Wolfenstein, the New Order: A Review
About the Author
John Roberts is a video game critic on HubPages and YouTube, reviewing that he sees worthy of the former, whilst reviewing Playstation One games on the latter channel. When he isn't raging on Twitter about how he hates sore losers in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, he is being a sore loser in Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft.
The last time John was accused of being a Nazi, he was arrested in Berlin for describing how tall Hitler was, where he lived and what everyone shouted in praise of his presence. He remained in prison for two days, and in that time managed to write a book called "Mein Kampfervan".
A Blast to the Past?
Wolfenstein is easily one of the most recognisable names in shooter history next to Duke Nukem, Unreal and my all-time favourite DooM. But much like those other games, with the exception of Unreal, they've seen sequels which don't compare well to the original material no matter how primitive it was at the time, or even looked back at today. Even Wolfenstein disappointed many with The Return to Castle Wolfenstein on PS2, and the unofficially dubbed Wolfenstein 2009, but who can blame people for calling it that when it has the same name as the original? You'd think we'd learn.
When The New Order came around I was interested in the concept and don't recall a shooter where the Nazis had won the Second World War since Turning Point, but even then that was a mediocre title that was painfully average in all ways. What was interesting, or rather should have been interesting, was the Nazis not only winning but completely taking over the world all the way into 1960. After a shift in technological advancement gives the Nazis the edge to win the war, the Allies have been completely crushed and their final battle took place in the British Isles. I like that we're on English soil for this fight, but it's hardly noticeable making a native like myself not want to fight for it as much as I'd hoped.
The game begins in the 1942, where a castle - presumably Wolfenstein - is being raided by the Allies; if the General Deathshead is slain, it'll be a turning point in the war. It's in these sequences where we get to see both the depravity and the genius of these alternate-reality Nazis with their iron armour reminiscent of Fallout's Brotherhood of Steel faction, as well as their new superweapons. Don't complain Wolfenstein fans, it's hardly a stretch from ghosts and zombies. It's a shame that I actually enjoyed this one mission in the 40s far more than most of the game, partly because of the weapon design like the submachine gun, assault rifles and pistols. Not only did I find them more visually appealing but the sound effects were awesome, and it's too bad they weren't to be repeated again. And it actually felt like a decent WW2 shooter, something that came as quite a shock when we've become so accustomed to the modern military tripe of 2006.
"It looks and feels badass blasting away with a shotgun in each hand, one armed with standard buckshot, the other with sharpnel ammo, but then you realise you haven't killed a thing."
However you and your team are quickly trapped and you are literally a sheet of bullet proof glass away from killing the scarred Deathshead with your damn bare hands. Sent to a veteran's psychiatric hospital for the duration of the war, and including after the Nazi occupation of the entire world, BJ Blazkowicz snaps into action suddenly and avenges the family of his carers.
The story had great set up and sitting in a wheelchair watching the world go by for 20 minutes in a desolate care home was quite the treat. Indeed, Wolfenstein wants to tell not only a good story but also tell it well, however what it wants isn't necessarily what it does. I feel the introduction to Blazkowicz was great, his over the top actions stunning and how he's quite the smooth talker - or rather mumbler - for someone of such a large build. As the Drill Sergeant of Full Metal Jacket would say, "I didn't know they stacked s**t that high!". But why then do they awkwardly push this legendary, heartless veteran into romantic sub-plots with a girl we hardly knew, and make him care about people we barely saw before the transition to the 60s, and fetch quests around a base that wasn't established well enough to know about? While BJ might know these people, Machinegames forgot that we don't, making introductions to character this game's story one of its downfalls. It's like Wolfenstein's characters and story want to be taken seriously, but try to tell too much in too little time. Even then the game is heavily padded out, making me careful of what I wish for regarding the length of shooter campaigns.
What should have made Wolfenstein instantly likeable is its arsenal of weapons, and thankfully absolves the sins of Duke Nukem Forever by itself: carrying two weapons at a time is for wimps. Blakowicz can carry two shotguns, two pistols, two assault rifles, two marksman rifles, grenades and knives at any one time provided he can be bothered to carry them back to the base to use again in the next mission. But why does it fall flat? The appeal of dual-wielding weapons is short lived as you realise how painfully inaccurate your guns are and how little they do. If it's meant to be a joke it works, but there's actually skill lines encouraging you to do this. It looks and feels badass blasting away with a shotgun in each hand, one armed with standard buckshot, the other with sharpnel ammo, but then you realise you haven't killed a thing. I found that just using one weapon while not aiming down the sights was more satisfying and even practical, as when looking down the sights still makes your shots go all over the place. You'd think an army that has conquered the entire planet and knows how to build all kinds of killing machines would know how to make sniper rifles more accurate than shotguns.
