Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a FPS developed by Machine Games and published by Bethesda Softworks. The version I reviewed is the PS4 version. Wolfenstein has a storied franchise. Wolfenstein 3D is considered to be the game that birthed the modern first-person shooter. It was the game that defined what an FPS is. A year later DOOM would come out and cement the FPS genre as a staple in the gaming community. To this day FPS games hold the largest market share in video gaming. Both Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM were developed by id Software. Although Wolfenstein: The New Order was developed by Machine Games it was only after their owner ZeniMax Media acquired id Software and Machine Games earned id Software’s approval that development started. Wolfenstein: The New Order was also built on id Software’s proprietary id Tech 5 game engine which was also used to create the game RAGE. When RAGE came out in 2011 it blew my mind for how gorgeous it looked and for its dynamic game play physics. The things it pulled off I had previously thought were impossible for console gaming at the time. While RAGE has its flaws it is still a great game and I strongly recommend at least a rental.
From the very first moment of Wolfenstein: The New Order you are dropped head first into an engaging tale that soon reveals itself to be a powerful narrative. Its sort of strange in a game that features such an impressive arsenal, the violence never feels glorified. Rather a necessary means against unimaginable horror. The characters you meet in the game feel like fully fleshed out individuals with realistic humanities. The protagonist is no exception. Captain William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz feels like a real person. Machine Games deserves credit, B.J.’s actions may at times be superhuman but his personality makes him feel genuinely human. Throughout the game periodically you will hear B.J.’s inner thoughts as you progress and perform different actions. It is a subtle layer of storytelling that does wonders to deepen B.J.’s personality. The inner thoughts also serve the player well as to better understand the character of B.J. and his motivations. The premise of Wolfenstein in its purest form, to kill all Nazis, could easily have distilled B.J. Blazkowicz into nothing more than a mindless killing machine. Instead Machine Games has carefully crafted an endearing protagonist you can’t help but root for.
Captain B.J. Blazkowicz is a U.S. soldier fighting in Europe during WWII. After an incident resulting in a severe head injury he wakes up from a vegetative state 14 years later. The Nazis have won the war. The world he knew is gone. He himself is now a relic of a bygone era. No longer a freedom fighter he is now labeled a terrorist. Captain Blazkowicz must uncover the fate of his former comrades and along the way find/create a resistance. A cell to once again fight for the freedom of the people of the world. It is a very personalized story that does an excellent job of hooking you in right from the beginning.
Make no mistake this is a mature game, not just because it contains mature content and deals with adult themes, but also because it handles the them in an adult way. Wolfenstein does not blink when delving into the horrors of war, particularly war against the Nazis. On that note, never have I felt so motivated to defeat an enemy. The events experienced in the game become personal very quickly. You are not just fighting for yourself, but everyone who can’t.
Most of Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place in an alternate timeline after World War 2. Specifically the game takes place in a version of the 1960’s where the Nazis have won the war. The re-imagining of history allows for some pretty interesting science fiction. Machine Games took the opportunity to explore the what ifs? of a history defined by a Nazi victory of WWII and they came up with some creative answers to those questions. It should be noted that early on in the game the player is offered a decision that will effect Wolfenstein’s timeline. The overall story does not change significantly based on how you make this decision but it will have an impact on your in-game abilities, upgrades and the characters you will meet. It is clear that Wolfenstein was created with multiple playthroughs in mind.
The combat is extremely satisfying. The weapons are balanced with great precision and all of them are viable options of attack in some capacity on every level. Controls are spot on and feel very responsive. Enemies visibly respond to attacks in appropriate fashion to the weapons you are using. Even larger enemies respond satisfyingly to your attacks. While you do have a large arsenal of weapons and attacks at your disposal you can only quick cycle 2 different weapon sets. The sets are chosen from a selection wheel displaying all of your weapons at once. Choosing your quick select weapons from the wheel really doesn’t take long once you get used to it but still in the heat of battle those few moments can mean life and death. The system does work well enough and I really don’t know of a better way to execute weapon selection on a console game. Thrown items like knives and grenades have designated buttons and are always available for attack no matter what weapons you have selected.
Captain Blazkowicz plays like a total badass. He can run, jump and then rock star slide into combat with duel-wield weapons blazing. On the flip side the stealth was unexpectedly well realized. Using silenced handguns, throwing knives and hands-on takedowns you can dispatch large portions of enemies without them ever knowing you were there. One of the most refreshing parts of the stealth was that I never felt unfairly punished for being detected. Being detected can definitely make portions of the game more difficult but you never feel like you automatically lost because you were detected as is the case in other games. The feeling of getting caught is sort of like “OK, so much for being sneaky, time for plan B!” You obviously don’t want to get caught when trying to be stealthy but if you do get caught being sneaky the game is still fun and you can still win.
