Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order

Jun 6, 2014

 You’re going to be doing one thing and one thing only: killin’ Nazis.

I can remember playing Wolfenstein 3D on my dad’s computer when I was much younger.  Although I didn’t obsess over the keyboard for hours on-end, I enjoyed the fast, nauseating gameplay.  The controls were responsive, there was a good selection of weapons, there was Nazi gold to steal and a mechanical Hitler to punch in the face.  Fast forward a couple of decades and you’ll find me popping Wolfenstein: The New Order in my very own latest and greatest gaming device to enjoy doing the same thing that I did way back when: killin’ Nazis.

The year is 1960 and the world is slightly different.  Due to an unidentified stroke of luck, the Nazis won World War II.  The world is now covered in red, black, and Swastikas.  Waking up from a 14 year coma, the series’ iconic protagonist, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, finds himself feeling a little crowded living under this New Order and decides to make a little room for himself by eliminating some of its goose-stepping inhabitants.  Number one on his hit-list is General Wilhelm Strasse, lovingly referred to as “Deathshead.”  Along the way, B.J. finds himself scaling a castle, fighting mechanical Nazi dogs, and joining a group of resistance fighters (which may or may not feature an iconic `60s guitarist, depending on a decision that you make early on…).

The gang's all here.

The gang’s all here.

The characters are pretty-much what you would expect: the Nazis are evil and the supporting cast is predictable, but B.J. himself is more than just a meat-headed, gun-toting, bad***.  It’s refreshing to see that MachineGames fleshed-out B.J. as a human being with feelings rather than just make him a mute spacemarine.  There’s even a very human-feeling love interest throughout the game that helps to further B.J.’s humanity.  Aside from B.J.’s characterization, almost everything that I experienced in the game was expected before I even removed the disk from its case.  What was, albeit slightly, unexpected was the amount of fun that I had during my two playthroughs.

Yes, that’s right: two playthroughs.  My first playthrough lasted around 17 hours on “Bring `Em On!” which is the game’s normal difficulty.  My second playthrough was more around 12 hours on “Über”, the game’s most difficult mode. There is a choice that you have to make early on in the game that changes the mood of the game, among other things.  I don’t want to spoil too much, so I’ll simply say that I enjoyed playing through the game a second time to see what all the differences were.  Of course there is also the seemingly obligatory collectible aspect of the game that really forces you to scour the well-crafted environments for items such as gold or letters.  While it may not be worth it to some people, there are several letters (and a few audio recordings) that tell a broader story of persons living in this alternate history that I found fascinating and were very much reason to go back through the story a second time.

Playing through a second time was also more enjoyable because of the tight and good-feeling shooting mechanics and the game’s perk system.  A few people are knocking the shooting saying that it’s “bland” and “boring”.  It’s true that there isn’t really any breakthrough technology (see: Half Life 2’s gravity gun) the shooting mechanics are very good, responsive, and feel substantial.  When it comes to first-person shooters, I prefer polished, tried-and-true shooting over sketchy innovation any day of the week.  Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but what it does bring is very good.

Wolfenstein®: The New Order_20140605144842

“Guten Tag!”

Wolfenstein: The New Order also has a basic perks system that begs you to excitement with different play styles.  Performing actions like killing x-amount of enemies while dual-wielding or with throwing knives unlocks various enhancements to B.J. as a character (i.e. reduced damage from enemy grenades) or purse augmentations (i.e. carry more knives, ammo, etc.).  Similar to the shooting mechanics: while not doing anything remarkably innovative, I think that the perks system is a fun reward for thoroughly experiencing all that Wolfenstein: The New Order has to offer.  It’s also important to note that stealthing your way through a mission is just as viable as going in guns-blazing.  As a matter of fact, I found myself entering nearly every combat situation with my silenced pistol and knives prior to whipping out my dual shotguns or Laserkraftwerk (loosely translated, “laser rifle”).

If there is one complaint that I can levy against the gameplay mechanics it would have to be on the subject of throwing knives.  You see, lobbing a throwing knife at an enemy will result in instant-death regardless of where the knife hits on said enemy.  This means that there is no real reason to get good enough to perform a headshot since a knife to the head is just as effective as a knife to the left buttocks.  If unexpected, it’s jarring the first time to see a highly armored, hulking Nazi go down because you tossed a knife and hit him in the arm.  All of the shooting mechanics feel solid though and Wolfenstein: The New Order does not shy away from blood and gore.  This is most certainly not a game for kids, the elderly, or persons with blood-injury phobias.  The gratuitous violence on display in Wolfenstein: The New Order is only helped by the fact that this game looks so good.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order’s Perk system.

Visually the game is impressive on next-generation consoles and, I’m sure, much more so on PC.  The game utilizes the id Tech 5 engine (remember RAGE?) and, while there are instances of texture pop-in, I found that the game ran very smoothly from start to finish.  On most platforms the game runs at 60 frames per second and that’s a really positive feature.

While Wolfenstein: The New Order is visually impressive, I found the audio to be lacking.  I played the game using my 5.1 Bose home theater setup and with my Sony Pulse Wireless Headset and think that explosions and spoken dialogue outside of cut-scenes could use some revamping.  This is a real shame because some of B.J.’s lines in-mission can be priceless at times.  (Wait until you hear his reaction to learning that the Nazi’s put a man on the moon…)  One thing that certainly does not disappoint is the custom soundtrack featuring period tracks that have been re-recorded in German (my personal favorite is “House of the Rising Sun” which can be listened to, along with the others, here).  That amount of detail can be seen throughout the game; from posters and letters, to Neumond Recording Company, it’s clear that Wolfenstein: The New Order was a labor of love for MachineGames.

If I could buy this... I would buy this.

If I could buy this… I would buy this.

Worth noting is that this game does not have a multiplayer component.  While this might be a turn-off for some, I’m starting to believe that my favorite genre of game is the single-player first-person experience.  BioShock Infinite, for example, was my game of the year in 2013.  The Elder Scrolls Series is another great example of first-person single-player only experiences that really benefit from a single, focused goal.  Often, games that feature multiplayer components fall into two camps: Call of Duty or Tomb Raider.  The Call of Duty camp suffers from short single-player campaigns with very little replay value and a large emphasis on multiplayer.  The Tomb Raider (2013) camp suffers from a high-quality single-player experience with an outsourced, bland or downright poor multiplayer component.  Games like BioShock Infinite and Wolfenstein: The New Order, with focused experiences that are highly polished, tend to stand out simply because they aren’t pandering to everyone.

MachineGames’ hard work and dedication to delivering a singular enjoyable experience from start to finish has really paid off in the end.  Wolfenstein: The New Order is my favorite title on the PS4 so far and is a contender for my game of the year.  With its tight shooting mechanics, enjoyable story, and painstaking detail, Wolfenstein: The New Order is sure to please fans of the first-person, story-driven experience.