Review

Wolfenstein: The New Order

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The Wolfenstein series has a pretty good track record.

Based on Castle Wolfenstein, a fondly remembered 1981 Apple II action game, id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 popularised the idea of the modern-day first-person shooter, now a multi-billion dollar genre.

2001′s Return to Castle Wolfenstein was very well received, earning a huge and loyal following thanks to its multiplayer component. Raven Software’s crack at the franchise in 2009, simply titled Wolfenstein, was similarly praised bringing with it interesting twists to the FPS formula.

How does MachineGames’ entry to the series, Wolfenstein: The New Order, contribute to this track record here in 2014?

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What You Need to Know

Despite the best efforts of our hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, and a squad of Allied soldiers in the game’s prologue, the Nazi Germany war machine has defied the history books and went on to win World War II in the 1940s, before proceeding to take over the world and destroy the United States of America – chilling facts that Blazkowicz wakes up to in the 1960s after a fourteen year long coma.

By harnessing the power of ancient and secret relics, and under the leadership of the ghastly scientist General Deathshead, the Nazis have built an overwhelming army bolstered by strange and futuristic technology, resulting in better weapons and equipment for soldiers, as well as allowing for the creation of a variety of mechanical monstrosities like giant robot dogs, mech suits and automated, highly hostile walkers.

Of course as a first-person shooter, you’ll be challenged to obliterate every last one of these enemies using creative and gruesome methods, with a good range of weapons in your backpack to help during massive firefights, and additional tools to make the game’s light problem solving and environment puzzles a little easier.

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What’s New?

As first-person shooters go, the reasons any one element of Wolfenstein can be deemed as ‘new’ is only because we don’t often see them in the genre. Things like the ability to dual-wield any gun you can find – even the sniper rifle. Things like having to pick up health and armour boosts, because those bars don’t regenerate all the way to full like other modern shooters. And things like a massive amount of secrets and extras to find.

There are also a few genuinely fresh ideas in here too, and while we’ve been able to slide and lean around corners in first-person shooters before, MachineGames has made these two ‘simple’ mechanics work very effectively. Wolfenstein also includes the concept of ‘Commander’ enemies in a level, special units that can call in reinforcements, which means you’ll need to hunt them down (with their location pointed out on the heads-up display) before they can radio in for help.

In addition, if sneaking around a level and silently removing threats is the way you prefer to move about, you can use special cutting tools to slice out shapes in thin cover, which are handy when you want to peek at enemies ahead and get a lay of the land before devising a path forward.

What’s the Same?

Despite its deliberate pace, character and plot development, and a few head-scratching puzzles, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a first-person shooter through-and-through, so expect an arsenal of weapons (everything from a trusty knife to an energy rifle), a smattering of cut-scenes (presented with excellent direction and outstanding voice acting), explosions, ability upgrades (like attaching a rocket launcher to a rifle and improving health and armour), a few boss fights, and at least a handful of confused AI enemies running in place.

You’ll Enjoy Wolfenstein: The New Order If You Liked…

… Half-Life / Half-Life 2. Environment puzzles and crate smashing are just two of the ways that Wolfenstein: The New Order reminded me of Valve’s series in a wonderful way.

… Bulletstorm. The New Order doesn’t have a ‘Kill Skill’ system for points, but the way I could manipulate my enemies and move around levels to pull of stylish destruction made me think of Bulletstorm on a few occasions.

… Syndicate (the shooter). Movement abilities like sliding and intuitive leaning over cover was reminiscent of Starbreeze Studios’ licensed shooter – fitting, seeing as how a selection of developers from that studio are now at MachineGames.

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What I Liked

- 5.) The ability to dual-wield any of the weapons you find in the game is excellent and ridiculous, giving me the chance to spit hundreds of rounds of bullets at enemies at once, and cause havoc by launching two rocket-propelled grenades at a time.

