Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the latest entry in the world famous Wolfenstein series. Set in a reimagined 1960s where the Nazis win the war, BJ Blazkowicz is back to kicking Nazi ass.

The Good

  • Challenging gameplay
  • A perfect fusion of Old-School and Modern design
  • Fantastic Characterization

The Bad

  • Massive Download/Installation
  • BJ’s musings can get a bit annoying

The last Wolfenstein game I ever played was Return to Castle Wolfenstein, a game I loved, no matter how unfair it was. I skipped the next release, having seen what it was about and not finding anything there to interest me. Before that I played the original Wolfenstein, the Freeware version. I think I might have replayed that first act more times than I ever play the Doom Freeware, or the full versions for that matter.

I avoided watching or reading anything about this new Wolfenstein. I had no plans of buying it. I felt the FPS genre couldn’t give me anything new anymore. But then the Steam Sale hit and I got it along with a few other shooters, including Crysis 2 & 3, Farcry 3 (and Blood Dragon) and Rage; and to be perfectly and truly honest, Wolfenstein: The New Order is the best of them. Hands down, no two ways about it.

For the record, I played it on "Bring'em On!" I don't need daddy's permission to play!

For the record, I played it on “Bring’em On!” I don’t need daddy’s permission to play!

Much like every other Wolfenstein, this one opens in the series’ own fictionalized account of World War II. This time around the allied forces, among them BJ, mount a final assault on Totenkopf, Deathshead, the highest ranking General of the Third Reich and head of the technology division. His castle is protected by all manner of security and automate technology, and from the introductory stage, you can see and admire the level of detail that went into this game. While the Nazi have improved technology and electric grenades (Tesla Grenades the game calls them), it’s bulky and feels and looks archaic, the same way advanced technology looks in Steampunk settings. Automated defense cannons are extremely large and take up a third of the rooms that contain them. The opening stage also gives us plenty of examples of Totenkopf’s technical prowess, from the supersoldiers and Panzerhunds (giant robotic soldiers) to the giant Mech stomping around the battlefield.

Things don’t go as planned though and BJ ends up in an asylum in Russia in vegetative state. You see years going past him, days going into nights and the only constant being his nurse, Anya. When Nazis come one day to close the asylum and kill all the patients they take Anya with them, but before they can kill him, BJ awakens from his conditions and (with your direct input) butchers every soldier around, rescuing Anya and taking her to her grandparents, where they tell him the war is over. The Nazis won the war and have been the masters of the world for the past 14 years. It is now 1960.

Seems legit, right? Especially when you reload and don't drop either of them!

Seems legit, right? Especially when you reload and don’t drop either of them!

I have to admit that when you first control BJ after he wakes up, I was pleasantly surprised, for a moment, that he wobbled when walking, as anyone in a 14 year old coma/vegetative state would. Muscles atrophied, he shouldn’t have been able to walk, or at least do it properly. But after a few minutes it’s almost as if BJ found the walking manual and you once again control him at his best. I can’t deny that this broke the immersion for me. I couldn’t see past it, it was too much. I went way over my suspension of disbelief, or as I like to call it, my Bullshit Tolerance Threshold.

I could have stopped there, and not kept going, but despite my reservations on his miraculous recovery, the story and BJ himself kept me going. Unlike other protagonists, BJ comments on his situation, the tone similar to a Noir character. He muses on his surroundings, on his mission, enemies and even allies and friends. Blaskowicz feels alive, not just some unknown soldier fighting his enemies. This is also the first time in Wolfenstein history where BJ is identified as Jewish but it’s not made part of the plot, it doesn’t take center stage, instead it’s just one of the many details about this man, just as if he were one of us.

Sneak kills are oddly satisfying! Or maybe I've played too much Assassin's Creed!

Sneak kills are oddly satisfying! Or maybe I’ve played too much Assassin’s Creed!

Sometimes though, the musings and internal monologue come too frequent and can get rather tedious. It frames the narrative from BJ’s point of view but it’s one case of less is more. What I do like is they’re never witty quips or one-liners but reflections made by a man fighting a war for a couple of decades.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a modern shooter with firm classic roots. Selecting difficulty presents images of BJ dressed as a baby for the easier modes, meant to mock you if you choose them. Leaving the game presents you with a taunt, similar to those found in the original game of the series or the original Doom. Your health is presented as a number, but you can acquire health upgrades and if you take damage, your health replenishes over time, but just to the nearest ten (so if you drop to 43 health, it’ll stop regenerating at 50), if you want to heal more, get some health kits and food. You can overcharge your health by using healing items while at your maximum, but that extra health drains slowly. Weapons can be dual wielded, even assault rifles, as funny as that looks, and as long as you find a second gun of each type you can dual wield any of them. Except of course the LaserKraftWerk.

This game displays its roots proudly!

This game displays its roots proudly!

Early on, you get access to a laser pistol. It doesn’t damage enemies but is used to cut through grating, but later you acquire the aforementioned weapon. At first it only works as a stronger version of the laser pistol or a very slow laser cannon in its secondary firing mode, but then you start getting upgrades for it, from a scope to one that gives it full automatic fire.

