that players can cut through with this weapon. This was a nice touch, especially since the player can choose any pattern they wish to cut through the objects encountered. Unfortunately, cutting too much will just make the fence or whatever is being cut disappear completely, which is jarring to see.
These weapons would be meaningless if the gun play wasn’t tight, and to be quite frank, the gun play in Wolfenstein: The New Order is tight as all hell. The shooting mechanics in the game are just so satisfying that even when you’re stuck at one part of the game, constantly losing, it’s hard to get frustrated because killing Nazis is so damn entertaining in this game. I haven’t had this much fun shooting Nazis since Call of Duty 2. Absolutely love the core gameplay in this game, and I hope to see more classic style FPS titles like this feature the immensely satisfying combat that is found in this game as the eighth generation rolls on.
On the subject of frustrating moments, another way that the game offsets such feelings is due to the perk system. Even if one is constantly dying at the same part, chances are a few Nazis are getting taken down in the process, and virtually all the perks there are to unlock involve killing Nazis in some manner. This means that even when you’re stuck, you’re still making progress and leveling BJ.
I have described Wolfenstein as a "classic" FPS, and the reason for that is it uses many gameplay mechanics that have been abandoned in recent years by other games in the genre. Instead of using a regenerating health system like Call of Duty (and the infinite amount of Call of Duty clones), Wolfenstein uses a combination of a regenerating health system and the classic health system used in old FPS games, where scavenging the environment for health packs is part of the experience. I like this combination of the two styles better than having just one or the other; it keeps the game challenging, while also alleviating any possible frustration, which Wolfenstein is very good at doing.
Exploring the levels in Wolfenstein is a very rewarding experience. The levels themselves are all well-designed and interesting. Some of the best level design that I’ve seen in years can be found in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Numerous chapters in the game stand out to me as being remarkable, whereas most games in the genre have very forgettable levels and settings.
But the reason that exploring the levels is rewarding goes beyond just enjoying the quality design. The levels are littered with collectible items, hidden supplies of ammo and health, and easter eggs abound. The collectibles are interesting to discover as well, offering wider glimpses into this new Wolfenstein universe or even allowing players to unlock extra game modes. These new game modes aren’t particularly exciting or even really worth exploring that much, but it’s a good idea to make collectible hunting a more rewarding experience.
Nazis are the main villains for the game, but their machinery and creatures that they’ve created through their terrible experiments are also well represented in The New Order. From gigantic tripod robots that fire 48 missiles simultaneously from their shoulders to lion sized robot dogs that pounce with incredible agility, the enemies in Wolfenstein are all visually interesting and very dangerous.
Where the game stumbles a bit in terms of the enemies are the boss fights. There’s only a handful of them in the game, but they definitely mark the lowest points in the experience. The fights aren’t challenging, just irritating and repetitive. They often feature secret ways that players must discover in order to defeat the bosses, which just makes matters worse. Thankfully, they are a small part of the experience and it’s easy to overlook them.
The primary antagonists in the game are very well developed and interesting characters. While most people prefer villains that exist within a morally "grey" area, there’s something to be said about villains designed to be hated, like the ones seen in Wolfenstein.
Wolfenstein is mostly a success when it comes to the technical side of things. I noticed virtually zero graphical issues, but I did get stuck in a wall once and was forced to load a checkpoint. A few design choices, such as ones designed to be cheap and to kill the player without much chance, were ill conceived, but overall, the game is a great example of how to develop and polish a video game before releasing it to the public.
Since it is a cross-generational game, Wolfenstein does not look even nearly as good as it could if it were built specifically for eighth generation hardware. It’s still a high end Xbox 360 or PS3 looking game, and that’s fine. It’s mostly gorgeous. The imagery is quite arresting and horrific, with a few scenes that will haunt players long after the credits roll. The game is absolutely brutal, with body parts flying every which way and Nazi soldiers being reduced to little more than people jelly. There is a touch of destructibility in the environments, but a lot of the destructibility comes from painfully scripted moments, which should’ve been avoided quite frankly.
Speaking of horror, the game actually has a few scary parts. They’re mostly jump scares, but the game does a good job of building atmosphere and creating tension as well. A few of the slower scenes were particularly intense and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
It is important for an FPS to have good sound design. We’ve been seeing the bar raised every few years, with the beautiful orchestral scores in the Halo series to the remarkable audio in the Call of Duty franchise, sound design in first-person shooters has continuously been an important part of the overall package. Wolfenstein delivers here as well, with wonderful voice work, brilliant musical choices, and very, very loud explosions and gunfire. This is the one area of development that I feel the developers at MachineGames pulled off perfectly.
Still, the game feels naked with a multiplayer component. I know that the developers said that multiplayer was being excluded in order to put all of their effort into the single-player campaign, but I want both. There’s no reason that the game can’t have a great campaign and a great multiplayer mode as well. Over the years, plenty of FPS titles have had brilliant campaigns to go with their equally brilliant multiplayer. It’s virtually unheard of for a big name FPS to not have any multiplayer functionality at all, and I’m afraid that the lack of multiplayer is what really holds back Wolfenstein from reaching its true potential. The core gameplay is so fun at least that players will definitely want to replay the campaign multiple times, but to battle other players with this amazing combat system would have been ideal.
Nazis suck; there’s a reason that Nazis have been one of the primary enemies in gaming. Everyone hates them, and there’s no better place to kill hundreds of Nazis and their horrible creations than in Wolfenstein: The New Order. The New Order has a few issues, namely its lack of a multiplayer component and its frustrating boss fight design, but overall it’s a fantastic, intense, brutal experience that puts the series back on the map. Wolfenstein has never been more relevant, and I hope that the franchise will build on the foundation built by this reboot to create something even more spectacular in the future.
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