• Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

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    Put on your nostalgia cap, The New Order is a violent and vengeful return to the classic franchise we all know and love.

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    Wolfenstein: The New Order Review
    By Salty99


    Intro
    The latest installment in the Wolfenstein franchise is a tough game to assess, given the franchise's previous installments and the numerous studios that have been involved over the past 22 years. id Software's Wolfenstein 3D revolutionized PC gaming by giving rise to a genre which would churn out decades worth of gaming's greatest hits as well as some of the biggest disappointments. Previous installments of the series include Return to Castle Wolfenstein (2001) and the self-titled Wolfenstein (2009). Developer studio Machine Games didn't necessarily have huge shoes to fill with The New Order, but they were entrusted with a legacy which they advanced with some big steps forward. With each passing of the torch to a new developer studio came a reinventing of the franchise into a new era of gaming, and The New Order is no exception. But what is it that makes Machine Gameís vision for the franchise so different from previous developers?

    Music when you connect......-difficulty_easy-jpgReferences to the classic Wolfenstein 3D are present and in abundance, always sure to bring back a forgotten memory.


    For starters, the studio took some big risks with their approach to modernize the way in which FPS storytelling is presented. Often times in the realm of first-person shooters, quality writing, unique plots, and fully developed characters are an afterthought, sacrificed for attempts at better gameplay and level-design. In that sense, The New Order really finds itself in the market games that attempt to achieve greatness in both areas and actually succeed. The storytelling, fleshed out characters, and environmental setting could be considered the game's strongest qualities. Itís no secret that titles developed and or published by id Software have always been about gameplay first, and story second Ė usually meaning the story is insignificant or irrelevant and the characters are merely fodder for violence and mayhem. This hasn't been a huge problem for id titles as Doom, Quake, and Wolfenstein 3D are still heralded as some of the greatest shooters of all time, but the modern era of games demands a higher respect for storytelling and developed characters. Games such as The Last of Us and Bioshock Infinite have shown us that flawless gameplay mechanics, stunning visuals, beautifully crafted characters, and a meaningful story can exist all in one package. Machine Games has fallen right in line with these titles, successfully bringing a classic franchise into the modern age of gaming with an exciting story and a rich cast of memorable characters.

    Music when you connect......-protagonists_table-jpgA strong cast of diverse and memorable characters is the last thing we would expect to find in a Wolfenstein title.


    Story
    The game takes place in an alternate historical setting in which Nazi Germany was the first to achieve the atomic bomb and subsequently dropped iton the United States, enabling German to definitively win the Second World War. Flash forward 20 years and we see what the world would look like in the 1960ís had the Third Reich been allowed to advance. Giant concrete skyscrapers, forced labor camps, and futuristic weaponry are all present in this version of post-war history. As much as it would seem laser-rifles and giant robotic dogs are hilariously out of place in a 1960s setting, it's not that far-fetched to think that the German scientists behind the Nazi war machine could have achieved similar technological advances given 20 years of unhindered progress and unbridled hatred. The fact that so much of this could have been possible makes the game that much more believable, but just absurd enough to keep things interesting. This is exactly the kind of controlled chaos that makes the world of The New Order so much fun to experience.

    Music when you connect......-workshop_laser-jpgLasers, robots, and Nazis, OH MY!


    The diabolical Nazi scientist, Dethshead, returns once again, along with some other familiar faces as the villain in which our conflict is centered about. Deathshead will raise hell and high water to see you on a slab in his laboratory and he will risk destroying everything you have ever loved just to watch you suffer. The writers did a marvelous job of crafting a villain who is actually as evil as we are led to believe. A personal gripe of mine in entertainment is that we, the audience, are often told to believe something rather than actually being shown, where we can come to the desired conclusion ourselves. A quality narrative or a convincing performance can bring the audience to a collective agreement without having to tell them outright - it is in this way that The New Order achieves so much more in its storytelling than anything we've seen from the franchise thus far. We don't need to be told that Deathshead and the Nazi's are evil nor does it rely on history to serve as its justification; we experience the evil first-hand in some remarkably unsettling scenes throughout the course of the game. Likewise we don't need to be told that the protagonists are rightly such, as we see for ourselves in their valiant fight against the Third Reich.
    Itís worth noting that the story in The New Order is not a heroic tale of bravery and courage, nor is it a journey of vision and self-discovery. The New Order is a bold and tragic look at a man on a quest for vengeance in a world where heroes no longer exist and tyranny continues to advance without opposition. What makes this story relevant to the franchise and allows it to succeed is not simply the fact that a compelling story exists, but the way in which itís told. The game is littered with powerful imagery and relevant dialogue presented in creative ways that show, and don't tell. Each member of the cast is unique and brings something fresh to the table, making their interactions all the more meaningful and enjoyable to watch. Most importantly, William "BJ" Blazkowicz, the series' tried and true protagonist, delivers something that classic shooters often lacked: a strong and relatable main character. It's so easy to drop into BJ's boots and carry the same motivation as he does in the story. When witnessing the atrocities and violence of the game's villains you don't need to role play, because you want to kill those Nazi SOBs just as much as BJ does.

