Wolfenstein: The New Order Review
Perhaps the best way to describe Wolfenstein: The New Order is “bombastic chaos.” It’s over-the-top in more ways than one and while it never once strives for innovation or originality, it does strive to remind us that in fact, a first-person shooter can be wonderfully entertaining even without in-depth character progression systems and multiplayer. This is a drastically updated shooter (technically) from yesteryear, a no-holds-barred firefest with a protagonist named B.J. Blazkowicz and endless swarms of technologically advanced Nazis.
If you can’t find at least some entertainment here, you don’t know what fun is.
Obviously, the graphics will be better if you opt to play the latest Wolfenstein entry on a next-gen console. I didn’t see the visual presentation in the PS3 and 360 iterations, so I can’t make any direct comparisons. I can say, however, that the PS4 version looks great; the special effects always take center-stage, the level and general world design is better than I anticipated, and the attention to detail is impressive. Whether you’re engaged in hectic close-quarters action or you’re taking aim from afar in an open landscape, the environment is always visceral and effective.
The sound is another highlight, as the combination of a fitting, high-impact soundtrack and some gut-wrenching effects solidify the experience. Any balls-to-the-wall shooter should employ audio that throws you back in your recliner, and that’s precisely what we get with The New Order. Sharp, cracking gunfire, distinct effects that accompany wildly diverse weapons, some solid voice performances across the board, and music that amps up the adrenaline; it’s all remarkably consistent. The aim of the developers is obvious from the get-go, and the refined, well-implemented technical elements never lose sight of that aim.
If you weren’t aware, MachineGames was created by ex-Starbreeze veterans, and they produced some great games in the past. We see that experience shine through here, because we get a surprisingly interesting, engaging atmosphere that is both intimidating and imaginative. It reminds one of the alternate realities in the Bioshock games, only without one of those Levine-esque complex, philosophical storylines. One could argue that “all you’re doing is shooting Nazis over and over” and in fact, that argument wouldn’t be without merit. That’s really what you do. And yet somehow, you never feel bored or uninvolved.
After the Allies lose a pitched battle against the Third Reich in 1946, our hero Blazkowicz takes a piece of shrapnel to the skull and spends the next 14 years in a coma. When he awakes in 1960, he finds that the Nazis have achieved their goal: Worldwide domination. As I said above, while the alternate fictional reality holds shades of Bioshock, the storyline and characterization are much more straightforward. Nazis are bad and oppressive and Blazkowicz lives to exterminate Nazis. That’s it. There really isn’t much more to tell from a plot standpoint and you know, that’s okay.
As you might expect, the game plays very much like an old-school shooter. You can carry as many weapons as you can find and instead of the modern rejuvenating health mechanic, you have to find health packs to stay alive. I tend to prefer the latter “old-fashioned” system because it forces you to think twice before rushing headlong into a tricky situation. When we “graduated” to the restoring health mechanic, we streamlined the action, but we also eliminated a tactful element. The gameplay requires more strategy than you might expect, too, as certain powerful foes require a very specific assault. Tesla grenades sure are handy…
While the game is indeed linear, this doesn’t mean we’re moving from corridor to corridor. Rather, we enjoy one of the most balanced shooters in recent memory: There are open-air sections and tight, difficult segments that test your reactions and skill, and the number and difficulty of the enemy horde is just about right. No matter where you go or what you’re facing, you never feel overwhelmed, nor do you feel overpowered. This is perhaps the most attractive and impressive aspect of the game. The bottom line is that its design and freewheeling – yet occasionally demanding – style keeps you coming back for more.
Now, admittedly, it’s not all roses. The stealth MachineGames opted to implement is hit or miss. On the one hand, the AI is profoundly stupid, often unable to spot you out in the open, while on the other hand, this is another example of solid balance. See, if you screw it up and one of those lame-brained guards does detect you, it’s not over. Nope, just ditch your knife and unload the heavy arsenal, which is sometimes even more satisfying. The problem is that the stealth feels a tad forced, even if it’s not totally botched. It’s quite rewarding to perform stealth kills and the mechanic is decent, but it’s obviously not the game’s strong suit.
This leads to another minor issue, which involves the perks system. Blazkowicz can unlock new stealth and battle abilities but as time goes on, you don’t really care much the stealth. I mean, you could but I never did. Furthermore, the perks don’t drastically alter the gameplay, even though they can be very helpful when it comes to enhancing your weapons. I think more could’ve been done with the perks, which would’ve made the game felt like a fully realized experience. And really, I’m not sure stealth should play much of a role. That all being said, when you return to the core gameplay, it’s always rewarding, satisfying and undeniably entertaining.
It’s the intensity and remarkable pacing that sets this adventure apart. In the realm of shooter campaigns, I can’t remember one where I’ve had this much fun. Now, to be clear, there have been better campaigns (better writing, characters, etc.), but I’m having difficulty recalling a more wildly entertaining shooter. Well, actually, here it is: Return to Castle Wolfenstein way back in 2001. I think it’s amazing that a developer new to the franchise could make a new entry that feels…well, the way installments in this series should always feel. It’s a blast from start to finish and you’re never saying, “gee, I wish it felt ‘newer.’”
Wolfenstein: The New Order didn’t just surprise me. It shocked me. My expectations for this one were decidedly low but within the first hour, I was chastising myself for having doubted MachineGames. I said the story isn’t all that fantastic, but bear in mind that I was comparing it to Bioshock, which isn’t quite fair. When compared to other shooters, the narrative is great. The gameplay is great. It’s super duper fun. The stealth is questionable, the perks system feels underused, and I would’ve liked more opportunity to select my approach angle. Other than that, I have greatly enjoyed the crazy excess of this game. A guilty pleasure? …why should I feel guilty?
The Good: Excellent level construction and general design. Fantastic sound effects from front to back. Highly entertaining, surprisingly diverse gameplay. Very well balanced and well paced. An absolutely awesome arsenal. Lengthy, engaging, and never boring.
The Bad: Stealth implementation is questionable. Perks could’ve been more robust. Some braindead AI.
The Ugly: “This dude is looking right at me…maybe he’s daydreaming about some pretty Fräulein…”
5/23/2014 Ben Dutka