Personally though, I never really did play this game guns blazing. As with many other games, I prefer the stealth approach and Wolfenstein handles that very well. You need to be careful how you move, trying to make as little sound as possible. If enemies see you, you need to make sure you silence them as soon as possible, even more so if they are officers. Often you will intercept radio signals, the amount of them telling you how many officers are near you. If an officer discovers you, they will sound the alarm and you’ll be constantly swarmed by reinforcements until you kill the officer and the alarm signal they produce.

I love the details in every locations. They really bring this alternate reality alive!

I love the details in every locations. They really bring this alternate reality alive!

To support the different playstyles, Wolfenstein: The New Order introduces Perks but you don’t acquire them by leveling; instead each perk is a challenge, complete it and you get the perk and an achievement. For example, one such Perk is the ability to regain health every time you perform a silent kill on an enemy, but to unlock it you need to perform five suck kills while being on health overcharge. It sounds easy but it’s actually pretty tricky. The good thing is that once unlocked, if you die and need to redo the section, you don’t lose the Perk. There are different Perk Trees, each with its set of challenges and rewards and over the course of my playthrough I acquired a bit of everything.

It’s a good thing you don’t lose Perks if you die during the section in which you got them as the game’s difficulty is considerably high compared to other shooters. There is no cover mechanic in this one, so you need to be aware of your surrounding and above all play it smart. Jumping into the middle of a group guns blazing will get you killed as much as insisting on stealth when you know it’s not the right way to go about it. Wolfenstein often forces you to adapt and change your strategies and I can only wish more games did that. It’s exciting.

Above all though, killing Nazis is fun, and did I mention there’s a Lunar mission? Yes, you’re killing Nazis in a moon base! Best of all though, and something that made me laugh, was the inclusion of the original Wolfenstein in the game. There’s a bed in the rebel base, and if you point at it, the interaction button appears, stating, Nightmare.” If you press the button, BJ will go lie down and dream of playing the original game. It’s the original Wolfenstein but your guns and BJ’s model stay the same, being a high-res character in a low-res nightmare.

The Perks system is weird, but it works, and that's what's important!

The Perks system is weird, but it works, and that’s what’s important!

I love this game’s characterization. Every single character has the same level of work put into them than the protagonist, even the Nazis you encounter throughout the game. I don’t mean the cannon fodder you gleefully go through but the major ones. Frau Engel and Bubi are one such case. Deathshead on the other hand stays the same for most of the game and he never gets fleshed out, but then again you only see him a couple of times. The rebellion is a mix of wonderful personalities, especially Klaus. There is so much depth to this character and his adopted son Max Hass that you can’t help but feel for them, to care about their well-being.

The plot itself starts rather simple, but over the course of the game there are added complexities in the form of the Dat Yichud, a Jewish secret society responsible for developing the technologies Deathshead acquired and appropriated to help the Nazi win the war and conquer the world. It’s a wonderful concept, a society that seeks to reach God by creating. The simple act of creation itself is enough.

One of the few times you see the bad guy, but it's a memorable one!

One of the few times you see the bad guy, but it’s a memorable one!

The story has a wonderful pace, and while even with the DY is rather simple, it’s only one part of the game, the wonderful characterization adding depth and character and complexity to this story. If the cast weren’t so outstanding, both in vocal performance and writing, then it wouldn’t matter how intricate the story was, because at the end of it, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a story about people.

Accompanying the outstanding vocal design is the terrific music, designed to match not the game and play style, but the Nazis, adding another layer to the storytelling. This is their world, so the music had to reflect that, but at the same time the music is based on 60s era style performances. As the music producer called it, it’s “a tribute to all things guitar.” And no track better represents the overall style of the game than the title song, the one you hear in the menu. It’s a full electric guitar track, but it has odd moments, the music seemingly distorted, playing on your sense of hearing.

I’m not a fan of big visuals. Let me rephrase that, I don’t put emphasis on them, but The New Order looks brilliant. For me it’s not about how realistic the people look, but the details, and the level of detail in the art design is outstanding. Every level is designed in such a way that even the most open of locations feels restricted and oppressive, the same way the characters feel in this world. I also loved how even 20 years in the future, Nazi aesthetics hadn’t changed much and everything had a distinct WWII vibe, from the vehicles to the Nazi soldiers themselves.

There is one big downside to the visuals however, is how large the installation is. It’s painful to see, download and see downloading. This game has the dubious honour of being the largest game I have ever installed on my PC, taking up to 40GB of memory. It’s nearly 5% of your 1 TB HDD, that’s a lot.

I think about 15GB went into that mech!

I think about 15GB went into that mech!

But having said so, I can safely tell you that it is worth it. Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t just an outstanding entry in this long running series, but one of the best made games ever.

The Mental Attic Score: Worth Overpaying. I say it to keep my scoring standard, to give it the highest score attainable in The Mental Attic. In truth, it’s worth its asking price of $60. It’s worth every penny, more so than any other game released in the past few years.

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