It seems as though Wolfenstein relied heavily on the novelty of blasting away through semi-open corridors and brightly lit rooms, and maybe because of that it's why I have mixed feelings about it. Yes it's a Wolfenstein game because of that, but that doesn't make it a good game, not for £60; not for 2014; not for next gen. I'd hoped weapon upgrades would sell the game, but they're always 'hidden' in plain sight so you never missed them. One upgrade was for ricochet laser powers from my laser cutter in a sewer level, but all it required me to do was go straight ahead instead of where the obective marker told me to turn right. That's the most effort MachineGames put into hiding these upgrades.
Perks also sound like a great idea but the talent tree system is absolutely broken. There's four trees: Stealth, Assault, Demolition and Tactical, each of which grant you perks depending on the requirements you claim. For example for getting so many stealth kills, you unlock throwing knives. For so many throwing knife kills you get to hold more and move faster while sneaking. For grenades kills, you can increase blast radius and explosion on impact. For headshots with certain weapons, you can unlock new upgrades or extended magazines and so forth. It's actually rather fun but it's non-linear, meaning you can unlock the final talent without meeting any or all talents before it. This gives you a lot of freedom which is well needed for the casual gamer who wants specific perks, but this system has to be in depth to be fully enjoyed and beg for replay value. It's also far too easy to get the perks and far too rewarding. If you wanted to, you could easily unlock each perk within 10 minutes of each other, but they're a nice treat to shoot for as you play the game as opposed to grinding for them for achievements.
The best thing about Wolfenstein I found was, after realising it just had big guns to compensate for its impotent gameplay, the stealth. Indeed, sneaking and lurking in the shadows throwing knives at enemies and putting the willies up them is the best thing about a game where you have to cause absolute chaos. Of course. It's pretty dumb as well, as enemies don't seem to have peripheral vision and if you stand at their side they won't spot you, and even if they do their first reaction is "huh" and "what the--?". To the game's credit, the more visible you are the longer their puzzled sentence is, which is a clever and subtle detection system. It just falls flat when the AI is so mindless that the stealth is rendered unimportant, despite being quite satisfying. The only times it really is a must is when there's enemy commanders which have to be assassinated quickly, otherwise they'll continually summon reinforcements until they're killed. If this were a different game this mechanic would work wonders but in Wolfenstein it's red-light-green-light design makes you hop uncomfortably from full on Commando to the Great Escape.
The New Order's visuals are great and for Xbox One I expected nothing less but apparently on PC it's poorly optimised and has many frame rate issues. My favourite graphical moments were getting up close to Nazis in this thick, black armour that makes them look like a steam-train Transformer (in fact, one type of Nazi looks like Megatron) which only made me miss Nazi uniforms in games.... before bloodying them up, of course. What bugged me the most in the non-gameplay side of things is that Wolfenstein is a 44 gigabyte install, followed by a 7 gigabyte downloaded update. That's not it though; I'm still seeing bugs that caused enemies to get stuck in the air after a stealth kill, or an explosion. This is the same mistake Titanfall makes with its piss poor file compression and this has to stop.
The game's soundtrack was forgettable and even the collectable records, which are high in quantity but I rarely found them, weren't brilliant. I liked how they parodied the appropriate timeline and newer bands by turning everything about them into German. All the music had German lyrics, the band names were German parodies and the titles of the songs were too. It adds to the atmosphere of the game being dominated by Nazis; one scene even has a soldier saying "English, huh? It's a dying tongue". Now I know what people mean when they say, "if it weren't for your grandfather you'd be speaking German".... Wolfenstein makes it literal.
I can't comment on the multiplayer - versus or cooperative - because there is none. Machinegames wanted to put their entire focus into the single player campaign rather than a shoehorned in horde mode, or cheap multiplayer no one would play past a few weeks after release. This does sound like a great idea, but I felt like the campaign was dragged out being a 16 hour slog with very few engaging objectives. Oftentimes I sighed and asked, "I could do with some wave survival with a friend right about now", as Wolfenstein seems fit for it. I have to wonder though: was this game designed to try meet a particular price point, or to compete with other shooters? To be fair there's no need, because I don't know any shooter on this generation that comes close to topping with The New Order does.
Wolfenstein: The New Order has loads of good ideas and if the campaign weren't so bloated I might have been able to appreciate the features more. It's too bad that they want you to do everything in one playthrough even if the formula begs to be played through multiple times. As much as I hate to say it, I won't be returning to Wolfenstein for a few months, but I will embrace the sequel with open arms. Recommend? Treat yourself to a used copy, and think about whether you'll want to go over the 14 hour campaign multiple times.
Thanks for reading, have a pleasant day, and don't forget to follow me on Twitter on @Lucbeth_WoW! Take care all!