Reviews June 5, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: PC (Also on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3)
Genre: FPS
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 05/20/2014
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: MachineGames

Who would have thought that a top-down, action stealth game would lead to the creation of a new genre? Inspired by Muse Software’s Wolfenstein series, id Software created Wolfenstein 3D – the first First Person Shooter. Years later, the legacy continues with MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order. And while it doesn’t create a new genre of game, it is certainly awesome in its own right!

In The New Order, gamers will again don the shoes of agent William “BJ” Blazkowicz as he takes on the Nazis regime. Opening up years after the last game with an Allied raid against a Nazi stronghold in 1946, the story literally starts with a bang. Giant walking turrets blasting planes out of the sky and crushing soldiers underfoot while large robotic dogs tear at the wreckage littered across the beach. It’s like a science fiction version of D Day. Despite overwhelming odds, Blazkowicz and a small group of soldiers are able to make it inside before being captured by the despicable Deathshead. A few of them are able to escape but the ensuing explosion leaves our hero with a critical head injury. The blow lands him in a psychiatric asylum. Fast forward to 1960, Blazkowicz wakes up to a world conquered by Nazis…apparently, we’ve lost WW II.

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There’s no point beating around the bush; the game’s premise is a little out there. I mean, the Allies losing the war was certainly possible at the time. But melodramatic villains and super soldiers is something right out of a comic book. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing as it’s in line with what we’ve come to expect from this series. What makes The New Order stand out though is how these elements are woven together to create a compelling game. For instance, as crazy as things get all of the characters are played seriously. Emotions run the gamut of subtle angst to outright (believable) rage, each portrayed through realistic animations and voice work.

This held true even when I wasn’t the center of attention. None of the dialogue between characters is wasted on repeated phrases or random small talk. It was all relevant. So much so, that I found myself caring about my small band of rebels while simultaneously hating the powers that be. What I’m trying to get at here is that there was an emotional response from me based on how authentic all of the characters were portrayed, even though they were in an unreal setting. Now you may be wondering, “why is this a big deal?” I’d answer by asking, have you ever cared about the NPC’s in games like Doom, Serious Sam, or Duke Nukem? Sure, Wolfenstein getting an engaging plot isn’t anything new. However, this is the only time where I felt that the narrative wasn’t there just to point me in the direction of my next target. On one hand, MachineGames was balancing the crazy and sane elements while staying true to the series’ roots. On the other hand, they were still able to raise The New Order above the previous entries. Both hands are good in this situation!  

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The gameplay is another example of this balance between over-the-top and realism. The gunplay is reminiscent of newer shooters where aiming down the sights and controlling your rate of fire is key to accurate shooting. At the same you can duel wield just about any weapon in the game (this includes knives). Most of the weapons are the normal guns one would expect to see during WWII and thereafter. A few upgrades later though and you’ll find that your rifle has been outfitted with a rocket launcher attachment. Surprisingly though, it all works well with one another. It’s really fun to chip away at support beams to get at foes cowering behind them or to land a difficult headshot with a sniper rifle. It’s also fun to clear a hallway by completely obliterating enemies with two massive automatic shotguns, aiming be damned!  

Then there is the health system where armor and health packs are used to keep you alive. Nabbing enough pickups will even boost your health beyond the normal 100% state. That said, it’s still possible to be killed in a manner of seconds if you don’t utilize cover. When I think about how the different aspects of arcade and realistic shooters can be found in the same game, my response is confusion. This juxtaposition of shooter staples mashed together just shouldn’t work, but it does. The end result is a compelling FPS that delivers an action packed rollercoaster ride that doesn’t go off the rails.

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Going a step further, MachineGames did the one thing that I never expected them to do. They didn’t pad the experience. There is a lot of shooting (you know, being a FPS and all) but there aren’t any useless firefights. You won’t have to go through seemingly endless waves of enemies or “filler” story chapters just because the developer wanted to squeeze in a few more hours of gameplay. This is certainly something that should be commended as extra padding can hurt any game no matter how critically acclaimed (I’m looking at you BioShock Infinite).

The icing to this bullet filled cake are the decent stealth mechanics and a nifty upgrade system. The latter of which steals the show; I love how you receive perks based on play style as opposed to handing out stat points. Get multiple stealth kills and you’ll unlock more stealth perks. Go in guns blazing and you’ll get armor upgrades to stave off quick deaths. It just makes sense as it encourages you to play the way you’d like to play. Most if not all shooters that implement RPG elements should do so in this fashion, it just makes sense!

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My only real complaint comes from the game’s visuals. When all the cylinders are running smoothly, the game looks gorgeous – sans some creepy looking eyes during certain cutscenes. Unfortunately, the game suffers from frame rate drops, texture pop-ins, and other issues that can make playing the game difficult. This is found when using both NVIDIA and AMD graphic cards, though AMD seems to be faring a bit worse. Updating my drivers helped things a lot but there were still minor issues here and there. Hopefully, MachineGames will release a patch or two to address this problem in the near future.  
The sound department is top notch though. Again, the voice work was great; Nina Franoszek and Gideon Emery did an outstanding job voicing Frau Engel (a female antagonist) and Fergus Reid (Allied soldier) respectively. The music and sound effects were great as well. All and all, The New Order was a treat. The story is actually interesting and the gameplay is a fun combination of good retro and modern elements. There are even a decent amount of collectibles to find and modes to unlock. MachineGames created a great shooter that feels fresh in today’s market. Blazkowicz goes to the moon and back without conjuring up any eye rolling or “this is so cliché” utterance from me. Impressive!    

Gameplay: 10
The New Order is a great shooter. Hands down!

Graphics: 7
Visually, everything looks great. Unfortunately, the game has so many graphical issues that they can hinder one’s enjoyment.

Sound: 10
Great voice work, music and sound effects!

Replay Value: 9
The game is fun enough to come back to multiple times, even if you aren’t trying to find all of the secrets.

Final Score:

9