Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Post-Launch Review
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC)
Developer: MachineGames
Released: May 2014
Played: complete in 11h:24m


Suddenly using extraordinary new technology, the Nazis won World War II and took over the entire world. U.S. Army special forces captain William Blazkowicz pulls out of his coma in 1960 and joins the resistance to liberate the world from the overwhelmingly powerful Nazi new order.

At Launch

The New Order was well received, earning average review scores of 80%. Reviewers enjoyed the simple but effective and engaging combat and stealth, the detailed and high-quality if unexceptional visuals, large and complex environments, and especially the characters and alternate-history storyline. Some critics took issue with pacing, undeveloped side characters, and competent but unimpressive graphics.

Post Launch

I'm not seeing any patches on Steam, though there have been support articles for technical issues posted by the developers.
A standalone prequel was released, titled Wolfenstein: The Old Blood.

I've never played a Wolfenstein game before - this is my first! But I have to say, I like what I'm seeing. From what I've read, this is the good kind of reboot: everything that came before still happened, but a two-decade jump ahead allows for new settings and stories.

The New Order opens in a Nazi castle during World War II, which feels like a nice nod to the series' roots. I'm told that the visuals are very accurate to the time period - other than the giant Nazi robots of course. I don't know too much about that, but the game does look pretty nice. I can see why 3 years ago a lot of reviewers called the game's appearance unexceptional - character animation is good and environments are detailed but while the game aims mostly for realism it's not as close or detailed as other games from the same year, particularly in lighting and water effects. Never noticed it as a problem, though, only in comparison.

Better than the visuals is the gameplay. Wolfenstein strikes possibly the best balance I've seen between different play styles: you can seamlessly swap between stealth, tactical, and dual-wield guns blazing styles, and all three feel balanced and interesting. As with most games that feature stealth, you preserve health and ammo and minimize enemy action, but it's not always easy to hide and assassinate enemies, and some are immune to the stealth approach. You get an extra reward for stealth assassinating enemy commanders: collectible locations are marked on your map.

If you get spotted, you have to switch to full combat, but you still have two different approaches. When you wield one weapon, you can aim down the sights/scope and lean out from cover to maximize efficiency and minimize damage. However, once you've picked up a second copy of any gun, you can use both at once. You can't aim or use cover, but you double your damage output and can burn down almost any enemy very quickly. 

You also unlock perks - new abilities and boosts - by using specific approaches and weapons. There are four perk trees: one for each gameplay style and one for explosives, which I never finished unlocking because it felt like I didn't get enough opportunities.

Anyway, the combination of perk trees, level design, and changing situations had me switching up my play style frequently. I'd enter a room stealthily and try to assassinate the commander(s) to avoid an alarm (where enemies continually spawn until the commander dies) and to mark collectibles on my map. Sometimes I'd clear the room on stealth alone, but other times I'd get spotted and have to change things up. I preferred dual wielding mobility and firepower, but playing on hard mode, there were times when that wasn't viable and it was better to stick to cover. There were also times where I couldn't use stealth, either due to the enemies present or because I'd blown a major alarm and all enemies in the base were on high alert. It's a great balance and lots of fun. In fact, combat was intense enough that I forgot to take screenshots of any actual action, as you might have noticed.

Just as I was surprised with the fluidity of the gameplay, I was also surprised with the depth of the story. Since I've never played a Wolfenstein game before but know a little bit about its age and history, I expected a classic shooter with a cheesy yet awesome guns-blazing action adventure, and I did get that, but also a lot more.

While Captain Blazkowicz is haunted and damaged by events of his past, he's not an antihero. He uses his anger, but he doesn't fight out of hate or for revenge. He has fun, he falls in love. He's a complex hero, not a typical one-liner-spouting action badass. While not as fully developed, the characters surrounding Blazkowicz are all interesting and engaging, and while I can't say that certain genre-typical story events were completely unexpected, the story and characters are well-crafted enough that they still had the intended effect. There are also quite a lot of quiet moments throughout the game where Blazkowicz has a bit of internal monologue or a quiet talk with a friend, and those are also touching and well written.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is overall a very solid and well-crafted game with excellent fluid play and surprising quality and depth of writing. There are some games that I enjoy but know I'll never pick up again. This isn't one of them. While I don't have time right now I'd be happy to come back for a second playthrough and see the minor differences after a different choice and to finish off my collectibles. I just heard a sequel was announced, and that's definitely going on my list!

Recommendation: play it.

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