Sorry it’s been awhile since I posted one of these, finals are irritating. Regardless, I finished this game all the way back in April and didn’t put the finishing touches on the review until now. Also, this isn’t exactly a retro game, but it’s been out for awhile and there’s already a proper TAY review. Without further ado...
Backlogs, We all have them. Whether it be TV shows, video games, anime, books, or any other hobby you could be interested in. We all have things we wish we had time for. And I have decided to make that list a little bit shorter each day. Last time, I beat Uncharted 2. Today I’m reviewing the new Wolfenstein from last year.
Wolfenstein is one of the oldest first person shooters around. The original Castle Wolfenstein was released on MS-DOS, as a stealth action platformer for the Commodore and Apple computers. But the true legacy of the game lies with id Software’s Wolfenstein 3D, which pioneered and popularized the PC
and the FPS genre. DOOM, the most popular of early shooters uses the same interface and was built on the foundations of Wolfenstein 3D. Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein (2009) were adequate, though not revolutionary additions to the genre, but since then not a word about the game has entered the genre. Enter dark-horse of 2014, Wolfenstein: The New Order. Very few people were expecting anything good out of this game. A brand new, no-name studio, making another game about killing Nazis, set in some bizzare, alternate universe, didn’t bode well for the future of this game. Surprisingly, this is one of the best shooters in years and I had an absolute blast playing it. It got really good reception which makes this review a little redundant, but I loved it so much it’s hard not to talk about it.
The game is technically a sequel to id’s Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Wolfenstein (2009), but you don’t need any context in order to understand the characters or the story. General Deathshead is producing powerful robotic war machines which is turning the tide of WWII against the Allies. You control Bj Blazkowicz, an Aryan Jewish badass whose goal is to take down the Nazi regime.
After your first mission ends in tragedy, BJ ends up in a mental hospital in a catatonic state for 14 years, cared for by his nurse and the daughter of the head of the hospital, Anya. When the Nazis arrive to burn the hospital to the ground, BJ awakes from his stupor and comes out swinging ready to knock Nazi heads together, only to find the USA lost the war and Nazi Germany rules the world. The story itself isn’t anything revolutionary like Bioshock or Mass Effect, but they attempt and succeed at giving this character, who’s never been more than a hand holding a gun, more layers and depth than they would have otherwise. Gravely, manly monologues of BJ contemplating the events in the game, his reconciliation and care for certain characters, the reasons that he keeps fighting, the guilt he feels over certain decisions, it’s all in there and never comes across as too much. Like I said, it’s nothing revolutionary, but at the same time, it’s not a weakness of the game. The plot has a couple of issues with it, namely that BJ is able to jump out of a chair and kill Nazi’s just like usual after 14 years in a wheelchair. Oh, and Anya totally wants to bone after knowing your character for all of 4 or 5 days after the Nazi’s kill her parents, which is also ridiculous. The plot continues to get silly and ridiculous, but since the premise of the game is kind of absurd in the first place, you can tell they weren’t exactly going for realism. Machinegames knew exactly what their players wanted and gave them just that.
The music in this game was really good. While there wasn’t necessarily one particular song that stood out and made me fall in love, but as a whole, it always perfectly fits the scenes of the levels. It kicks it into high gear during huge action sequences, settles down during stealth sections, and so forth. As a whole, it sounds a lot like Half-Life 2, but with higher quality and more dynamic changes.
The most striking part of the soundtrack though was the remixes of music from the 1960s as though they were created in a Nazi world. Admittedly, I’m not very familiar with classic tunes, so they don’t mean a whole lot to me, but it is a classy little touch.
The sound design for the environment on the other hand is something I really appreciate personally. The guns sound awesome; a lot of the dialog for the guards is in German and sounds like genuine German and not American voice actors saying German stuff. The sounds of the guns, the environment, you just sound like you’re a part of the world around you. Even the Nazi robot dogs sound pretty convincing (which is a hard feat indeed).
