Wolfenstein: The New Order has been on my to-play list for quite some time, even though I don’t have much affinity for first person shooters. Ever since it clicked to me that they visually look like games about disembodied guns shooting people, it became difficult for me to not look at them as somewhat gauche. Yet, I heard good things about the story, which is weird for a game where you shoot nazi robots in the face with dual wielded shotguns.
Wolfenstein: The New Order Review
Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS4, XBO, PS3, Xbox 360
Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place in an alternate history where the lucky and determined Nazi regime of World War II was not only able to keep the war going, they managed to win it, and have effectively taken over the majority of the world, replacing cultures with their own. It manages to create a grim and tragic world, where people are judged based on their genome and ability to contribute to an empire that is daunting in regards to its scale and power. An empire that demolishes other cultures, willingly discarding everything different from them, and viewing those who defy it as disposable miscreants who deserve a life of slavery, breaking their bodies to advance the dominating regime.
What I’m getting at is that I really do enjoy the world building here. Uncovering the ideas established in the game through ancillary dialog, various notes and letters, visual imagery alone, and the general tone was quite a treat. A treat that was only one part of the story, which tells the tale of BJ Blazkowicz, a strong armed jarhead of a war hero with a disposition for Nazis who comatosed for sixteen years, awakening long after the empire of Germania established itself and is left to join the resistance in an attempt to take down this government. What makes this work, other than a series of surprisingly likeable and interesting characters given how little some of them are seen, is that it does not stick to the single note of tragedy.
There is underlying absurdity to the whole experience, a perverse sense of underplayed humor hidden within this dark premise, as this is a game where you can recover health by eating dog food, get armor points from wearing massive chunks of metal, and can dual wield shotguns. Yet, there is also a good amount of quiet time to take in the scenery and settings, to cool down from the action. For all of the death and destruction that entail in this game, somehow a short side quest where you collect the lost toys of one character manages to not only feel appropriate in context, but is also quite touching. It is a story that can effectively transition fighting Nazi robots on the moon and a flashback asking how god could ever allow something like the holocaust to happen within two minutes.
While I think this mix went alarmingly well for the story, a similar mix between older and newer FPS conventions was applied for the gameplay, and it does not bode quite as well. On one hand, The New Order encourages the player to run through enemies, firing away with dual wielded guns, taking advantage of the ability to overcharge your health past 100. The gunplay feels good even with a controller, and it manages to capture part of the spirit of a faster paced era of FPS. On the other hand, your movement speed is slow, you are encouraged to use cover at other times, and if you make one wrong turn your seemingly impeccably honed defenses can be shred away into nothingness.
As well as the mix between cover shooter and open shooter, The New Order also gives players the option of playing the game stealthy, which I opted to do whenever possible. Unfortunately, it’s honestly a bit too lenient, at least on normal. Guards do not respond to dead bodies, and they can be five feet away from you, looking at you in the slightly dark corner, only to completely ignore you It’s largely not that fun, and I honestly can say that I did not enjoy the game enough to want to revisit it for much beyond the story. A lot of the set pieces and levels are not the most enjoyable sort of thing to go through, certain enemies can both take and deal massive amounts of damage, and there are a few levels that drag things out longer than they need to be without much in regards to variety beyond more first person shooting.
There are other gripes I had as well, such as the abundance of the mostly useless collectibles in the game, with the secret Nazi gold doing nothing and Enigma codes only unlocking revamped game modes that I have no interest in. Along with the almost daunting weapon wheel that lists so many options it can be momentarily overwhelming when you open it up by holding the grenade button as well as easy to select the wrong weapon by accident. It makes weapon switching more of a hassle than it should be, and encourages the player to select their two primary weapons before the enemy encounter. Or if you hid a checkpoint before then, be sure to switch to your ideal weapons beforehand.
Weirdly though, the most surprising unfulfilling aspect of The New Order is its PC version. I Initially had some trouble with before realizing that VSync keeps the frame rate around 30, and despite the entire point of the Id Tech 5 engine being to keep a stable frame rate regardless of graphical settings. I could only maintain 60fps when I played the game on medium settings, when I should be able to run Ultra with no problem. Thankfully, the visual options only really affect the texture quality, and even then it’s not by much. The supposed ultra textures of the game and account for much of its file size look blurry when far away, and grainy when viewed up close.
I think I honestly enjoyed reading about the concentration camp the Nazis were planning to put on the moon in Wolfenstein: The New Order than I did exploring its lunar space station. It is perfectly serviceable as a first person shooter, but a few instances and its mix of sub genres in its attempt to create a hybrid really did not do well for me, and made me question if my casual enjoyment with the genre at large is fading away. It’s story is well worth experiencing though, and the gameplay is what’s actually holding the game back, something I doubt anyone expected from a Wolfenstein game.