Written by Vikki Blake, @_vixx
This review is late.
I hate being late.
The lateness wasn’t anything to do with the difficulty, or the content, or anything like that. I didn’t take offence at the gore or the narrative or any of the things deliberately constructed to gross you out (the more gross the better, amirite?).
The problem was, despite the many good (and bad) FPSs I voluntarily subject myself to on a weekly basis, this game made me sick. Like: SICK sick. Motion sickness hit me so often – and so badly – it’s taken me three times as long to plough through the campaign than usual. So take this as a friendly warning: if you’re occasionally motion-sick, this game just might make you barf. And if you’re regularly afflicted – well, don’t even try it. Seriously.
Anyway. Now we’re here, let’s get on with the frickin’ review.
In the polished world of AAA shooters, it’s tempting to gloss over the realities of war.
The cyclical debate of video-game violence often drags out a FPS or two at which to wag a disappointed finger, and a casual glance the Top 20 game chart in any store is all you need to see, right there in its day-glo glory, our industry’s obsession with the glamorousness of war.
When we pepper wave after wave of enemies with bullets in the repetitious humdrum of everyday shooters, as limbs fly through the air and blood splatters the earth, it’s easy to forget what we’re actually doing: mowing, maiming and murdering every day folk, usually fighting at the behest of governments.
Which is exactly what’s happening in Wolfenstein: The New Order. At least at face value, anyhow.
It’s 1946. The Second World War is presented in it’s true technicolour and terrifying glory. You play once again as BJ Blazkowicz, a US military sergeant tasked in taking out General Strasse (affectionately nicknamed “Deathhead”) and as you just might anticipate, not all goes entirely as planned …
Forced into a dead-end – and then a horrifying decision that pushes your storyline down one of two scenarios – you’re knocked cold. When you finally come to it’s 1960, and the world is a very different place from the flower-power ‘60s as we once knew them. In fact, everything’s different; in this reality, the Nazis won the war … and we’re all paying the price.
It’s here where the game takes time – and some pride, I would think – in setting the tone of the tale and exemplifying the horror of life inside enemy lines. Institutionalised and incommunicative, Blazkowicz can do nothing when the neighbourhood Nazis come callin’ and raze the place – and all inhabitants within it – to the ground.
It’s brutal and it’s bloody but it’s oh-so effective.
Blazkowicz escapes – just – with nurse and eventual love interest Anya at his side, taking refuge with the latter’s grandparents. As is usually the case, our protagonist swears revenge through clenched teeth and bloodless lips and we’re off, shooting everything and anything stupid enough to fall into the path between us and the captured Resistance party we’ve sworn to liberate.
Does this push the boundaries of interactive storytelling? Well. No – not really. But whilst the dialogue is a smidge cheesy and predictable, and the narrative falls just on the wrong side of cliched, the attention to detail – which includes not just the visual environments but also a surprisingly rich backstory too – weaves an effortless brilliance through an otherwise been-there-done-that experience.
There’ll be Wolfenstein touches that you’ll remember from games gone by; pick’n’switch weaponry, degradable (but plentiful) armour, power-ups and health packs scattered along the way. When you’re not battling soldiers you’re battling weird-ass robot wolf mech things, and when you’re not doing that you’re mostly likely taking out towers, tanks and/or helicopters.
It’s formulaic and lacks some originality, but don’t confuse that with being a bad thing; they say variety is the spice of life, and when it comes to Wolfenstein: The New Order, they’re not wrong. There’s just enough here to keep the gameplay from becoming stale – although you might occasionally find that the pacing stutters to a stop if/when you stop to scour around for ammo or armour.
The AI responses well, and whilst it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of combatants, take heart that there’s plenty of space and resource around you – just use the environments creatively and shift position often (and carefully). The cover mechanic responses just as it should, and there’s a veritable smorgasbord of weapons from which to choose – keep an eye on the ground for discarded guns and experiment to your heart’s content.
Interestingly, you can also take a more stealthy approach. No, it’s not quite the full Metal Gear-Solid-esque stealth experience, but it’s a perfectly competent alternative to otherwise bursting in, all guns blazing. And for those of you seeking a more cerebral experience, be sure to sweep your surroundings thoroughly; there’s many nuggets of story-mining gold secreted along the way. Keep your eyes open so you don’t accidentally slip past a hidden code or document that might add flesh to that narrative bone.
The Final Word: Whilst Wolfenstein: The New Order might not be the most thought-provoking title you’ll ever play, write it off as a generic shooter and you’ll be doing it a disservice: there’s a depth here seldom touched by your everyday shooter.
Don’t get me wrong – you can push on through in a hail of bullets and be none the worse off for it. But this is a story that deserves to be told.
Yes, it’s repetitive and whilst it occasionally suggests that your options are wide and varied, it’s essentially an shoot-em-up on-rails experience – but that’s not necessarily always a bad thing, is it?