The game looks pretty great. I played it on PC with my Radeon R9 270 and I could nearly max out everything. The textures looked great, the options were diverse and actually worked, the Anti-Aliasing worked. It’s a supremely pretty game in terms of graphical fidelity. The other side of this is the mostly gray, dreary world found in most other first person shooters, Wolfenstein falls squarely between the two camps; it has plenty of levels with diverse color schemes, and then plenty of levels with lots of concrete and dirt. The art director did a good job of taking Nazi designs from WWII and projecting those designs into a more current environment. Buildings made of concrete and steel, weapons that look futuristic and advanced, but still dated at the same time. Everything looks very efficient and orderly like you would expect from the Nazi’s. And since it’s an alternate future, they can do pretty much whatever they want. Overall, they create a believable world that immerses the player in the action.
This is where Wolfenstein thrives though, the gunplay and level design in this game are phenomenal, and it is for this reason that I will continue to follow this fledgling developer, whatever their next game may be. First of all, I want to talk briefly about the way that the levels themselves feel, then I’ll talk about gunplay. Each major combat encounter usually has some options for stealth, options for cover shooting, and options for gunzerking (Rambo-ing, dual-wielding, etc.). While not every encounter has a ducts and routes that you can travel through, there are quite a bit of times when you can finish an entire encounter stealthily if you play your cards right. Often times, games will include stealth mechanics, but only let you use them in part of the encounter before getting rid of them and forcing you to go full gunplay, mostly because the levels aren’t designed to accommodate stealth. On top of that, buildings usually feel like actual buildings and not just playgrounds for gunfights, even though they feel like experimental playgrounds. A lot of shooters fail to make their set pieces for the action feel like real places, so this was a major bonus for me. There weren’t rooms without doors that enemies came out of (where did they come from? Oh, they were patrolling this hallway or working that security desk). There weren’t needless hallways or openings (why is this here?). It always felt I was in a real place, and they would even include rooms that were functionally useless from a gaming perspective, but still accessible to the player to explore, like bathrooms and offices.
Of course, they weren’t really useless because they usually have extra ammo and health packs. Let me say something about the way the health system works in this game, IT IS PERFECT IN EVERY WAY. I admit, I’m a little bit biased. I love the old school shooters, like Half Life 2 and Jedi Knight, where you had a set amount of health and each encounter, even if you were successful, felt like it had stakes due to your continually dwindling health. Now, this would sometimes lead to times when you were stuck in a major encounter with only 5 health and you keep dying over and over, but that was usually because you didn’t steward your health and ammo well in previous encounters, or you hadn’t been hunting for powerups enough. In most modern shooters, you don’t have a number of health, just an on-screen display of red that increases when you take damage and then decreases when you take cover. This gets ridiculous as you become literally invincible, whittling away enemy health behind cover, and staying in one place the whole time. The balance that Wolfenstein strikes between these two sections is to have segments of health that regenerate, but never your whole health bar. It’s actually kind of brilliant, and I can’t think of another game that it’s been used in before. If you take X amount of damage, you can hide behind cover and regenerate up to the next highest increment of twenty (20-40-60-80…), that way damage still matters, but you aren’t punished for every 2 bullets that just barely graze you. But, this health mechanic drives the whole gameplay experience since you are constantly looking for more health. Explore all the rooms, duck across that hallway and search the desk, check all the closets, the bathrooms, everything. And during combat too, do you leave your position where you pick off opponents one by one? Or do you charge across to the other side to quickly rummage through the office for some ammo and health? Should I use my throwing knives on this guard? Or should I wait until he’s closer and I can stab him directly. This game of conserving and maximizing both your health and ammo drives how you play the game.
Which is not to say that the act of shooting people itself does not have its own merits. The guns in this game feel incredible.
Full-auto, dual-wielding shotguns? YES! Pistol with a silencer for working through stealth portions silently? YES! An electric laser gun with a sniper scope that can literally target every body part in it’s scope at once and make that person spontaneously explode? YES YES YES YES!!!!!! The guns all have different effects, side modes, ammo types, and even though I didn’t like all of them, I did use all of them. Combine that with different enemy types that are always expanding, a great movement system, a cover system that doesn’t get in your way and of course shooting Nazis, because as much as we all got tired of that typoon of WWII Nazi shooters, we’ve been in desperate need of a good one for a long time. I mean let’s face it, Nazis are still a good bad guy, even if they were as oversaturated as we are with zombies right now. There’s just something unexpectedly pleasant about killing Nazis because they are always just Evil, DUH!