    Music when you connect......-deathshead-jpgDeathshead is every bit as disturbing as he looks; pure evil from head to toe.


    While gun-play and violence remain at the heart of the Wolfenstein universe, as they rightly should, the presence of a strong story and an even stronger cast of characters makes the carnage all that much more meaningful to the player, and provides a solid foundation for future id published releases to branch out and try new things. Certain portions of the game delve into some rather ridiculous scenarios where belief could easily be suspended, but the game's strong motivation and quality narrative keep things focused enough that it doesn't get in the way of the gameplay or the story. Letís just say a fully developed Nazi Space Program isn't something that should be ruled out of the realm of possibilities.

    Music when you connect......-lab_torture-jpgThe horrors you will encounter in this tale are tragic and rage inducing, just the sort of fuel a Nazi-killing American war-machine needs.


    Presentation
    Visually, The New Order is top notch. In recent years, games from id Software have not achieved the high praise for John Carmackís powerful graphics engines that they once did. Rage, for example, came under some strong criticism for the gameís texture pop-in and driver issues so many users experienced at launch - that isn't the case with The New Order. The environments and characters are gorgeous to look at, the animations are smooth and fluid, and the lighting sets tone and builds tension. Parts of the game take place in sewers, gutters, and musty ventilation shafts, but that doesn't detract from the strong and bright color palette used throughout. Itís a breath of fresh air to see color in shooters again Ė the trend a washed out and grayed environment in many modern shooters seems to be a fad that thankfully is nearly over. Standing on the ruins of war-torn Europe and watching the sun illuminate the environment is breath-taking and still manages to create the disheveled rubble environment they aimed to create. The engine isn't without its flaws though Ė The developers left out any sort of anti-aliasing or edge smoothing which makes some of the environments and objects noticeably strange to look at. Anti-aliasing is common enough that itís hard to think of any good reason it was not included. More advanced gamers can force enable the anti-aliasing by navigating the developer console and modifying config files, however they will find that it does not do much for the visuals and takes a huge toll on your systemís performance. Itís easy to see that the game was not designed with AA in mind. At any rate, the lack of AA is only a minor inconvenience and things still look spectacular, even with some jagged edges here and there.

    Music when you connect......-sniper_bridge-jpgThe game still looks fantastic, even with the occasional texture inconsistencies and lack of anti-aliasing.


    In addition to the visuals, the audio in The New Order is also something that should be praised. Melancholy ambiance and rustic guitar riffs really set this game apart in tone from the vast majority of FPS titles released in recent years. A good soundtrack ties everything together and thatís exactly what the music in this game does. The sound effects of the weapons are loud and vivid, and the spirited vocals of the cast add a huge dose of believably to the characters and their plight. German soldiers bark orders and obscenities in their native tongue and allied soldiers speak their mind the way any imprisoned populace would. This is not the best sounding game I have ever heard, but itís pretty darn amazing - crank up the volume and get ready for the action.

    Music when you connect......-rifle_office-jpgThe environments and ambiance in The New Order are superb: winds howl, boards creak, and birds fly. The beauty is in the subtleties.


