Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order

While a lot of the game hangs on its theme and styling, when it's implemented so brilliantly, it's hard to fault the game.  Coupled with a pleasant modernisation of old-school shooter mechanics and great level design, this game is more than worthwhile.  It's a fun shooter with a decent narrative and an almost insane amount of attention to the fine details.
Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Date published: Jul 1, 2014
2 / 3 stars

Wolfenstein: The New Order is a first-person shooter developed by Machine Games in association with iD Software and published by Bethesda Softworks.  It offers a highly -stylised shooter that at first glimpse seemed fairly generic and by the numbers.  So the question one couldn't help but enter into Wolfenstein wondering is: is that what it is?

Wolfenstein is absolutely stuffed full of all kinds of details
that add to and reinforce a brilliantly-presented visual style

One of the things that immediately grabbed me about the game, beyond the simultaneous gorgeous and silky-smooth visuals delivered by the iD Tech engine the game uses was that the game has a very strong and stylised aesthetic.  Level and enemy design both have a consistent theme rooted in the aesthetic used by historical Nazi Germany, given an update when the game moves forward into a 1960s Nazi-overtaken world.  In both of those time periods you have a very consistent look and feel that always feels very "art deco future tech" and its very well-done.

If you want to sample some of those subversions of the 60s hits, you can check out most of them at a promotional website Bethesda made to market the game in the visage of the recording company they created for the game's integration: Neumond Recordings.

Levels are smallish, but intricately-detailed with lots of hidden pick-ups,
other collectibles and easter eggs to find

I spoke of the level design in the context of the style earlier, but just in general as well, the level design is well-done.  It has the Crysis 2 or Hard Reset sort of openness where the actual progression is going to be from point A to point B in a very linear fashion, but Wolfenstein has a very old school sort of level design indeed, with alternating corridors and arenas complete with plenty of scrounging for secrets and health packs.  Putting both those wonderful details to be found and then the more mechanical things like extra ammo, health, and upgrades found through exploring and/or smashing crates.  The one complaint I do have is that many - not all, but many - of the levels feel cramped.  For example, one level has you exploring the "London Nautica" - a Nazi research center / museum set up in London as the name implies, and the view you get from the outside is grand and sweeping, but the level on the interior makes the building seem much smaller than the exterior did, like some sort of reverse Tardis effect.  Nonetheless, the many nooks and crannies of those levels almost always give some sort of reward, so they're well worth poking through extensively.

Gunplay is decent but pretty much bog-standard old-school shooter

It's definitely stuck to those old school guns with the gunplay, if you can excuse the extremely cheesy figure of speech.  The gunplay is decent and there are recoil patterns to some of the weapons but they are very simple in the nature and easily accommodated for with burst fire.  Its tight and functional but there wasn't much addition or iteration to the formula with Wolfenstein.  There is an akimbo mode with almost all of the weapons in the game, which some might say is a newer mechanic, but if you want to say that, well, I have the classic Rise of the Triad and it would like to have a word with you.  Nonetheless, the fact that you can do this even with the sniper rifle weapon or the shotguns certainly dials it up to 11, at the very least.  I found that kind of inadvisable though, because the gun models are rather large and with both of them on the screen they obscure a significant amount of your vision.

The narrative that Wolfenstein paints was a stand-out surprise to me

The story is delivered through a combination of internal narration portrayed as the thoughts of the protagonist, BJ Blaskowitcz, and interactions with other resistance members as you attempt to liberate a world dominated by Nazis in an alternate history where the Nazis won World War 2.  This very much could have become formulaic and in some respects it still is; its a fairly standard action story arching story to it, but the narrative itself is full of characterful resistance members, each of which aren't stereotypes and most of them aren't even unambiguously good.  They each have their own motivations for working with the resistance and their own views, and come across as very human.  It doesn't feel like simply the forced tropes this kind of game can easily fall into.  There's a couple spots that will probably be problematic to people, though I can't really speak to them directly without giving massive story spoilers so I wont; overall, however, it's quite well done.  A lot of attention to detail again in the characters: Nazi, resistance, and civillians alike.  It's quite impressive.

While a lot of the game hangs on its theme and styling, when it's implemented so brilliantly, it's hard to fault the game.  Coupled with a pleasant modernisation of old-school shooter mechanics and great level design, this game is more than worthwhile.  It's a fun shooter with a decent narrative and an almost insane amount of attention to the fine details.