More Entertaining Than:
Less Entertaining Than:
Return to Castle Wolfenstein
Rating (out of ten): 8
The following review is based on my experience with the Xbox One version of Wolfenstein: The New Order over the course of 8 hours worth of game play.
As with the previous Wolfenstein games, id software have little to do with the overall production of the title, Raven and Grey Matter Studios in the past having control over the game that was created, Machine Games being left to pick up, in my opinion at least, the mess that Raven left behind. I have always been a fan of their products, but the 2009 version in the franchise seemed to go in an unfathomably absurd direction, before falling flat at the conclusion with a less than riveting reveal, testifying that a sequel could very well be developed.
I had begun to believe that the best possible strategy to improve the series would be to send it kicking and screaming into the future, as to allow the vast futuristic powers the Nazis have seem less than unbelievable. Originally beginning in 1946, the war still raging onwards, Blazkowicz finds himself amidst a team of men selected to neutralize Deaths Head, a character who, for me at least, seems to be getting tirelessly old (as a character, as well as physically), the technology at the disposal of him and his men being incredibly poignant. Much like the beginning moments of Mass Effect 3, The New Order opens with our heroes failing, however, rather than fleeing, Blazkowicz is badly injured, and finds himself carted off to the funny farm, of all places. The game quickly fast forwards to the year 1960, with the Nazis having notoriously won, and now ruling over the remnants of the planet, using the asylum he was transported to as a ‘candy store’, where Deaths Head takes subjects for all kinds of malicious projects, the 14 year slumber Blazkowicz was in coming to a sudden and violent end as he cuts the jugular of an enemy agent, and sets about killing Nazis all over again right, left and center.
Upon meeting up with other individuals during the early hours of game play in Nazi 1960, having to work alongside old Grandpa Moses (or just about) paints a strong picture that very few resistance members are alive, these dire straits needing amending, the primary mission to build an effective counter insurgence team agaisnt the Nazi regime. The fellow characters you work alongside each have equally interesting back stories that are convincing, and often emotionally in-depth, painting further horrifying images of all the suffering that has occurred. Caroline Becker (from Wolfenstein) makes a surprising return, along with several new soldiers, specialists, and innocent civilians, just trying desperately to survive. The feel of the base camp the resistance later occupies has a similarity to it reminiscent of subway town in Rage (with the music, sound, and general happenings) and the Atlantis in Unreal II, this being further strengthened with themes of family, honor, retribution and love. Although Blazkowicz is still a Nazi killing machine, his usual bluntness shares the screen with a softer side. There is one side quest where the player has the option to help finds toys belonging to a mentally disabled young man, the care displayed during this being very considerate. The emotional depth additionally gives the character something to fear losing, and thus is potentially a more powerful motive than the typical mundane storyline attributes that have been previously showcased. On that note, it is fair to say the game does often become quite adult, and I mean that in all sense of the word.
The graphics in the Wolfenstein games have always been rather ahead of their time, yet, the same cannot always be said for The New Order. True, they are very attractive, the facial construction in the cinematics to the in-game environments all being beautifully detailed, however, a blandness seems to hold sway over much of the world. This could no doubt be due to the bleakness in the game’s atmosphere, and the general want to make the sheer weight of the war fall upon the gamer. If so, this is furthered again by lead protagonist, Blazkowicz himself, who not only narrates the storyline, but mutters beneath his breath during the game, his sometimes poetic, sometimes vengeful, but always brutally honest depictions of the happenings, further immersing the gamer into the world. Moreover, the musical score adds to the explosive sounds of bullets slamming into walls, and shrapnel falling all about, much of the music being less than serene, and having a resemblance to the sounds of the game itself, a shrill warning filling the airwaves whenever danger is around. When the music is not accompanying a battle, much like the softer aspects of the game, the music too envelops this theme and further draws the gamer in.
As with all of the previous titles, The New Order is primarily a violent shoot ’em up, with an endless wealth of battles taking place over the course of each level, the gamer only demolishing one group of bad guys before having to confront the next. The human opposition are reasonably weak, but then again, so too is the character portrayed. Each injury takes away a good portion of health, however, even when health is in short supply (this includes meals, dog bowls, medical packs, etc), the game will automatically level the player up to the nearest even 20% (as an example, if you have 51% health, the game will automatically charge you up to 60%). Furthermore, health can be ‘overcharged’, at least for a short duration, any health points accumulated that takes Blazkowicz’s health line over 100% slowly burning off. This is beneficial during a head-on battle; say you have 136% health, there is a chance you may lose that extra 36%, but still retain your regular allotment.
