2014’s biggest surprise in gaming is that we can finally return to Wolfenstein without cringing.
By Tim Colwill on May 27, 2014 at 12:22 pm
Wolfenstein: The New Order is pleasantly straightforward. That’s not to say it’s boring, or uninteresting, or shallow, but rather that, much like the blunt instrument to which main character BJ Blazkowicz is likened, Wolfenstein delivers maximum punch with zero pull, and doesn’t really give a toss whether or not you think that’s a good idea. It’s rare in the year 2014 that you get to fire up a game and literally just blast robot Nazis away with gloriously automatic twin shotguns, and Wolfenstein delivers that in spades while, somehow, managing to remain interesting.
It’s hard to pin down exactly which ingredient makes Wolfenstein’s formula work. Certainly mechanically the game is solid, and a great showcase for the id Tech 5 engine. The guns are meaty and chunky, the environment explodes pleasantly around you under sustained gunfire, and the physics and movement are almost spot on. A central theme of the game itself is technology well ahead of its time, and the game feels like that, like an old-school shooter somehow transplanted into the body of a fresh young thing. “Look what your science has wrought,” we scream through the locked gates at developers Machine Games. They say nothing.
Certainly, as well, the storyline manages to be interesting despite being almost literally assembled out of cliches. The Nazis are one-dimensional caricatures, the resistance members are as well, and even main character BJ Blazkowicz never pretends to be anything other than Mr. Shoots-Nazis-Good — although this time around, his blank detached stare and insistence on over-narrating events with his bizarre stream-of-consciousness commentary really create a delightful impression that he is, fact, completely insane. Yet somehow it all hangs together, perhaps by never pretending to be anything other than it is, by cutting swiftly between events before they can drag, and by not, ever, stopping once to try wring some bleak meaning out of it all.
The campaign — and there is only a campaign, with no multiplayer — just keeps topping itself, as you go through increasingly more unlikely scenarios until you are actually literally shooting Nazis on the moon. The later acts right before the final mission feel a little bit padded, and the checkpointing here starts to get a bit spotty which can result in a frustrating combination of having to fight stupid amounts of Nazis over and over and over again.
Wolfenstein has a sort of stealth-lite element to its combat, which means you can often approach major fights from the shadows in an attempt to pick off commanders and other important troops early — but once the alarm is raised, all hell breaks loose quickly and BJ gets destroyed under sustained fire. The stealth doesn’t always work, and enemies aren’t equipped with the same sort of investigative AI that an actual stealth game would have, so it can feel a bit overpowered as you toss knives through the air for instant kills. Sometimes it’s more satisfying just to pull out the gun and have at it.
Early on in the game you’ll get a laser cutter which can be used to manually slice holes in fences and panels so you can pass through them. It’s a neat idea and a great demonstration of the tech, but it requires you to actually successfully cut an outline big enough for you to pass through and eventually this becomes just super fiddly and really tiresome. Unfortunately, Machine Games thought that making the laser cutter a central mechanic of the game would be a sweet idea, so you’ll have to put up with it the whole way through, along with some frustratingly stupid jumping puzzles (note to all developers: first-person jumping puzzles are a crime against nature). Weapon switching is also infuriating, especially when it comes to lugging around the big guns dropped by large mechs.
Watch our preview video below for a better idea of some of the game’s key systems.
This remains about the only sour note in an overall surprisingly cogent experience, and Wolfenstein breaks up the monotony by allowing you to wander around the resistance headquarters, explore secret tunnels, pick up collectibles, and perform some quests for other members of your little club. It’s neat, and some of the cutscenes with your friends throughout the game verge on genuinely touching — particular resistance leader Caroline, who is arguably the only really interesting character in the game. Wolfenstein feels like a grab bag of “hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…” and somehow it works, even as it veers wildly between almost cliche, kitsch trappings and strangely dark, violent moments. There’s a reason Wolfenstein is rated R18+.
(Do not let your children play Wolfenstein. I am very serious about this.)
Wolfenstein also includes a number of nods to the original Wolfenstein 3D, including the ability to snack on dog food to regain your health, and in between missions at Resistance HQ you can actually fire up and play a recreation of the original game in the new engine, which is amazing.
I finished the game on PC and was having no trouble pulling 60FPS — which the game seems to be locked to, unfortunately — on ultra settings with my GTX 670. Textures are a bit ugly up close and I had to force v-sync in the drivers to get it to work, but overall it’s a very pretty game and well worth cranking it up for. I’m still not sure why the download had to be so staggeringly huge, but whatever.
I never expected Wolfenstein: The New Order to be quite so interesting, and certainly I’ll admit to rolling my eyes a little when I heard that Bethesda were exhuming the corpse of their beloved franchise and hiring Machine Games to perform CPR. But it works, it really does — it’s solid, smart, self-aware, but also broken just a little in that kind of stupid way where you can tell that the developers really just loved doing what they were doing.
- You can literally shoot Nazi robots on the moon
- With twin automatic shotguns
- And they explode in gigantic showers of blood
- Yet, somehow surprisingly dark and and impressively compelling
- Solid, meaty shooter that shows off the idTech 5 engine
- Definitely earns its R18+ rating
- Weapon switching could sure use some work
- Laser welding through things gets old preeeeeeeeetty fast
- Feels kinda padded towards the end
You can buy Wolfenstein: The New Order for $59.99 on Green Man Gaming. Don’t buy it directly from Steam, Bethesda are price-gouging Australians an extra $20.
This review copy supplied by Bethesda. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Reviewed on a system with an i7 3820, GTX 670 and 16GB of RAM.