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Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 4) artwork

Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 4) review

"Paper-Thin Manifestation"

Since the eruption of World War II first-person shooters during the 2000s, it's hard nowadays seeing a game with Nazis as the villains without feeling exhausted. The only reason an IP such as Sniper Elite is able to survive in the current gaming climate is due to the grotesque x-ray kills, not to mention its zombie spin-off series. So it really doesn't come as a surprise that the current devs of the premiere Nazi-killing franchise, Wolfenstein, felt the need to put an interesting spin on The New Order: the Nazis won World War II. Primarily taking place in 1960, the game tells an alternative timeline story where the Nazis now rule the planet, and it was all thanks to the series' reoccurring antagonist, Deathshead, inexplicably turning the tide of the war with advanced technology.

This came as a complete shock to the iconic protagonist, B.J. Blazkowicz, who realizes this awful truth after angrily snapping out of a 14-year vegetative state in an asylum, when he sees everyone getting massacred by Nazis. Once in control of this raging beast, you'll go through a slew of attacks in this now blood-soaked building, starting with either shooting a soldier in the head with a pistol or stabbing them in the throat with a close-up kill. After grabbing that corpse's assault rifle, you'll likely duck for cover as more foes converge on your location, systematically peeking out to fill their bodies with lead. They won't emerge from their hiding spots? No problem, just blast through the thin walls. Minutes later, you'll then sneak downstairs, successfully killing preoccupied soldiers with thrown knives before mowing down the remaining group with dual assault rifles.

Action-wise, that's basically how the whole journey plays out, and in that regard, The New Order is not all too different from many FPS titles released over the past, erm... 20 years; assault rifles, pistols, shotguns, and the usual make up your arsenal, and normal soldiers, drones, slow troopers with shotguns and rocket launchers, and robots with laser cannons round out the rogues gallery. None of that sounds familiar? Well, then you might just love this game unconditionally! And if anything, the only reason I bothered fighting enemies in different ways was because of the upgrade tree. To even receive improvements such as stocking more grenades or gaining the ability to throw knives, certain conditions had to be met, ranging from killing a commander with a grenade to shooting Nazis while sliding on the ground like an idiot. Without the upgrades, I probably would have spammed assault rifle attacks and headshot soldiers with a silencer all day.

I will say, though, The New Order is pretty smooth during combat, and after about the first 30-some minutes of actual action, the controls feel second-nature. Also, the peekaboo cover mechanic is surprisingly functional in its simplicity. Like, if you're hugging a wall that's not near its side, and you press the cover button to peek anyway, you automatically move to the end of the wall. That's legitimately awesome. The stealth mechanic previously incorporated in some iterations of the franchise also makes a welcomed return, simply on the basis that the game would really be a redundant, corridor-based FPS without it. Nothing special, though, as it's mostly ever used in segments purely made for it, where you have to take out commanders silently so they won't sound the alarm. It's a bit flimsy, however, as sometimes a soldier five feet away, staring right at you, won't notice your presence, but other times a soldier 15 feet away freaks out.

Unfortunately, The New Order's familiarity isn't confined to the action, extending its grasp deep within the Nazi-ruling concept. The game feels promising for the first, say, three out of 16 chapters, when it's setting up Blazkowicz's initiation into this horrifying new reality, but after a few more chapters, it dawns on you how shockingly uninspired the world-building is. Seriously, here's a list of places you'll travel within these chapters: a castle, a fortified checkpoint, a prison, another prison, the sewers, a bridge, and so on. Besides the occasional robot fight, none of these places have the characteristics of a futuristic Nazi society. Worse, three separate chapters are dedicated to a time-wasting hub center where you collect objects and do minimalist combat. Literally 99% of The New Order could have taken place in World War II with zero differences.

But what about the advanced technology, the robots, and the like? The funny thing is, a hefty chunk of this stuff is introduced in the energetic and charismatic first chapter... which takes place in 1946. When you jump forward in time, you still fight the same enemies and use the same weapons, only they're slightly remodeled to look "advanced." Oh, and you know how every FPS has their own "unique" weapon? The New Order has a weapon called the Laserkraftwerk that... cuts chains and opens vents. Later, it doubles as a lame, but effective, pew-pew-pew laser gun that, you guessed it, has an important role in the final battle. That's the best the devs could come up with?

What little world-building exists is extremely fleeting, where you see the supposed advanced civilization off in the distance before getting shoved back into a typical, unproductive FPS corridor. This also applies for whenever the game puts you in a neat vehicle segment, such as piloting a giant mech or manning the turret of a tiltrotor, which lasts all too brief. Don't even get me started on the scam that is the entirety of chapter 13... It's a sad state of affairs when you have to look at newspaper clippings scattered throughout the game, not to mention read the brief descriptions of characters and concept art in the options menu, to get a "feel" for this universe. You know what would have been awesome? If the game followed the events between 1946 and 1960 as detailed in the newspaper clippings. At least players might have actually seen some genuine variation.

When I played Deus Ex 1, I believed I was in a futuristic Earth filled with hackers and conspiracies, when I played Halo, I believed I was in an otherworldly galaxy trying to prevent galactic genocide, and when I played BioShock, I believed I was in an absurd underwater society gone to crap. When I played Wolfenstein: The New Order, I believed I was in a pretty standard first-person shooter with basic stealth segments and a concept that didn't quite deliver. The whole thing feels like the devs were waayyyyy over their heads, trying to make a grand adventure within the confines of a linear FPS, and stumbling over themselves the whole way. It's not a terrible game, as you'll get some simple fun out of literally blowing meaty chunks off soldiers. Then again, you can do that in nearly every FPS.


pickhut's avatar
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Nightfire posted May 06, 2016:

I always put off buying this game. Just on intuition, I guess. I suppose I'm glad that someone has explained to me why I should, perhaps, continue to hold off until there's a 90% off sale or something.
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pickhut posted May 06, 2016:

If you do end up checking out the new Wolfenstein games, I recommend trying out The Old Blood instead. The gameplay, while the same, is much better. It's more hectic and honest in its approach.

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