Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Samuel Tow
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Wolfenstein: The New Order
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Playing this game was like watching a wrestling match between two developers. In one corner you have Gritty Realism Angsty Drama, weighing in at grey and depressing. In the other corner, you have Clown Shoes Madcaps Fun, weighing in at Stupid Jetpack Hitler in his moon base. At first it starts out pretty even, with both developers trading blows and swinging the game in their favour. But then mid-way through the game the budget runs out, Fun takes a folding chair to the head and the rest of the game sees Drama wailing on it with trash can lids and steel ring steps. Then he hits fun with his illegal finisher - the Shit Ending - and the match ends in disqualification as the credits roll and I wonder why the Frankenfurter I paid Pay-Per-View money for this.

That... Might need a little clarification.

Introduction:

Wolfenstein: The New Order is an "alternate history" FPS, a sort of spiritual successor to the original Wolfenstein which more or less ignores both Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein - the remake with the same name as the original just to make my life more difficult talking about it. While it opens with a failed Allied attempt to stem defeat in WW2 in 1946, most of the game takes place in 1960 where the Nazi have taken over the world. It's told in several "chapters," each of which is basically a self-contained level which counter-intuitively strips away your guns. The game has a fairly small selection of weapons, most of which can be dual-wielded and a very... Weird cover mechanic. It also has a map, a feature not seen in FPS games since... Descent, as far as I can remember. It's a run-and-gun shooter which occasionally throws a variety hour at you, is my point.

Graphics and Design:

Graphically, Wolfenstein looks good for the most part. I don't know what engine it uses (though I want to see Unreal) but the result is pretty good texture resolution and high-fidelity models. Character animations are top-notch, though I highly suspect they're motion capture. Factial animation leaves something to be desired. A lot of weird lip-flaps happen that don't always match the audio and people trying to emote end up looking like serial killers. I played L4D2 the other day, and I have to say that facial animation in even THAT bears The New Order. Can't recall seeing any particularly impressive particle effects, either. Unreal Engine games tend to have these clouds of particles in them (think Batman: Arkham Origins) which aren't present here. There's a strangely token wall-cutting mechanic which allows you to laser-cut fences and some metal plates, though it's somewhat... Awkward and rarely used. A lot of places also seem to have cover destruction, though this appears to have been built into the maps themselves.

Style-wise, though, Wolfenstein has a very stark and unique aesthetic. I say "uniqne," but I mostly mean "unique for alternate history stories." The Nazi-occupied future is decidedly oppressive, with large concrete buildings, clean empty streetes with frequent checkpoints, black soldiers in face-concealing gas masks, all of this drawn up against a retro-futuristic "zeerust" backdrop of CRT monitors and typewriters, supercomputers controlled by punch cards and old vintage furniture. The game spans a surprising array of locations, as well, from WW2 forts to prisons to a U-Boat to a god damn this-is-for-real Nazi moon base and so on. I'm disappointed to say, though, that a lot of the game's later (and far more interesting) locations barely get used before you're whisked away to the next one. Guns are particularly cool, with a kind of blocking, over-engineered design despite obviously being based on WW2-era firearms down below. Those too, however, peter out very early on.

The game's visuals tell the tale of a game which ran out of time or money or packed lunches or something so the latter half of it had to be trimmed down considerably. You go from a beginning with many large, expansive and very visually distinct locations to very small, very quick leves in rapid succession. The game starts with an island, then Berlin, then London then... Berlin again. What? While the guns are cool, you'll see most of them by the first third and that's it for the rest of the game. Enemy variety builds up little by little but then peters out and you're left fighting the same guys in different-colour uniforms. You start earning supposedly important, named companion characters but they're rushed and don do anything. There's a major recurring villain yet nothing comes of her. The game look ACES right out the gate, but it doesn't stay that way for the entire duration.

