It was the summer of 1993 and I was sitting in front of my blazing fast computer (a 386 SX) with a black and white monitor running Windows 3.1. Through some of my elementary school classmates, I had a shareware copy of Episode 1 of Wolfenstein 3D. Surprisingly, this already outdated computer could run the game. Though I could barely make out a lot of what was going on, and a PC Speaker made the enemy dogs and soldiers sound exactly the same, I had just been introduced to a whole new genre of gaming: First Person Shooters.
Release Date: May 20th 2014
Overall Rating: M for Mature
20+ years later, I have no idea where that old computer is, but Bethesda has flash forwarded Wolfenstein into 1960, and takes a dark look into a world where Nazi Germany won World War II after the war stretched another 3 years. You’re treated to a really lengthy introtorial (what’s the proper term for a game introduction that also serves as a tutorial but isn’t actually level? Introtorial sounds good to me.) and then off you go to the main quest.
Coming into E3 this year, this was one of the last outstanding titles announced that had yet to be released that was showcased at the 2013 show. A couple titles remain (including Watch_Dogs, Mario Kart 8 and Murdered: Soul Suspect) but things are looking pretty good now.
Put the kids to bed and fire up your console. As can be expected with FPS games, you have the usual mixture of weaponry – Plenty of guns, hand to hand melee combat and long range explosives. You’re presented with “perks” as you progress, which are unlocked and give you the ability to do different things based on how you choose to play your game. Stealth perks, for example, are a challenge for me because I just walk into everything with guns blazing. Armor is interesting, and I like the idea of segmented armor that grows over time as you collect. I also like the idea that you can dual wield your weapons and that each trigger controls either weapon. BJ Blazkowicz is quite the killing machine. The voice acting in the game is neat and has some familiar voices. It took me a little while to place General “Deathshead” Strasse’s voice until I had to look it up to find out it was Dwight Schultz of A-Team fame. Sadly, as hilarious as Blazkowicz would have been getting voiced by Mr. T, it’s veteran gaming voiceover artist Brian Bloom.
Following a near-death experience at the hands of Strasse and an early crucial character decision before the main quest which changes game dynamics (I won’t spoil anything,) Blazkowicz is comatose, and when he eventually awakens in the early 60s, is told that the Nazi regime won the war in 1948, and thus begins one of the most focused revenge missions I’ve seen and played in years. Blazkowicz is anger personified, and doesn’t stop at all costs to get back at the Nazis through the help of the reformed Resistance movement. It’s kind of tough for me not to spoil the plotline, so I’ll leave it at that. As can be expected, there are plenty of secrets and hidden bonuses. These are found through solving “Enigma” codes with the variables hidden throughout the game. There’s even a Wolfenstein 3D tribute level!
The game is presented in full 1080p on the next gens, but I admit the game is so dark at times that you hardly notice. In fact, I have to admit that short of a few spectacular flashes of brilliance here and there, the graphical presentation isn’t anything special. It definitely gives off this next gen feel at times, but then comes back and looks like last gen at other times. We can probably give this a free pass considering the game was developed for pretty well every platform, and there’s probably some shared textures here and there. Just don’t go in guns blazing (no pun intended) expecting graphics the likes of which you haven’t seen before.
The sound presentation, however, is something else. It does what it can to scare the horrors of war into you. There’s always something lurking, or creeping up near you or behind you. The metallic attack dogs. The enemies. Electric shocks. There isn’t a moment in this game that you’re never on your toes, and if you’re relaxed, you’re lulled into a false sense of security.
The game, while challenging, can be downright infuriating at times. First person shooter fans are probably used to the sheer number of controls games like these have, but boy, it’s tough in the early going that everything ends up being so reactionary. The basic controls (like leaning) aren’t just single button features, and BJ is capable of doing so many things (that you’ll need to remember too) that you’re going to be tempted to throw your controller at times in frustration. If you’re on the fence about which console (or the PC) to get this for, and your computer is new enough, consider the latter. You can map your controls out better, and use your mouse for better navigation.
The game is paced very deliberately, and as a gamer, you will either really like it, or will come to hate it. Depending on which difficulty you choose (which, in classic iD Software homage ranges from “Don’t hurt me” to “Uber,” you’re looking at around 15-20 hours of overall playtime for each playthrough depending on how good you are at duck and cover tactics.
The story itself, however, might be the saving grace of the title. It plays out exactly like an old time war movie, with such over the top chicanery, yet such jarring visual that in the very least, you’ll be sucked in by the curiosity of what comes next. On one hand – the game is rife with war movie stereotypes like Blazkowicz which add flavour and character to the game. On the other, advanced robotics in the 1940s? Come on. Still, this is Wolfenstein: The New Order’s greatest charm, and I’m not lying when I say I’d actually like to see it possibly adapted into a full length movie in the future. It’d be better than half the slop out there right now anyway.
I gather some folks are going to be a bit upset over a lack of multiplayer mode, but it didn’t really bug me a bit. I don’t even think it was possible to play Wolfenstein online back in those days, and considering I’d just get jobbed the moment I set foot online, playing at my own pace suits me fine. I’m just one that craves a bit of a faster pace and maybe a less scramble control scheme. Multiple times I’d try to head for cover to sneak and then realized I accidentally fired a shot into the darkness and had 20 guys running at me full speed with guns. Oops.
I’ll be perfectly frank here – The only reason I haven’t been as crazy about this game as many others I’ve reviewed is because I’m just not an FPS genre fan. I haven’t been wild about an FPS since Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64, and I doubt I ever will be again. It’s only fair for me to review this as a presentation overall.
Honestly though, if you’re a series fan, this game is a must try even though this is nothing like Wolfenstein 3D or Spear of Destiny. You’ll get a kick out of the return of these characters, and the continued evolution of the series itself. Look, everything changes over time, and this is definitely not the bright blue dungeon crawl from the early 90s. It’s even going to take you a while to get used to the new format. But in the end, you’ve waited this long for a new Wolfenstein game, so you should really have at it. For the rest of us, the game is a bit outside of Bethesda’s wheelhouse, but it shouldn’t stop you from giving it a try. It won’t compete for game of the year awards, but it will keep genre fans looking for new shooters on the next gen consoles busy.
In addition, if you’re a Doom fan, there’s an invitation to the new Doom beta that’s included with the game, so you’ve got that to look forward to as well.
Gameplay: 3.5 / 5
Graphics: 3.5 / 5
Sound: 5 / 5
Controls: 3 / 5
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4 / 5
Overall Rating: 3.8 / 5 (78%)
Wolfenstein: The New Order is now available at Best Buy and BestBuy.ca.