Wolfenstein: The New Order review - a classy blast from the past

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And easily the most impressive story based Wolfenstein to date.

The latest in a line of FPS games that started way back in 1992, Wolfenstein has always had one thing, the continual, unconditional slaughter of Nazis, be they blocky pixelated soldiers, dark occultists, zombies or in the case of The New Order, technologically advanced dictators.with big battle robots.

In The New Order Machinegames have worked hard to paint an alternate reality in which the Nazi’s win the war. The game is packed full of little details that remind us of the Nazi victory. Worldwide they've laid waste to those who would stand in their way and all the little bits of back-story you pick up begin to make you wonder just how BJ Blazkowicz and his motley crew of Resistance buddies stand a chance against them.

You are playing BJ Blazkowicz though who’s had plenty of practice at this kind of thing and for this game he’s looking pumped.

The graphics for The New Order really are quite good. Skin, sweat and blood are well rendered, warts and all, and the levels look great. The series of increasingly large mech bad guys are suitably weighty The accompanying sounds also work really well. From the moment the first note of the music on the title screen strikes, you get a clear idea of the tone of the game and a dark industrial edge is played out through disquieting metallic clangs and suspenseful deep synth swells that reminded me of the incidental music from Terminator.

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The story that unfolds isn’t trying to give you a gritty account of \World War II events, rather this is a sci-fi/fantasy action adventure romp. You see the brutality and perverse creations of a high-tech Nazi super-power. Scenes with some of the Nazi bosses serve to add a twisted horrific edge. The action moves from Nazi-strongholds and prison camps to tomb raider-style hidden temples to the Moon and back.

The acting and voices aren’t half bad either. The game does have those taboo hooks for teenage boys, nudity, sex and a book full of ineffectual swearing. Almost every one, including humorously, the Nazis have a good old swear,  teaching you to bad mouth in a second language.

The plot leaps about and doesn’t attempt to explain everything away. This continues with Blazkowicz' hardman abilities. He can carry an arsenal of guns that lesser mortals would crumble under, although strangely he’s restricted to how many daggers he can carry.

This game isn't going for realism weapons-wise either, you can dual wield all the weapons you pick up off dead Nazis even the sniper-esque rifles you get, rendering their scopes unusable. The weapons are great visceral thumpers especially the shotguns which clang out body disintegrating slugs with very little re-coil. Blazkowicz can also pick up the massive chain guns you encounter from endless bullet turrets although these will stop him from sprinting and will run out of bullets once detached. You upgrade weapons too making them even more ridiculous particularly the assault rife/rocket launcher combo.

In combat scenarios you sometimes get the opportunity to use a stealthy approach if you fancy tapping into your inner ninja. A system of perks unlocked by performing targets in-game, 5 stealth takedowns for instance, allows you to buff up Blazkowicz in different ways. Leaning sprinting, sliding and sneaking about the levels a shoot-out is never far away though and some sections are all out fire-fights.

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The combat is good and tight with something of the flavour of of 1990s FPS games.Your health has a numeric value and will only regenerate to the nearest multiple of twenty, so no running away and hiding to get your health back up. Food and health packs you pick up in the combat levels keep you going, you can overcharge your health by eating above your health cap but this will be temporary and counts back down to your maximum health total. This makes  you think strategically about leaving health packs for when you might need them as a result.

The New Order while being totally linear also invites you often to seek out secrets in the levels, a throwback to the more exploration biased gameplay from the numerous Wolfenstein 3D maps. Infact the nostalgia for old Wolfenstein games is clear: you start out with the familiar castle escape scenario, at one point you don a Nazi uniform to blend in, just like in the very first Silas Warner Castle Wolfenstein game, there’s even a reoccuring ‘nightmare’ easter egg where you play though an old Wolfenstein 3D level with the powersliding beefed-up frame of the present day Blazkowicz.

To break up the tempo Wolfenstein packs in little set pieces you’d expect to see in any self respecting action adventure. You take control of powerful mech-suits, there’s a shoot and jump puzzle, underwater sections and story-embellishing side quests. Much of the non combat stuff can be a little bit short-lived, not too far in there’s a laughably short section where you drive a car that seemed to say, “this is what you get in big acton adventures these days, now back to the Nazi-slaying!"

What I kept in mind whilst playing it was that Wolfenstein of old never really took itself too seriously and I got this too with The New Order. Bits of the game got a laugh, comically game characters will knowingly remind you to kill Nazi's (incase you were losing the thread). Blazkowicz can be very deadpan. In his gruff, game-voice monotone he can also get quite thoughtful. He has a nicer side, performing good deeds for his comrades such as finding things people have lost in your secret hide-out, it seems like no one can keep tabs on their own stuff in there. While the little bits of plot you pick up in you hide-out serve to flesh out the characters, I thought Tekla’s philosophical rant was quite entertaining, the ‘find things; tasks you get will make some gamers impatient and do seem a bit arbitrary.

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Without any multiplayer at launch Wolfenstein: The New Oder is bucking the trend of current hit FPS games. As a result the games leans on the story, its system of perks, secrets, collectables and difficulty modes to keep you playing. Early on your nemesis General Wilhem "Deathshead" Strasse forces you into the difficult moral poser of which of your team mates to sacrifice. You choice opens up two different storylines inviting a second playthrough to compare the difference.

The guy I choose to save on the first go ended up resenting me, although pretty soon after he was back fighting with me again right as rain. Had i been redeemed? It was hard to tell. I did find the varying time-line fell a little flat.

I’m happy to report Wolfenstein will be getting another play through from me, combat is gratifyingly hardcore, and presents a decent challenge, The game story while being clumsy at points isn’t instantly forgettable and you just feel like a champ with all those over-sized guns.

For an old game attempting to stay fresh whilst retaining the spirit of the original i'd say Wolfenstein: The New Order does a very good job. The New Order has revitalised the series well and I’d play the next one if it comes along. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for multiplayer DLC to fight it out with a bit of old school flavour. DOOM beta access comes with those that pre-ordered Wolfenstein, could it be that the marked success of Wolfenstein: The New Order will spawn a comeback for retro FPS games? I hope so.

 

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