Wolfenstein: The New Order
Developer: Machine Games
Genre: First Person Shooter.
Release Date: 05/20/14
I never truly got into Wolfenstein 3D. I recognize now what a game changer it was but at the time I was maybe 10 years old. Not exactly the target audience. Still, I do remember loading it up once or twice and wandering around exploring, shooting Nazis and trying to find secret passage ways. In the time since then I still haven’t gotten Wolfenstein. They have attempted to remake the game or to reuse the brand a few times, but they never succeeded in getting my attention. The New Order though, that was an interesting premise. When it was revealed it caught my attention. Somehow the Nazi’s win WW2. And our intrepid hero BJ Blazkowicz awakens from a coma Captain America style in the 1960s looking to pick up where he left off.
Right off the bat the game does something unexpected. It tells a story. In fact if there is one thing this game does well it is this. It makes BJ into something approaching human. The writers have managed to give BJ a reason to keep fighting through all of the blood and horror that he must endure. I won’t say it’s plausible but compared to previous efforts found in games of the genre I would say I haven’t seen a story this good since at least Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight. BJ starts the game as you know him, basically a faceless soldier who is damned good at killing Nazis. But as you get past the introduction and are reintroduced to the world, a world where the Allies lost the war and Nazi Germany went onto conquer the entire planet, BJ grows into something more. He is given a reason to fight. He is given a reason to endure. He finds love. He also finds the Resistance and soon joins up with them. They are labelled as terrorists by the Nazis, and it’s actually an interesting question. In a world where the Nazis did win, and seeing all of what they achieve, how can the resistance keep fighting? Fortunately BJ’s complete moral certainty solves the problem for the gamer, but it is a curious conundrum.
The game looks terrific. The art direction and design process involved in figuring out what the world of the Third Reich in the 1960s would look like must have given the designers a huge pallet of choices, and they are all put to good use here. What would Berlin look like? What would London look like? What would cars look like? What would soldiers dress like? What weapons would they carry? This game is so well thought out it kind of amazes me. And as I said it looks terrific. Not just the level design though. Character models look remarkably good.
The game isn’t short either. There are a few moments where the writers give you a natural end point only to have the game proceed on its merry way. As you move from mission to mission and the story gets fleshed out even more, you find out how it was that the Nazi’s were able to win the war. I’ll save the long explanation for the game but basically how different would the war have been if Indiana Jones had not been able to stop the Nazis from acquiring the Ark of the Covenant? The knowledge gained from such research might have enabled the Nazis to somehow turn back the Allied advance and conquer the world.
The audio, aside from a problem I’ll go into in a bit, is down right inspired at times. BJ will at times begin talking to himself, and it’s an excellent way of putting you right there in the moment. The voice actors are all earning their pay and then some, in a way that you just don’t expect to find in a FPS. You are given a warning near the beginning by an old man. He tells you he will hunt you down and kill you if you hurt his grandchild. And you KNOW he means it. Just excellent work. Plus as an added bonus you can find records at different locations. These records can then be listened to in the extras menu. One song is instantly recognizable as House of the Rising Son, only it’s played by a German polka band. All of the records have a written back story that does much to explain how the world is different. The Beatles are never mentioned per se, but you can find a record about a blue submarine sung by four English lads who had to learn to sing in German. Just the kind of universe building and back story that makes me love digging around in games that I usually only find in RPGs like Mass Effect or The Elder Scrolls.
All of this however is at best a disappointment without solid gameplay. Thankfully however the gameplay has managed to survive its reawakening in the future, just like BJ. You will find that the game is very true to it’s roots. You have two health bars, one for armor and one for your body. As in the past armor can be acquired in percentages ranging from 5% to 100% and will be highly prized because this is no game to be hiding behind cover. Everything from soldiers helmets to chunks of steel shot off of robot dogs to bullet proof vests, everything can and will be used to defend your body against attack if you wish to progress. And when you run out of armor it’s time to see how much punishment your body can take. You start the game with a full health bar of 100%. You can increase your health up to 300% if you consume health but it will slowly decrease back towards 100%, so it is best to save that for when you really need it if possible. As you go through the game you can increase your maximum health bar, I finished at 120%. You will be wise to seek out these increases in your maximum health because as the game goes on you’re going to need it.
If the health system is old school then the weapons are as well. No worries about having to decide between this weapon or that here. No instead here the only choice you’ll have to make is if you are using one Assault rifle at a time or two. One automatic shotgun or two. One level of the game just oozed inspiration from that scene in The Matrix where Neo and Trinity attempt to rescue Morpheus, and its fantastic. Each weapon has a secondary function, and one weapon that you pickup pretty early in the game will evolve to suit whatever the designers feel you need at that point. I found that a bit unorthodox but I can live with it as it’s not like you are forced to use it all the time. You will become very acquainted with the square button on your controller by the end of this game. Not only is it how you pick up body armor and health, it’s also how you pick up ammunition and reload your weapon. And ammunition is rarely ever found in big crates of one hundred rounds. Instead you are rewarded for killing Nazis with ammunition to kill more Nazis, three or four rounds at a time.
It’s not all about the guns either. You will quickly learn that if ammunition is in short supply your knife will do the job as well as a bullet sometimes. All it takes is a little effort and you can sneak up on unsuspecting guards. As you play you’ll unlock different perks for accomplishing specific goals. This perk system will allow you to learn how to throw your knives. Some missions actually require stealth to kill specific officer targets who can call in reinforcements, but once those are dead you can make as much noise as you like. Or you can just let them keep calling in reinforcements. It’s really up to you.
The game does so much right that its easy to forget the things that were not so well handled. Here I’ll do my best to lay out some of the issues I did find in the game. Much of the in game dialogue is lost in the cacophony of events, so you might miss whats going on plot wise. Depending on how you are playing, there are stretches of the game where you are just wandering around trying to get where you are going, without so much as a pistol shot. And then there is the laser cutting. Some things in the game can only be accessed by cutting it open with a laser. This means arming your laser and then drawing a shape big enough to fit a big hulking guy like BJ through. And it has to be cut just right or else you’ll be banging into it wondering why you are dying instead of escaping. The crates that you have to open up aren’t too bad, but the fences are terrible. Why I can’t just cut a straight line and slip through like a tissue I don’t know. Why can’t I just destroy it with weapons fire? It’s one of the few major miscues in this game, and while you don’t encounter fences too often I would say that once is more than enough.
Short Attention Span Summary:
The New Order has come out of nowhere and done an amazing job of revitalizing a moribund franchise. I very much hope a sequel is in the works. Go get it if you have any love at all for old school FPS games.