Something I really appreciated about the combat was the level of skill that was involved. For instance performing a stealth take down by throwing a knife takes careful consideration for distance and the number of enemies present. Although it is a one hit kill no matter where you hit your target, hitting them is not a guarantee. You could easily miss for a number of reasons which can result in alerting enemies to your position. Even performing stealth takedowns means making sure you are aiming directly at your target within the proper distance. This was something I really appreciated in Wolfenstein because in a lot of other FPS titles similar gameplay often feels less involved and of little skill.
Another thing about the combat is that it really does take strategy. You will need to use a large variety of skills and strategies to progress. Going in duel guns blazing is definitely a lot of fun but in some areas it may be much more beneficial to only wield one rifle, firing from cover. Certain weapons are better suited for different situations and enemies. This is especially true when you are first starting out and don’t have many perks or upgrades unlocked. It is wise to pay attention to your perks. Performing detailed tasks will unlock useful upgrades that will make you more formidable in later levels.
EXPLORE! I swear every nook and cranny of this game has something hidden in it. I’m starting my 4th play through and I am still discovering hidden items and passage ways. It is impossible to talk about Wolfenstein’s gameplay without mentioning it’s level design. Although it is far from a sandbox game and progression is fairly linear, there is still a huge amount of content in every level of this game. The levels are also varied enough that missions and treasure hunting stay fresh. I am suspicious of every environment I enter now because Wolfenstein is full of secrets. Too many times have I walked through a seemingly unassuming area only to look a little closer and discover something hidden. Utilize the resources you are given and pay close attention to your surroundings.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is the second game to be built using the id Tech 5 game engine and for the most part it looks pretty good on the PS4. Lighting and shadowing effects are very nice. Certain textures occasionally look flat, pens and papers sometimes look painted on to surfaces. The only time I think the graphics really suffered is in one scene late in the game where they show a city from overhead. Some of the buildings and cars look fine but the surface on the ground looks stretched out and undefined. Wolfenstein is over 50 gigabytes and on last-gen hardware that size is especially large. The 360 version actually comes on 4 discs. I imagine playing Wolfenstein on the PS3 and XBOX 360 would give me a similar feeling of awe to when I played RAGE back in 2011. On current-gen hardware like the PS4 and XBOX One the graphical expectations are greater so when minor blemishes appear on an otherwise great looking game they stick out a lot more.
Wolfenstein boasts a large variety of enemies and even when many of them would appear on screen together I never experienced any noticeable drops in frame rate or slow down. I played with the highest difficulty setting turned on and I will say the enemy A.I. may not be the best ever but they can be quite crafty and they are ruthless. There was only one instance when sniping a long distance that I noticed an enemy had gotten stuck on an object. Overall Wolfenstein looks and plays great, weapons and explosions are especially good looking, there were just a few moments when a few textures seemed lacking.
The story is surprisingly well told. The voice acting is superb. It is obvious a lot of hard work went into meticulous level design. For a game based on a 30 year old franchise Wolfenstein: The New Order does a great job of honoring the past while leaping forward into the 21st century. I was afraid this title would get caught in the same pitfalls as Duke Nukem Forever. Duke Nukem is another storied franchise from the same era as Wolfenstein. Duke’s biggest game was Duke Nukem 3D, an obvious descendant of Wolfenstein 3D as it featured all of the same core gameplay mechanics. Both franchises experienced their peak in popularity during the 90’s and as evidenced by Duke Nukem Forever, striking that right balance between past and present is tricky. You don’t want to alienate what originally made the franchise so popular in its heyday but you also can’t ignore current trends. Swing too hard one way or the other and you risk the chance of getting stuck in the past or losing the identity of the franchise. It is a delicate balance.
Machine Games did a great job tip-toeing that tight wire. The identity of Wolfenstein is still intact. The core gameplay elements are all present. Staples of the franchise are still present like hidden passage ways and increasingly bizarre enemies. The large arsenal of weapons is well realized and accounted for. The protagonist is still a badass and the Nazis are still the enemy. What Machine Games did was utilize the tools afforded to them by current gaming capabilities to take those core elements, flesh them out, and bring them into the modern world of first-person shooters. Most of all Wolfenstein: The New Order is incredibly fun to play. It is such a refreshing title in a sea of FPS clones. In a world where Call of Duty is a yearly title it is really nice to see a game that embraces its imagination and runs with it.
One thing I will say about this game is that I think it might have been held back a little bit by the restrictions of also being developed for the XBOX 360 and PS3. Had development not been restricted by the constraints of the aging hardware I think this game could have been even more amazing and not had the few issues I mentioned earlier.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
ESRB Rated M for Mature 17+
A highly recommended must play title.
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