STAFF REVIEW of Wolfenstein: The New Order (Xbox One)

Friday, May 23, 2014.
by Adam Dileva

Wolfenstein: The New Order Box art I was 11 when Wolfenstein 3D first released in 1992. It’s crazy to think that a game that not only started the FPS genre is still around be being rebooted for today’s gamers over two decades later. This time there’s a brand new developer behind the Wolfenstein reboot; Machine Games. You never really know what to expect from a brand new developer, especially when they are given the keys to one of the oldest and loved series. Fret not, as many of Machine Games’ staff have worked on other big games in the past and their experience shows in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

It used to be that you could make a shooter game without any or very little story and no one would question it. That’s not the case today, as gamers want more for their time and money and want to be entertained with more than simply shooting anything in sight. Sometimes when a shoot-em-up FPS is made with a story trying to be attached, it usually doesn’t work very well, but with The New Order, Machine Games has found a blend that seems to meld story driven progression with classic mindless shooting in a meaningful way.

Oddly enough, The New Order is a reboot of the series, but also a continuation (as it takes place after the previous titles) in the canon storyline. Gone are the awkward powers and supernatural features from the previous game that I didn’t enjoy at all and in is a rawer futuristic alternate timeline instead.

So what would the world be like if Hitler and the Nazi’s won World War II? If you’ve ever pondered that, Wolfenstien: The New Order plays out that exact scenario. You begin in 1946 as longtime Wolfenstein protagonist Captain B.J. Blazkowicz during the war against the Nazi’s. Things are looking grim for the Allies as it seems the Nazi’s have had a sudden increase in technology and power, shifting the tide of war to the evil faction’s favor. General Wilhelm Strasse, whom you’ll remember from Return to Castle Wolfenstein as Deathshead, returns as Blazkowicz’s target, though things don’t go as planned and it seems B.J. has failed, along with the Allies in the war.

14 years later and B.J. finally awakens and gathers enough strength to become his old Nazi killing self. As you escape you quickly notice that things aren’t how you remember, which is because the Nazi’s have not only won World War II, but has brought every nation, even the United States of America, and oddly enough, the Moon to its knees with their ruthless power. Nazi Germany didn’t just win the war, they now essentially dictate over the whole globe. The only man who is able to right this wrong of course is Blazkowicz, but he will needs help along the way if he wants to stand a chance against the most fierce and brutal army in the new world. It’s not up to him to stop Deathshead.

What impressed me, even right away, with Blazkowicz is that he wasn’t simply a throwaway character with little depth. He is well written and acted and the small details put into the game itself give his character more of a human feeling rather than a simple indestructible super solider. While the intro level may drag on a little, you eventually learn more about him and the supporting characters, of which you’ll actually become invested in them and their story. It would have been simple to make The New Order a ‘kill every Nazi because they are evil’ type of story arch, which it is in a way, but there is more to it than that which I appreciated.

Like previous Wolfenstein games, The New Order uses a health and shield mechanic where your health doesn’t regenerate over time, but instead you need to find health packs scattered around the level. The same goes for shields, as you’ll have to (awkwardly) find fallen foes helmets and vests to replenish shields for yourself. It seems a little silly considering you pick up enemy helmets for shields, as I just kept picturing B.J. wearing helmets all over his body.

And what would a first person shooter be without its arsenal of weapons for you to use against your enemies. B.J. will eventually have access to a knife, pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, and more of the standards you come to expect, along with a few surprise weapons that give the alternate timeline some clout. Many weapons can be dual wielded if you desire, but since you’re always scrounging for ammunition it’s usually not worth doing so for the minimal gain in firepower. As a straight shooter game, The New Order doesn’t really do anything new to stand apart from any release these days, but that’s where the narrative comes into play. Though let it be known, pacing of the story can be dragged almost to a halt at times when you have to stop progressing to run around scrounging for ammunition before moving on.

Surprisingly, The New Order does have a skill progression tree, but it’s done in a new and unique way that I’ve not seen done many times. Instead of gaining experience and then spending points on perks and abilities you want like in most games, instead you’ll unlock new abilities by completing certain tasks in-game. Killing a certain amount of Nazi’s with grenades, getting headshots, stealth kills, and more is how you’ll gain these new abilities and is done in a smart way that encouraged experimentation.

Speaking of stealth, it does play a big part in The New Order, actually more than I was expecting. While it’s not always forced, you can tell that certain sections were designed around the stealth elements and is done decently. While not great, decent really is the best term I would use, as it gets the job done, but instantly shows the questionable AI that apparently can’t see a comrade die beside or right behind them, allowing you to kill many enemies without much effort.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is filled with nostalgic elements that fans of the series will instantly recognize and appreciate. From B.J. and Deathshead returning to even having a typical castle level included like each of the previous Wolfenstein games, there’s a lot of cool Easter eggs to be found for the players that know their stuff. Many levels have hidden areas that tie into a dual-timeline that is determined by you early in the game. Your choice will determine if you can hotwire electronics or pick locks, allowing you to access certain hidden areas or not, deepening on which playthrough you are experiencing. Lastly, there is even a hidden Wolfenstein 3D level for fans of the original to have some nostalgia as well.

Visually, I was actually quite impressed with the Xbox One version. Most of the characters and textures do look quite good, but you’ll see the odd lower res texture that looks out of place. It doesn’t scream next-gen, but it does look quite decent. I was actually more impressed on the audio front. All of the characters were actually voiced very well, even when delivering some of the cheesy lines. The soundtrack though did its job at getting me pumped for the action sequences with some hard rock that set the tone and mood. The only audio negative I would mention is that the weapons sound very bland and because of it doesn’t’ feel impactful aside from one or two specific weapons like the shotgun.

While the blend of shooting and narrative was the positives, I did have a few issues that bugged me that needs to be addressed. The biggest annoyance I had from beginning to finish was the fact that you don’t pick up ammo and armor by simply walking over it. You need to spam the X button to pick up everything you see, which becomes tiresome, especially during firefights as you need to take your thumb off of the right stick to hit the X button. Also, you seems to start almost every level without any weapons, even though you just amassed a huge amount of weaponry in the previous level. Lastly, there is no single player component at all. While normally I wouldn’t knock a game for not having it, the multiplayer from Return to Castle Wolfenstein is still one of my favorite multiplayer games to date and they’ve not been able to recreate that experience since. While there’s no multiplayer, the two timelines warrant a second playthrough if you’re worried about your bang for buck.

To be honest, I was thrown off the series after the previous Wolfenstein game and was completely expecting a slapped together ‘kill all Nazi’s’ storyline. Instead, I got a well fleshed out narrative with some decent shooting mechanics to back it up and feel safe recommending it as I enjoyed my dozen hour playthrough start to finish.

Overall: 7.5 / 10
Gameplay: 7.8 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 8.0 / 10


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