REVIEW – John Carmack, the designer of the original Wolfenstein once said that a video game needs as much story as a porn movie. Well, after several games which followed his conception (not the porn one, but the lack of any kind of proper story) here we are with a Wolfenstein, which is completely story-oriented, with several excellent cinematic cut scenes and a B.J. Blaskovitz who after being a G.I. Joe kind of killing machine in former games became here a sympathetic hero with thoughts and feelings. Welcome to the alternative 1960 world of The New Order, where B.J. is hurt, feels, suffers, makes love to a beautiful woman, and comments everything with a Max Payne-ish deep voice. And when he has time, he also kills Nazis.
The granddaddy of all FPS games was undeniably id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D. John Carmack’s and John Romero’s Nazi-killing madness presented you a very basic pseudo-3D world and a cartoonish, blonde B.J. Blazkowicz who only had a macho grin during gameplay, not much else. It was an outrageously simple, addictive fun.
After several reiterations which never outplayed the very first Wolfenstein, here’s The New Order, which tries to both make you nostalgic about the first one and also make you a brand new next-gen impression. Does it succeed?
Tarantino would vote yes
The story of Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the strongest points of the game. Three years after the events of Wolfenstein, the Nazis have developed advanced technologies, enabling them to turn the tide against the Allies. In July 1946, U.S. special forces operative Captain William “B.J.” Blazkowicz (Brian Bloom), accompanied by pilot Fergus Reid (Gideon Emery) and Private Probst Wyatt III (A.J. Trauth), takes part in a massive Allied raid against a fortress and weapons laboratory run by his arch nemesis, General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse (Dwight Schultz). The three are captured and brought to a human experimentation laboratory where Deathshead forces Blazkowicz to choose whether to gruesomely kill Fergus or Wyatt before leaving Blazkowicz and the survivor to die in the laboratory’s emergency incinerator.
They escape from the laboratory, but Blazkowicz suffers a critical head injury, rendering him unconscious. He is brought to a psychiatric asylum in Poland, where he remains in a vegetative state. He is cared for by the asylum’s head nurse Anya Oliwa (Alicja Bachleda) and her parents, who run the facility. Blazkowicz watches as Anya’s parents are regularly forced to hand patients over to Nazi authorities, who deem them Untermensch for their disabilities. In 1960, fourteen years after Blazkowicz‘ admission, the Nazis order that the asylum is to be shut down, killing all the patients and executing Anya’s family when they resist. Blazkowicz awakes from his vegetative state as he is about to be executed, killing the extermination squad and escaping the asylum with Anya.
The story being that important is kind of a surprise since it always took the backstage in former Wolfenstein games. Even when we had at least some kind of a story, it was average at best. B.J. Blaskovitz was a simple killing machine so far with not much of a personality – even Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme (both known for their “extreme” range of acting…) would not have problems to play his part in a Wolfenstein movie. But not this time.
In the intricate, very Tarantino-like story we have an “inglorious basterd” with feelings, who – while he has no problems to kill Nazis savagely – still feels for the tragic loss of his fellow American soldiers. And the Tarantino-style is clearly present here: there’s a grotesque “Grand Guignol”-style to the whole game concerning the death of some of the soldiers when, for example, B.J. must choose between the gruesome deaths of two fellow soldiers. There’s also another instance, when he wipes stoically the brain tissues from his face after one of his companions had his brains blown near to him. While the story still feels B-movie, it’s done in a Tarantino kind of way. It’s full of clichés, but in a stylish kind of way and reminiscent of Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds”. It’s cool.
While using a vastly superior storyline, Wolfenstein: The New Order still feels like a classic first-person shooter. Of course we have some special “events” like in the beginning, when you have to shoot enemy planes at from an attacked B-17, and there’s also some parts, where you have to sneak with only a knife in your hand, but the rest – the 80% of the game is just about classic shooting. Still, shooting mechanics are well done, even if the dual wielding is a bit clumsy and there are also some enemies against which all we can do is hide, pop-up and shoot, thus gradually take down their HP.
Enemy AI isn’t particularly good, but it isn’t particularly bad either. It’s the same old aggressive TPS/FPS AI, where the bad guys don’t really care for their own health, they just want to kill our hero at all cost. It doesn’t mean that the game is easy, quite the contrary, we have a hard time to survive – at least on the “Hurt me plenty” level and upwards.
You can get short on ammo pretty fast and you have to gather them and health packs, and armor as well all the time. It’s distracting, a bit boring and takes away from the heart-pounding, bloody action the game is otherwise very good at. After a while putting on those armors becomes quite a routine and not a particularly exciting one.
“A button for using items?! The f*ck for???” (John Carmack)
It was another famous line uttered by John Carmack, who had this answer to a timid id Software developer with the bold idea of proposing a separate button for using items and opening doors in Doom 3. Well, it was back then, but at present time Carmack has definitely “left the building”. Regarding this very game, we are yet again far away from his “let’s keep it simple: if it moves, shoot it”– kind of conception.
In this Wolfenstein, we have to use our environment in many different ways to progress. At the very beginning, we have to quench a fire on a plane with a fire extinguisher, which we must find first and in later parts of the game there are other instances where we have to find and use specific items.
In Carmack’s defense, I have to admit, that this sudden exuberance of interactions and finding items doesn’t always work well. Sometimes it isn’t clear which items should we use, sometimes item using is totally boring and doesn’t add so much to the basic gameplay. There’s also an instrument which a special kind of “soldering-iron” which we must use to cut down some grids – well it’s kind of fun for the first time, but it gets definitely old after the third and fourth instance.
I see now why Carmack was talking about unnecessary interactions in a first-person shooter…
It was all the RAGE some years ago…
Wolfenstein is using a much-updated model of Rage’s id Tech 5 engine which was developed for many years. When Rage was finally released, it was perhaps a bit of a letdown for PC enthusiasts in 2011, since it had to be “dumbed down” for older consoles.
In Wolfenstein, the old problems have been mostly taken care of and while it is n’t the most stylishly designed game on the PS4 market, it still has nice graphics, with detailed models of the main characters, generally high-resolution textures and very detailed environments.
The most disturbing graphical glitch of the Tech 5 engine (high-resolution textures popping in only after 1-2 seconds of delay) was also mostly taken care of, I have only seen it once.
Concerning the art style of the game: this retro/techno, kind of steampunk flavor is very impressing. Every technology presented in the game – including weapons, cars, radios, and coffee maker machines – feels kind of authentic even if most of them were never actually made.
The grotesque Nazi monsters, machines and mechas are also quite disturbing and frightening. The developers really nailed how a Nazi-themed first-person shooter based in an alternative future in the past should look like.
Best Wolfenstein since the original
While this Wolfenstein doesn’t reinvent the FPS wheel, the well-designed (if maybe a bit clichéd) story, the whole steam punkish alternative universe with a nightmarish Nazi-world flavor, solid gameplay and graphics makes this Wolfenstein the best one since the original. It’s a stylish Nazi-killing first-person shooter, which is a must if you are a fan of the genre.
+ Solid story, with an interesting hero
+ Generally solid FPS gameplay
+ The developers nailed the art style
– Item using is sometimes annoying
– Dual-wielding is clumsy
– Gathering things can be a chore
Publisher Bethesda Softworks
Genre: 3D, Action, First-Person, Shooter,
Published: 2014 May 20