Wolfenstein: The New Order - Review


The shooter that started it all is back - Wolfenstein.
With Wolfenstein: The New Order, developer Machine Games doesn't tackle the topic of "how to prevent the Nazis from taking over the world", but instead "what to do, if they already took it over".
In this refreshing change of things, main character of the original B.J. Blazkowicz is back in his complete Rambo-esque glory.
The question is, how Wolfenstein itself has evolved. Is it a game that is going to favor mindless old-school ego-shooter action over keeping up with modern shooter standards? Or is it going to be a surprising new mix of both, old and new?
Let's find out if killing Nazis is just as fun on next-gen consoles as it was back then. 


The plot:
Set in 1960's Europe in a world where the Nazis won the Second World War, the single-player story follows war hero William "B.J." Blazkowicz and his efforts to stop the Nazis in their ruling of the world. Blazkowicz is tasked with launching a counter-offensive against the Nazi powers, subsequently becoming entangled in other dilemmas caused by their victory.(source: Wikipedia)

Wolfenstein has always been about alternating history and mixing it up with some B-movie charme and Wolfenstein: The New Order is no exception in this regard.

The New Order features main star of the franchise B.J. Blazkowicz awakening from a "sort-of-coma" in a Polish hospital, in a world now ruled by The New Order - the Nazis.
Out to still fight the Nazi regime, Blazkowicz needs to find the other remaining underground rebels to fight the Nazis from within.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is an expectedly overly manly, oftentimes over-the-top, B-movie-esque, fictional take on how a Nazi world domination could look like.
In that sense, the New Order manages to succesfully mix it's cheesy-yet-unique, sci-fi alternate history with some shockingly detailed and dark imagery referencing actual conventions and happenings of the real Nazis from WWII.
Concentration camps, Nazi ideals, discrimination etc. all find their distinct way into the game's story, that occasionally remind the player that the cruel events in the game aren't even too far fetched and are sadly rooted in reality.
With that said, despite a mostly B-movie feel, Wolfenstein's story is fairly well written for a standard shooter. At its core, it features a predictably fairly silly straight-forward story, which nevertheless is suprisingly grippingly narrated and told with enough heart to keep you playing till the end.
Filled with characters and relationships that are just well written enough to care and action-set pieces and levels that keep you guessing; where the game is going to send you next, Wolfenstein's lengthy 10-12 hour journey manages to have enough things going for it to overcome its occassionally formulaic gameplay feel.
With a familiar pacing, characters and storyline, Wolfenstein's story is still obviously holding onto shooter-story conventions, yet manages to package them in such an appealing way, that it does feel like the game's story accomplished exactly what it aimed for. A silly-yet-satisfying straight-forward action shooter story.

Additionally, there's a second timeline in the game, depending one whether you decide to save one or another person in the game. Yet; the two timelines only have differ in minor aspects of the experience and mostly just force a second playthrough (considering you cant get enough of killing Nazis).

That moment, when architecture becomes a statement.


Core Mechanics - "Old-School Fun and Old-School Frustrations"

Next to its choice of focussing on the standard main villain of modern history, the Nazis, Wolfenstein: The New Order furthermore keeps its main core shooter mechanics very old-school and mostly oriented on 90's shooter conventions.

Along with regaining health through med-packs and food, refilling armor through picking up helmets and metal plates, and having your entire weapons arsenal always with you, the game's primary fun-factor of mowing down dozens of Nazis one-man-army-style with huge guns in both hands works fairly well as such over-the-top shooters go.
Every gun in the game has a nice feel of weight and punch to it. Especially shooting huge monsters of guns like the shotgun from both hands and seeing what devastating, gory effects they do to enemies only further underline the guilty-pleasure factor of the simple minded main goal of Wolfenstein - shooting, shooting, shooting.

And while there is certainly a place for old-school-rooted-games like Max Payne 3 or Wolfenstein in today's era of videogames, annoyances that have been basically eradicated in today's shooter standards are sadly nagging Wolfenstein's experience and make it hard to get everything out of the game's otherwise fun and simple action formula. Therefore, Wolfenstein's combination of old- and new-school doesn't always fly and results in odd and occasionally pretty frustrating gameplay-mechanic-shortcomings.

Shooting Nazis never gets old.

Despite the encouraged rambo-style-gameplay focus Wolfenstein obviously has, B.J. Blazkowicz is by no means invincible, no matter what his increasingly large and always ready arsenal of weapons might indicate.
Picking up med-kits and armor in fights is essential to be able to deal with the ever increasingly stonger enemies and larger troops throughout Wolfenstein's campaign. And despite it's a nice refreshing trip back to how shooters used to work before auto-refilling health, keeping yourself in fighting shape is unfortunately pretty tiresome in Wolfenstein: each item you pick up, from ammo, to health packs, etc. has to be individually picked up by a button press instead of being automatically picked up by walking over it.
Though it might first seem like a minor nitpick, the fact that bringing health packs and armor back into a game essentially changes how you approach fire fights in Wolfenstein and therefore makes items in the game basically lay around EVERYWHERE.
Therefore, oftentimes you will encounter tough battles in large areas, in which you have to quickly scavenge med-packs and recover your health, which would initially feel way less frustrating when not having to control the analog stick to run while frantically tapping on the picking-up-button to heal yourself.
Especially when the enemy troops get tougher and tougher towards the game's final levels and start to flank you from several angles, the player's rage-meter will eventually quickly fill up. All because the game's controls make the game unfairly more difficult than it already is.