    Gameplay
    The gameplay and combat mechanics are rock-solid and make it very easy to have a good time. Killing Naziís has never been so much fun, due in large part to the different ways in which you can bring about their demise. The player is given a lot of freedom throughout most of the game Ė classic run and gun play is always a good choice, but there are many places where stealth and patience might yield a more satisfying result. Tunnels and secret passages are hidden everywhere and often times filled with extra ammunition or alternate paths of entry into the next stages of each level. The cover mechanics are very refined and will save your skin more than a few times when you are surrounded, but make no mistake in thinking that this makes BJ any less of a badass. Even at harder difficulties, BJ is a tank of a soldier and he can definitely take a few hits.There is health, armor, and ammo hidden everywhere so you wonít have to worry about playing it safe or preserving precious bullets Ė running out of ammo in one gun simply means you will have to fall back on another of your many guns until you find more. Consuming med-packs and health items when already at 100% will "overcharge" BJ, giving him additional health during dangerous engagements. Charging headlong into a squad of heavy SS soldiers and blasting them to bits with a shotgun is a risk worth taking, and 9 times out of 10 you will come out on top.

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    BJ is not the hero we deserve, but he is definitely the one we need right now.


    Another gameplay mechanic which works well but is entirely unnecessary is that any weapon in your arsenal can be dual wielded. Dual automatic shotguns? Sure! Dual sniper rifles? I donít see why not. Having two weapons out doesn't really make you any more dangerous, and the slower movement speed from dual wielding heavy weapons can be cumbersome, but if it makes you feel like more of an unstoppable force, then by all means, go right ahead; itís that kind of freedom that makes The New Order so exciting.

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    Dual wielding weapons allows the user to fire each one separately with the left and right mouse-buttons.


    A staple of games released by id Software has always been the gratuitous violence. They've received criticism countless times from the media and concerned parents about the blood and gore, which has only ever inspired them ramp it up even more. Yet again, the same can be said for The New Order. The streets of Berlin will run with rivers of blood and guts as players wage a campaign of destruction against Nazi Germany. Shotgun blasts will take off limbs, assault rifles will splatter brains, and knives will open up Nazis like a Christmas ham. The rag-doll physics are especially good, and youíll oftentimes find yourself surveying an area after you've cleared it to appreciate the work of art you've just created before advancing to the next area. The weapons are absolutely devastating and you will be hard-pressed not to finish up the game having painted every wall red with the innards of your foes. As silly as some of the brutality and ridiculous weapons can sometimes be, the developers are still able to pull off a serious tone that isn't disturbed by the excessive gore.

    Music when you connect......-blood_walls-jpgEven the bodies are beautiful to look at; the animations and the physics are remarkable.


    Conclusion
    Even though The New Order brings a lot of new additions to the franchise, there is still some nostalgia to feel while cruising through the different missions. The final few stages are actually fairly tough on the harder difficulties and the boss battles are reminiscent of classic shooters. There's really something great to be said about how the developers were able to bring this game into next-gen without sacrificing the core fundamentals that made this franchise great in the first place. The majority of the criticisms that this game may receive can easily enough be shrugged off as personal preference. The game, even when completed on the harder difficulty settings, taking time to explore every level, using stealth and back-stabbing, and finding all of the collectibles, just barely clocks in at around 13 hours. This isn't terrible by any means; a lot of modern shooters make it to market with incredibly short campaigns. For a game of this nature, its length is par for the course. While this might not be a huge drawback for some, as a $60 AAA title without any multiplayer, this is definitely worth noting for those who are more concerned with getting their moneyís worth. The game does offer a few different choices throughout the story which will each produce a slightly different outcome, but the vast majority of the game still remains the same. If you are aren't the type of gamer who enjoys replaying the single-player campaigns of games like Bioshock Infinite, Max Payne, or Call of Duty than you might have a hard time finding a reason to play through The New Order a second time.

    Music when you connect......-lobby_matrix-jpgIf the lobby scene in The Matrix was in the 1960s with Nazis, it might have looked something like this.


    In short, Wolenstein: The New Order is a great shooter with a compelling story and solid gameplay that will keep you hooked for the duration of its action-packed campaign. It brings humor and nostalgia without taking itself too seriously but still manages to maintain a heavy atmosphere with a strong sense of direction. It's a big step in the right direction for games released by id Software and a good indicator of the types of games we might see from them in the future.


    Salty's Verdict: 8.5/10