Gameplay and Systems:

Gameplay in Wolfenstein is reminiscent the good old "golden year" shooters and seems to sit somewhere between Quake and Half-Life. Most of the game plays out like a traditional shooter - you're plopped down into locations full of enemies and encouraged to kill them all before you proceed. A very curious dual-wielding mechanic allows you to dual-wield almost every weapon in the game if you can find two of it. This is balanced (in theory at least) by slowing you down, hampering your aim and removing your ability to use iron sights. Yes, Wolfenstein does have the repugnant "iron sights" mechanic, but this only works when wielding a single weapon. When dual-wielding, the "iron sights" button actually fires your right-handed gun while the regular fire button fires the left-handed one. Holy hell! I finally found another game with actually GOOD dual-wielding! I mean besides Advent Rising.

All weapons have two firing modes, though you don't get access to those right out the gate. Pistols can have silencers, rifles have under-barrel rocket launchers, the "laser" thing can switch between being a weapon and a cutting tool and so on. This is somewhat awkward, however, as you have separate mode switch button that takes a second per gun to switch over... Exactly like in Advent Rising, and it sucked there, too. What this means is you'll usually either stick to one firing mode and not bother with the other, or you'll end up dual-wielding two guns each set to a different mode. I personally had one bullet-firing rifle and one rocket-firing rifle at the same time in my playthrough. That works pretty well for the most part.

A "cover mechanic" exists in the game, but it's weird. There's a "lean" button which... Does a bit more than it says, for the fact that you can "lean" up and down, usually to peek above or under cover. How this works is the game will try and detect when you're near a wall. Holding the lean button and pressing a direction will sort of shimmy you to the side and peek out. This can move you quite a long way and avoids Soldier of Fortune's problem of having to position yourself in the perfect leaning location. It is, however, bothersome and largely unnecessary when I can bloody well shift my own damn self a step to the left if I want to peek in and out. Why games keep insisting on implementing leaning and cover as systems rather than letting players do this through their basic controls is beyond me. And it's not like you can avoid it, because the game's "progression" system requires it. Oh, right, about that.

Wolfenstein has a very rudimentary progression system which essentially tasks you with doing challenges to unlock mostly insignificant buffs. A lot of the weapon challenges are about killing specifically from cover. Some are fairly straightforward, like performing a set number of stealth kills. Some, on the other hand, are outright assinine, like asking you to kill enemies with their own dropped grenades. In the end, these challenges are a pain, they barely matter and I hate them.

Last on the list of systems is "stealth," because it's barely a system. This is stealth in its most rudimentary form. You sneak around, backstab people and if they see you it's all over. A twist on the system is the presence of "commanders" - unarmoured weak targets you want to backstab. Doing so reveals collectables on the map, and some of those collectables are straight-up gun upgrades. But there really isn't much to this system. Sneak up behind people and hit the button prompt.

Essentially, the game's actual gameplay is... Pretty much very good. Weapons feel meaty and you can dual-wield everything, cover matters but you don't have to use it and there are enough firefights to keep you interested. If only the story were as good...

Story and Characters:

The basics: You are William J Blascowitz, a US army soldier and immortal Nazi killing machine. After failing to kill General Deathshead and end WW2, an explosion blows shrapnel into your head and paralyses you for 14 years. During this time, you're in an insane asylum, trying to expel the shrapnel by thinking about it really hard. You wake up just in time for a Nazi purge to kill everyone sans the pretty lady who took care of you. You wake up, stab a Nazi in the neck with the steak knife from your food tray, grab his gun and start gunning down armoured Nazi soldiers by the literal hundreds. Slow down, BJ! Even Steven Segal needed a healing montage after his coma before he could start killing people! From there, you're sent on what I can only describe as little vignettes mostly connected to each other by a theme of killing nazi in increasingly sadistic ways.

And here we veer into one of the game's major problems - a tonal clash. BJ's narration keeps trying to be grim and gritty, talking about all the horror he's seen at the hands of the Nazi and talking about how much he wants to kill Nazi, and there's a series of voice recordings of a woman who recalls the pleasure she took in killing Nazi in ways to make the Final Destination movies feel tame... And we're suppose to sympathise with that? I mean, sure, Nazi are like zombies in that we don't feel bad about killing them, but there's a fine line between shooting Nazi as enemies in a game and essentially "torture porn." That the game is so tonedeaf as to present many of its principal protagonist as the kind of pyschopathic torture-murderers as would make ideal villains in a slasher flick is... Unpleasant, let's just say. Especially since this is treated like such a good, positive thing. Yeash!