Another aspect about Wolfenstein's aimed at playstyle that simply doesn't lead to the desired result, is the fact that Machine Games primarily wants the player to play the game like a 90s shooter, in which the focus is on going in all out guns-blazing without a strategic second thought.
Especially considering the aforementioned picking-up-annoyance, paired with the frustrating fact that the game doesn't automatically switch to another loaded gun when empty, ultimately makes most of Wolfenstein's sections be better played like a traditional cover based shooter.
Of course, playing Wolfenstein like this doesn't mean that the fun is drastically diminished but rather that the developer's design expectations and goals don't get fully fulfilled when actually playing the game.
Even though other aspects, like unlockable permanent perks furthermore show the developers' will to encourage certain different playstyles and give a nice motivation for experimenting with Blazkowicz's weapons in certain ways, the different upgrades ultimately qualify as no necessities to complete the game or to effecitvely derive the player from sticking to the usual cover-based playstyle. 

Rehabilitation at its finest.

Non-Shooting Mechanics - "Slight Freedom and Forced Exploration"

Though occasionally its not necessarily all about shooting.
Frequently the game gives you opportunities in specific sections to go stealth with your knife or silenced pistol. There, you can silently take out marked Nazi officers in order to prevent them to call for reinforcements, or you can once again just go guns blazing and try your best taking out all of the incoming troops.
Despite the fact that the stealth sections really aren't anything new or big in terms of mechanics or freedom to write anything home about and still remain fairly basic and even partially flawed (revealing enemies' inconsistent attention and fields of view), they serve very well as a nice and pretty fun change of pace in the game.

Speaking of pacing, other specific sections in Wolfenstein's campaign that don't involve shooting put a big emphasis on exploration and dialogue...in a way.
In said explorative sections, it becomes apparent that Wolfenstein tries to strike a balance between old and new but has a hard time to avoid today's standard cinematic approach most commonly presented in military shooters. The result is an oftentimes weird use of cutscenes and interaction with other friendly NPCs.
With that said, often the blend of cutscenes and gameplay is handled pretty awkwardly in Wolfenstein. In many cases, the game interrupts the player's gameplay through a very short and fairly useless cutscene that could've easily just been a spoken line during gameplay, or has him even search for specific certain items in aforementioned explorative environments only to trigger the next short cutscene.
Explorative environments like the free-roaming rebel base ultimately don't feel like they give you something substantial to do but rather degrade you to do annoying fetch quests only to trigger another cutscene leading you to the next "real" shooting level.
Sure, the main purpose of putting life into a vivid rebel base is to some extent managed here, but flatout forcing the player to do boring tasks in order to have him explore such environments feels more pointless than fun.
"After hundreds of dead Nazis...i finally found all of that stupid kid's toys!"


Graphically, Wolfenstein is not necessarily a powerhouse display of what the PS4/Xbox One can do, but rather what is to be considered the standard of shooters that are to be released in the future.
With that said, while facial animations clearly stand out in the game's visual department (especially the one's of Frau Engel and General Totenkopf/Deathshead), it's mainly the art- and conceptual design of the Nazi overtaken world that is to be gazed at.
From cold, edgy Nazi architecture over to the weird blends of 60s' technology and mechs (most notably the "Panzerhund") Wolfenstein: The New Order has quite a distinct visual style that is consistently and effectively apparent and immersing throughout the entire campaign in the full 60FPS next-gen consoles make possible.
Regarding last-gen consoles, differences show in the expectedly muddier textures of the PS3/Xbox360 version and the lower framerate. Though this is the usual fare with last-gen ports nowadays.  


What the trailers show is what you get in the sound department.
Surprisingly great voice acting performances (with most notably some of the German speaking voice actors) along with a great soundtrack, which combines pumping metal, emotional orchestral scores and moody synth tracks, furthermore add to Wolfenstein's high production values.
The soundtrack always manages to set just the right mood and successfully underlines the situation with fitting tracks throughout.
Additionally awesome gun sounds and the fact, that the awesome individual "mockery" songs by Ralph Becker can be found as collectibles in the game's levels, furthermore top off the great sound design in Wolfenstein: The New Order.    

An Alien?! - No, don't worry. Just a 5-ton, titanium, Nazi robo-dog.

The Verdict

Next to games like Turok, Max Payne 3 and others, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a mostly basic shooter rooted in old-school shooter conventions, which primarily aims to reawoke feels of nostalgia while spicing it up with next-gen gaming aspects here and there.
While Wolfenstein's core shooter-gameplay is without any doubt very straight-forward, challenging and fun in its own regard, the action is sadly hold back by some (in the longrun) annoying little gameplay shortcomings that simply prevent the game's action to be enjoyed flawlessly in its full potential when all of them add up.
Nevertheless, Wolfenstein: The New Order features a surprisingly well realized alternate history setting, blending B-Movie esque, comicy sci-fi with dark, realistic parallels to actual WWII Nazi actions and ideals. Accompanied by a solid action story, fairly well designed characters and a surprisingly good narrative, Wolfenstein has quite some surprises up its sleeve to keep you playing through its lengthy campaign full of set-pieces and obviously high production values.

 Final Verdict: 7 out of 10 

Status: Good

Big thanks goes out to Bethesda for providing us with a review copy of the game.

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