Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

By Blair Nokes on June 3, 2014

Wolfenstein is a name that carries a considerable amount of weight in not just the first person shooting genre, but gaming as a whole. The genre as we know it today owes much to Wolfenstein 3D a classic game that released in 1992. Granted, the ability to play a video game in the first person can trace its lineage as far back as the early 70s with Maze War, however the typical first person shooting archetype is accredited to John Carmack and the rest of the team at id Software. Wolfenstein as a series goes back even further than that, debuting in 1981 from Muse Software. Castle Wolfenstein was a 2D game where players were encouraged to sneak past enemies or find alternate routes. In fact this entirely predates the original Metal Gear "“ typically referred to as the first Stealth Action title by a number of years. It's almost crazy to think that one series as being responsible for the shape of two major genres in modern gaming.

Since Wolfenstein 3D, the series has had a number of instalments, including the popular PC game, Return to Castle Wolfenstein. After that, the series remained quiet until 2009, when Raven Software attempted a reboot for the newer generation. Sadly, it wasn't the reboot that they or fans were expecting. While it may have had some enjoyable moments and glimpses of promise, it was a mixed bag that ended up being forgettable in the later years. Fast forward to 2014, and we now see another reboot from another developer. Machine Games have answered the call of duty and have promised a Wolfenstein that is a return-to-form for classic styled first person shooting. For those unaware, Machine Games is the new name for the former developers at Starbreeze, who were responsible for cult hits like The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness.

Set in an alternate reality, the Nazis have developed advanced technologies that helped turned the tide against the Allies. In 1946, BJ Blazkowicz takes part in a massive raid against a Nazi occupied fortress that also held a weapons laboratory operated by Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse "“ an antagonist from former games. You eventually get captured and are brought to a facility that hosts experiments on humans and ultimately make a tough choice between killing one of your two comrades. After making an explosive escape, BJ suffers a critical head injury that left him adrift at sea, unconscious. He was brought to a psychiatric asylum in Poland, and was left in a vegetative state for 14 years. This was just the introduction to The New Order.

The story for The New Order is exceptionally well done for something that could easily be overlooked as a glorified Nazi shooter. The written dialogue for Blazkowicz in particular was most surprising due to the considerable amount of depth added to the character; his inner monologues really helped flesh him out as being more than just a typical military grunt. The supporting characters for Wolfenstein are also very well done with some memorable performances from your Scottish pilot Fergus Reid, Deathshead, and Frau Engel. The game itself blends both roots of the Wolfenstein series: tight, fun first person shooting, and also stealth action.

Much of the game can be played stealthily, and it is very well done without having enemies feel too dumb to allow these sneakier approaches. On top of that, the game offers a plethora of weapons for your entertainment, and they all range in firepower, explosiveness, and some old school shooting like dual wielding assault rifles. Thankfully, the game ditches the modern shooting formula of only offering a two weapon limit, and brings back a much desired weapon wheel system so that you have the freedom of choosing what you want, when you want to use it. Levels are fairly large and branching, offering some exploration for hidden artefacts, collectibles and enigma codes you can gather to solve. The developers at Machine Games truly wanted fans to experience a classic Wolfenstein game with a modern coat of paint and that's precisely what's given. The narrative also makes way for optional contextual choices the player can make. A conversation with Frau Engel can end in a number of ways, and each of them offers different outcomes. It's a great way to entice players to replay certain segments to see what would change.

Enemy variety ranges from different ranks of Nazi soldiers, dogs, and mechanical beasts, Nazis and larger machines. All require different strategies, and all go down in a highly gory fashion. Machine Games definitely wanted to emulate the over-the-top gibs present in classic shooters, and as sadistic as it may sound, it's fantastic. Enemy limbs break off in several different ways, different placed shots show different effects, and the guns themselves are suitably rewarding, affecting soldiers in a plethora of ways.

This game offers no online component, which seems like a jarring omission when taken at face value. However, the developers truly wanted to make a pure single player experience and focus all of their attention to it. With the game clocking in at about 15+ hours it's more than the average first person shooter campaign, and offers higher difficulties, and also collectible hunting for added longevity.

Visually this game hits incredible highs, at the cost of some nasty lows. This game utilizes the famous mega-texturing that John Carmack introduced in Rage. For those who aren't sure what it does, it is a technique that uses a single extremely large texture over a static terrain rather than repeating multiple smaller textures. On paper, this means that we shouldn't see something like a bush being reused as a cloud (like Super Mario World). Textures are either stored on removable media or the computer's hard drive, and are streamed when needed; this allows for larger amounts of detail and also texture variation for different objects. As the player moves around, different sections of the mega texture are loaded into memory.

Where this may be an eyesore is that more often than not, you will continuously see textures filling in, rather than popping in. Slight degrees in camera movement will also show this process. When it's actually done, the game indeed looks marvellous. Gun models are large, and very detailed, settings look uniquely shaped, and while it can be blurrier up close, the landscape shots are incredibly well designed and also highly detailed. This is the double edged sword of the megatexture.

Final Thoughts

Wolfenstein: The New Order comes highly recommended. It's one gigantic nod to the first person shooters of old, and manages to accomplish this while still having its feet firmly planted in modern shooting games. It's a fresh take on the series, and offers a story and narrative better than it really needed to be, with characters more interestingly written than other competing franchises. To top it all off, it has responsive and tight shooting mechanics, and stealth system that works quite well without drastically sacrificing AI quality. Its biggest drawback lies with its overly ambitious graphics engine.

Classic FPS gameplay
The Megatexture engine when loaded
Great story and interesting characters
Some may not like the omission of Multiplayer
The Megatexture engine when loading
Longer than normal loading times
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