But then I can dual-wield double-barreled auto-shotguns and shoot the limbs off of giant robots, all the while I'm trying to find nuclear launch codes in the Nazi Moon Base powered by the tech from an ancient Jewish clan of inventors. Wait, you lost me there. Was I supposed to emotionally involved in a war drama? Because I ended up running around like a little kid, enjoying an over-the-top campy shooter! The whole thing is a joke, or at least feels like one at times. The ridiculously excessive action, the giant screen-filling dual-wield guns, the badass one-liners... This is Duke Nukem territory! And it's not like the writers weren't aware of this. This one time I was swimming through the sewers, and BJ kept saying stuff like "I dove into a well, but it wasn't as deep as this." "I swam the English channel but it wasn't as cold as this." "I swam through refuse, but it wasn't as foul as this." That's the kind of gritty dialogue you'd find in the movie Airplane! where the character's melodramatic prose is set up against the backdrop of slapstick hilarity. So very often, the game comes across like a parody of action shooters and Call of Duty style emotionally-manipulative tripe... And yet so very often it isn't...

Up until the mid-point of the story, roughly speaking, Wolfenstein manages to maintain a good balance of drama and Duke Nukem. I genuinely cared about the fates of the people involved and allowed myself to be immersed into this world, while at the same time enjoying the high-octane action and laughing at headshots. A heavy scene would be followed by a goofy scene or an outrageous action set-piece. Then mid-way through it switched gears. Now I started listening to characters' murder fantasies but it's OK because they're Nazi, a lot of named characters died for no reason, the guns got real boring after a while and the levels became dull and uninspired. All I was left with was this nasty taste in my mouth like I was playing outright revenge porn stripped of any charm, fun or content until the actions of the "heroes" became very much indistinguishable from the actions of the villains. And you REALLY do not want to do this in a game where the villains are the fucking NAZI!

Overall:

This game is bloody expensive, let's open with that. 50 Euro on Steam is just not - in any way - worth the price of admission. Maybe if you really really want to drown an Nazi in his own piss (not even kidding with that one) that might be worth full price, but be serious now. Counter-intuitively, I'd actually suggest playing around half the game and then stopping. Play until you rescue the Jewish inventor from the death camp and just walk away. You'll leave with a much more pleasant experience.

The reasons to buy Wolfenstein are actually many and varied. It's a very competent, very fun shooter in a day and age where we don't get a lot of those. It's not Call of Duty, it's not Unreal Tournament - it's a game somewhere in-between. Besides, it's cool and stylish as all hell. Seriously, if the thought of dual-wielding double-barrelled auto-shotguns doesn't get you excited just on principle then you need to re-evaluate what you're doing with your life. The voice actors are pretty good, the game looks very pretty and it's an older-style shooter. You lack regenerating health, you can carry all the weapons in the world on you at one time and you can even climb to a limited degree.

However, I can easily see skipping it. The game feels unfinished. It feels like the developers got hit with something roughly mid-way through production and just had to rush the latter half of the game out the door on a deadline. The ending sucks like I can't describe, it comes out of nowhere and is very, very unsatisfying. The characters start off well-written and powerful but end up hollow, token and outright reprehensible by the end... And they seem to flip on a dime. This really does feel like it switched lead developers or switched studios part-way. Finally, the game's just mean. I know they're Nazi, I know we hate them and want to kill them and that's fine. But I'd honestly rather not indulge in murder fantasies because THAT makes me feel like I need a shower afterwards. The story just does a bizarre turn mid-way and it never recovers.

I honestly can't recommend Wolfenstien: The New Order at the price it's going for currently. It takes SUCH a dive towards the end it's just not worth the money. Like I said - just half of that game MAY be worth 50 Euro, but not the whole package. If you really really have to have it, wait for a discount, and I mean a SERIOUS discount. I wouldn't pay more than about 20 Euro for it. I would have said 30, but THAT ENDING literally took 10 Euro off my estimate as compensation for how much it pissed me off.

Sorry. I thought this would be a great find.