I also wanted to say something about how the developers use the first person perspective in general, but this guy covers a lot of the same points as I would, even if he’s not talking about the first person perspective specifically.
The gunplay wouldn’t matter though if the controls sucked, but thankfully they don’t. Now admittedly, I didn’t play this on console, so I can’t comment on the effectiveness of the controls on there, though I didn’t hear any complaints. But on PC it all works brilliantly. The cover system isn’t a separate button that gets you stuck against walls when you’re trying to get away, it’s just something you do near corners automatically when the icon appears on your HUD? Running, jumping, sliding, shooting, at no point in time did I blame the controls for my death. I died a lot in this game, but it was never the fault of the controls, it was always because I hadn’t planned well enough.
An excellently crafted, old-style Nazi FPS that relies on conventions of the genre not seen in ages from AAA developers. The guns are fun, the level design works, and all the elements of the game work together flawlessly. These developers didn’t just recreate old experiences, relying on the power of nostalgia to see them through; they found the faults with old mechanics and made them work better in a more modern environment. Add on a character who struggles with his decisions and ponders his life, giving character to an otherwise hand with a gun, and overall you get one of the best shooters in years.
Music/Sound Design: 8.5/10
Graphics/Art Direction: 8/10
Gameplay/Level Design: 10/10
Final Rating: 43.5/50 = 87%
Bonus Points (Spoilers)
- For making the first person experience feel like a person instead of a camera +2
- For conveniently allowing certain characters to avoid certain death, despite the numerous times they should have actually been dead -1
- For the London Monitor +3
- For the Moon (yes, you go to the friggin Moon) +2
- For letting me stab “Deathshead” in the face so many times in the end cut scene +1
- For adding in a mystical Jewish, advanced science cult thing so my friend in a wheelchair can walk and adds some Deus Ex Machina to the plot in general -2
- For making a small group of rebels able to effectively do damage to the hulking giant that is the successful Nazi empire -2
- For the nightmare level where you run around in the old Castle Wolfenstein +2
True Final Rating: 48.5/50 = 97%
Tips for Playing:
- Don’t be intimidated by the old-school feel, it’s easy enough to pick up on one of the easier difficulty settings, and the gunplay itself is very well-designed.
- Use all the guns.
- Play on a difficulty that challenges you, you don’t have to do the hardest one right off the bat, but at the harder settings you have to constantly switch guns depending on the situation, where-as on easier settings you can blast through with just the assault rifle. By using all of your weapons it makes you feel smarter and cooler.
- Don’t be afraid to cheese the system. If you found a corner of a room with a battery recharging station where you can use your lasergun the whole time and just make everyone explode, the game is built for those kinds of exploits. As far as I know there’s nothing game-breaking, so just have fun with it.
- Quicksave often. I don’t know if you can on consoles or not, but quicksave after every enemy encounter. It will save you repeat encounters with enemies that are frustrating.
- Search for all the stuff. There are plenty of things to find in Wolfenstein: TNO. There are plenty of health-packs and ammo, but there also expansions for your health or armor (depending on which friend you saved), add-ons to your lasergun, and codex pages for cool concept art and stuff. Heck, even the propoganda that they put everywhere is fun to read. They have all sorts of little news articles about London and the US and stuff.
- Don’t give up, keep trying even when the odds are against you. If you keep dying, keep trying, the game is beatable even on the hardest difficulty. That said...
- Don’t be afraid to experiment and try something new. The phrase “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” comes to mind. If something you’re trying isn’t working then try something else. Use dual-wielding instead of cover shooting. Try stealth to pick off a couple foes before the fighting begins. The levels are playgrounds that let you choose how to play. Use them.