Release Date: May 20, 2014Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, PC Developer: MachineGamesPublisher: Bethesda SoftworksGenre: First-person shooter
Wolfenstein is one of those rare shooter franchises that can come around only once in a blue moon and still manage to garner attention. Before 2009’s Wolfenstein, there hadn’t been a game released in the franchise since 2003. Before that, it was the early ’90s. This also has traditionally meant that each game plays very differently than the last, with current trending mechanics brought in to make the game feel modern. Wolfenstein: The New Order is no exception to these rules, and, like every game before it, stands on its own with a unique blend of mechanics and the best story and cast of characters that the series has ever seen.
Whereas previous Wolfenstein games opted more or less to allow the story to play a subtle role, with minimal characterization or plot development, The New Order has brought story and character to the forefront, with a newly-philosophical B.J. Blaskowitz, who manages, thanks to some slick script writing and great voice acting, to not be at all corny. Imagine a mix between Brad Pitt in Inglourious Basterds and Marcus Fenix (if he were actually anything like the character in those overly dramatic Gears of War commercials). The unique cast of characters also manage to, for the most part, dodge many cliches and stand on their own.
(sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves – The Editors)
These characters only help to strengthen the alternate history narrative, in which Nazi Germany conquered the world in World War II and created an oppressive world-state. B.J. wasn’t around to see this transition take place, however, taking a nasty bit of shrapnel to the head at the end of the war in the 1940’s and waking up from a coma in a mental asylum around 1960. His world has been turned upside down, and he quickly seeks out a resistance movement to try and overthrow the “New Order,” as it were. The narrative moves swiftly from prison camps, to a much redder, blacker, and whiter London, and even the freaking moon.
Along with narrative storytelling, the game also treats players to a fair amount of visual storytelling. Not only are the graphics gorgeous, but the art style is very distinct. From the weaponry and the terrifying Nazi tech, such as massive mechanized hounds and pneumatic robots with laser guns for arms, to the striking color in the Nazi iconography. The world in The New Order really breathes, and is a gleaming example of a shooter with character.
For the most part, The New Order manages to make a game that is as fun to play as it is to just experience atmospherically, thanks to a blend of modern and retro shooter mechanics, not to mention a few easter eggs for series vets. Old and new are at perfect harmony, with a weapon wheel (yup, you can carry all the guns at once) playing host to upgradable weaponry. Health packs (!) fuel Blazkowicz as he unlocks perks by completing challenges. It is perhaps those perks that add the most depth to the gameplay, both in how they are unlocked and how they are used.
The perk system is something of an oddity. It doesn’t require experience, per se, just a particular play style. There are four categories under which perks fall – Stealth, Tactical, Assault, and Explosive. Tactical and Assault are the most closely related, and only really differ in that Tactical has the player blazing away with a level of accuracy behind cover, while Assault caters to the dual-wielding Rambo crowd.
To unlock one of the 10 or so perks in each category, you must kill a certain number of soldiers in a certain fashion. You might have to kill a number of enemies with throwing knives to unlock a Stealth perk, nail guys with headshots for a Tactical perk, kill enemies while sliding along the ground for an Assault perk, or by shooting Nazis and having them drop a grenade at their feet for an Explosive perk. While not overly interesting, I did have fun unlocking these, and it gave me a little more of a reason to try on different styles of play, which the game always gives you the chance to do. It also helps that stealth is always an option, and never forced.
The level design is another strong point of the game. Not only are they designed to allow each of the four perk categories to flourish but are also totally worth exploring. There are hidden treasures to discover, ammo caches to access, and alternative routes offered for the inquisitive gamer to poke around in. The levels feel like they were designed after the gameplay mechanics were mapped out, and the two almost always seem to be in harmony, even when gameplay is forced in one direction or the other.
There are a few stumbling blocks, however. For one, the enemy A.I. are as dumb as bricks. Minus a few slick flanking maneuvers and an affinity for grenades, they are bullet fodder during gunfights and have their backs conveniently turned or are utterly blind to you during segments where stealth is an option. Granted, I always walked away from each engagement feeling satisfied thanks to the well-designed mechanics, but for those that need smart A.I. in their shooters, you need not apply.
While the A.I. is the biggest problem, there are a few smaller ones that start out as annoyances and turn into much larger annoyances as the game progresses. While it may not seem like a big deal that you have to press X or square to pick anything up at first, having to mash a button while collecting ammo becomes a pain after a while.
While having less explained to me was also refreshing in an old school way at first, from boss fights to what to do next, there were times where I was either wandering around for a lot longer than I should have or had no idea how to approach a boss. It seriously took me out of the experience. However, some people have no problem with this way of playing. I am just warning you. There was also some occasional pop in and it crashed once during my play test, and the audio mix never seemed to balance out, with the great voice acting was often drowned out by either the music, which went between blaring and barely audible, or the ambiance.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a wonderful meeting of the old and the new, bringing in some of the best elements of both, and carrying a little baggage, as well. While the game won’t make any waves in the industry, it is simply a well-made product that entertained me 90 percent of the time. For those that long for the days of unlockable game modes (there are four) and weapon wheels, but don’t want to sacrifice their iron sights and perks, you can’t go wrong with this game. The story and well-written characters are the icing on the cake.