Armor too is located all around, in the shape of helmets (that can be dropped by the enemy), flak jackets, riot shields, etc, all of it adding to the percentage. The quality of protection can be further increased through upgrades that can be found in maps, or by building upgrades at the work bench situated within HQ. Ammo is another quantity that is wealthy in the world, however, no matter how much is acquired, it always seems to get burnt through like popcorn, and on more than several occasions I found myself suddenly deprived of any and all magazines. This means that you need to be quite conservative, The New Order offering gamers the opportunity to be stealthy and assassinate the opposition.
There are many moments in the game when commanders happen to be present, who set off the alarm and rally more men to the area once you are spotted. Dispatching them silently, or before anyone else has the option of getting the drop on you, minimizes the number of enemy tangos. However, at the same time The New Order has no problem with the gamer being all loud and proud, with a number of gun turrets, which can be ripped from the world and physically carried around, existing in a number of areas. These, much like the other armaments, run out of steam quite quickly, and are automatically dropped the moment Blazkowocz interacts with the environment, whether it be opening a door or hitting a switch. This can potentially be annoying, however, adds to the realism.
Furthermore, when it comes to acquiring items, unlike in previous titles, Blazkowicz does not pick these up simply by walking over them, and the gamer is constantly clicking ‘x’ in order to garner as many goods as possible. For me, there was a constant threat hanging over my shoulders that I might well accidentally miss a number of items; at least when the game is in charge of obtaining ammo and health, there is no chance that it shall be inadvertently left behind. I also found this to be reasonably annoying, since every single combatant dropped something or other, and I felt I was clicking ‘x’ more than I was pulling back on the trigger. On a side note, I do presume this again strengthened the realism of the game, however, in a purely fictional title, is realism even a requirement?
Continuing with the theme of realism, Blazkowicz later has access to a laser cutting tool which is used to slice away at wire fences, the gamer having to physically move the torch around in a square shape in order to make a hole large enough to waltz on through. This time consuming process became boring after the first time I did it, there being however a wealth of similar scenarios to come; however, the ability to upgrade weapons during the campaign, including the cutting blade later rendered this concern moot, and you too will find out why.
Returning to the theme of antagonists, although the humans could be dispatched with reasonable ease, the new robotic creations, which are introduced right from the start, certainly are not. Dogs (yes, they too are robotic now), although far easier from afar, up close, the continuous snapping of the jaws as you attempted to prod them with your knife seemed to be a constant gamble as to see who would win. Other robotic monsters included flying gizmos and larger assault mechanisms, which although slow, packed a wealth of fire power, and boasted an epic amount of protection that made killing them a real challenge. In previous titles there has been a continuous move towards actual monsters, or X-creatures as they were once called. This movement towards more robotic opposition makes the futuristic world The New Order occupies come alive in a more sophisticated way, by showing the ingenuity and strength of the Nazi war machine.
Continuing on, during combat, the game would automatically level Blazkowicz up with additional skills, depending on the methods I used. By using dual wielded weapons, Blazkowicz learned how to reload both weapons simultaneously; by throwing grenades, he learned how to throw them back at the enemy; by assassinating opponents, he was educated on throwing knives, etc. This assisted in benefiting my personal experience with the game, however, what did not was the frequent lack of any actual guide. In many games, a way-point or arrow is provided so the player knows the direction they are meant to move in. Although there was one on occasion, when there was not, I sometimes found myself moving back and forth in a vain attempt to find the exit.
Focusing more specifically on the game itself, the significant lack of the 1940s feel, and the removal of aristocratic castles in exchange for technologically proficient societies perhaps may well have been a necessary change to breathe new life into a series that could have rhapsody being at an end. Sometimes this change feels as though it were forced a little too strongly, however, when the game works, there are moments when you forget you are at the helm of a video game and are simply experiencing life itself. During these amazing scenes, you just know that Machine Games have valiantly done their job.