- 4.) I enjoy a game with good secrets to find, and I was (mostly) always rewarded for straying off the beaten track to see if I could seek out that which the developers had hidden away.

- 3.) The perk system in Wolfenstein rewards players for completing various challenges, like stealth killing a certain number of Commanders, or taking down a number of enemies with a particular weapon. I like the fact that these challenges forced me to play in a different way than I usually would have, and discovered some fun new ways to destroy Nazis in the process.

- 2.) Despite a rather slow start, the pacing of the action and story in Wolfenstein is terrific and MachineGames seemed to know exactly when to insert a quiet bit of narrative, or where to place a solo mission with no enemies at all, before unleashing me again in an all-out, guns blazing firefight.

- 1.) Wolfenstein: The New Order is able to successfully marry what we expect from a modern-day action game with what we consider today to be old school tropes, like health pickups. The game feels like a modern shooter with its slick presentation and refined combat controls, but it also very much acknowledges its roots, representing the very best attempt at bringing the action sensibilities of DOOM into the modern era.

Favourite Moment

Wolfenstein: The New Order provided a healthy dose of exhilarating action sequences, but perhaps my favourite moment was when I stumbled upon a mini-game where I was transported to the world of Wolfenstein 3D, complete with pixelated graphics and sprites. A very cool Easter Egg.

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What I Didn’t Like

- 5.) While not a wholly pervasive problem, on more than one occasion I saw AI enemies running in place against a wall, and even outright ignoring my presence as I walked by, which in some cases inhibited my ability to proceed because some or other soldier was stuck in a corner and out of sight.

- 4.) I would really rather not go around manually picking up items either left on tables or that have fallen to the floor after a Nazi bit the dust. Picking up items manually is made all the more frustrating when prompts don’t appear or the action doesn’t work unless you’re standing in exactly the right position.

- 3.) If I was ever stuck in a level and didn’t know where to go next, I could always pull up my map to get my bearings and move forward, but it was maddening that waypoints for objectives weren’t always clearly marked on the screen, especially for someone like me who likes to regularly go off script and look for secrets.

- 2.) I’m the kind of person who doesn’t usually notice plotholes in games or movies, so for me to notice a few discrepancies and questionable story beats is saying a lot. Plotholes like… after fourteen years in a coma, how is B.J. still just as fit and ready to fight as he was during World War II?

- 1.) My absolute biggest gripe with Wolfenstein is B.J.’s propensity for muttering under his breath, sometimes so softly that I could hardly hear it (even after playing with volume levels). The things he says are also not worth saying, and sound straight out of a B movie, and may even be something a more intelligent Duke Nukem would utter with pride. These little inner monologues very often ruined the mood.

Least Favourite Moment

The boss fights – or the few that there are – in Wolfenstein: The New Order could have used a bit more thought or perhaps should have been replaced with challenges that are unrecognisable as discrete ‘boss fights.’ The final boss battle in particular was a poor way to end what I think is one of the most refined and thoughtful shooters I’ve ever played.


Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – Launch Trailer


What’s Extra?

Throughout the game, you’ll be able to find documents to help you decode the ‘Enigma’ in the menu. Once you’ve decoded one of the sequences, you’ll be able to modify the game’s difficulty settings and even challenge yourself to a run through with only one life!

In addition, near to the beginning of the game you’ll need to make a choice between saving two characters. Once you’ve made your choice, the story is split into two divergent timelines, which will mean a few cut-scenes that are different and the chance to learn one of two abilities – hotwiring or lock picking – and more health drops or armour drops as your reward.

The Bottom Line

Wolfenstein: The New Order is oftentimes an outstanding example of first-person shooters done right, with spot-on pacing, an entertaining narrative, rock solid gameplay and welcome throwbacks to a bygone era of action games that still work very effectively, as it turns out.

For first-person shooter fans, it’s required playing, and even if action games aren’t your thing the understated and intriguing story will pull you through.


This Wolfenstein: The New Order Review was conducted on PlayStation 4


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