Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform: 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, PC
Release Date: 20th May 2014
Well then, it’s been a while since there has been an actually review on this site. No game really has tickled my fancy enough to write a pre-release review. But Wolfenstein New Order certainly tickles my fancy. It appears to be a dark horse this year. While there has been some marketing buzz about it, and quite a big presence both at E3 and Gamescom last year, this has tapered off a little bit over the last few months, potentially because the game got yet another delay and marketing money might have started to run dry. So i think it’s worth having a look at this game, the first release of fabled MachineGames, a studio full of high profile developers (it essentially being the offspring of Starbreeze Studios).
Wolfenstein is a classic for me. The franchise is one i grew up with, and i actually enjoyed the last installment in 2009 (released the same year MachineGames was founded). So when i heard that some of the devs who had worked on amazing games like The Darkness and the Riddick series, were working on the next installment of a Wolfenstein game, i was well excited. I was expecting over the top gameplay, killing Nazis, taking down the German Reich single handedly, wrapped up in probably the industry’s best through-the-gun experience and with great AI. All in all – i was expecting a total hit, a game that would be an all time great, an amazing debut game by yet another fantastic Swedish Developer.
And in a way New Order delivers on those expectations, at least somewhat. It is a solid and fun shooter, with over the top brutality, an interesting idea for the story, decent AI and above all great guns.The problem is, that with few exceptions, the game never really goes above and beyond. By any modern day standard, the game is average. Which does not make it bad, but it also does not make it special. In many ways the game appears to have been made in the 1990s with some truly awful and clonky gameplay elements coupled with questionable level and game design decisions. The game has fun elements and charm, but it certainly does not stand out.
The player takes on the familiar role of BJ Blazkowicz and once again the task is to thwart the plan of the evil Nazi empire. And this time round, there really is an empire. New Order mixes things up nicely story wise right from the start and instead of going full throttle occult like the 2009 outing, MachineGames opted for an alternate history approach. In New Order, Germany’s technological advances helped win the war and the Nazi empire extends far beyond Europe.Expect robot dogs, mechs and giant alien looking mechanical constructions.
In a prologue mission BJ gets a big ole knock on the head and ends up in a mental institution. Years go by and it takes a brutal event happening in front of his eyes to wake him up from his stupor.
But wake up he does and what follows is one of the most fun and satisfying as well as one of the most boring and frustrating experiences computer games can deliver.
BJ himself has not changed much. Macho, gung-ho and stereotypical as ever, he has not evolved much since his first inception, down to the one liners which might have been fun 20 years ago, but will only entertain a small and geeky crowd in the 21st century (“Fuck you moon!” he exclaims when realizing the Nazi’s won the space race). This is a missed opportunity by MachineGames as they essentially created a blank slate for themselves by creating an alternative history. Yet they completely fail to capitalize on this opportunity and do nothing to drive the character or franchise forward in that respect, maintaining that one (very flat) dimension. Sure, you might ask how much personality a character really needs when all he does is shoot Nazi’s, and you’d have a point. I just feel that given the way the story of the game goes, the opportunity would have been there to do more.
Waking up in the mental hospital the player quickly gets down to business. The knives come out and Nazis soon die left right and center. And once the player starts picking up guns, that’s when the fun really starts. One of the best new additions is the option to dual wield pretty much every weapon in the game – a sheer sign of mad brilliance by MachineGames, who understand the core of fun, arcade first person shooters. Give the player the tools to have fun, and let him have fun. Wolfenstein New Order definitely ticks that box. Running around with 2 heavy machine guns, pumping tons of lead into nazi soldiers puts a massive grin on your face. The guns feel meaty, the feedback feels amazing, the audio is perfect – it is a joy to fire these virtual weapons and every single one feels slightly different and the variation is great.
But that smile on your face can just as easily become a frown, the fun turn into frustration, when clunky ammo and health pick-up elements rear their heads. You run out of ammo too fast, obtaining ammo and reloading, as well as getting health packs (yes, health packs…) is another thing that does not seem to have moved on in the last 20 years. It feels awkward to pick up ammo, to pick up health packs and to reload. It takes too long and it distracts from the fun to be had. MachineGames gives us the tools to have fun with, but every so often, like a stern (german?) teacher, they seem to shout “nein nein nein BJ, zis is enough fun! You must pick up some ammo now, ja? We can’t have you shooting all ze time!”
Guns, awesome as they may be, also get in the way. Dual wielding everything definitely sounds like a great idea, and for the most part it works, but when the guns are bigger than a persons leg, it can become an issue. Wielding 2 massive weapons, both with particle effects like muzzle flashes and even fancier stuff, at times can mean you have no clue at all what is going on. You can literally not see past your weapons. And in environments which are semi dark on a lot of occasions (why do Nazi’s prefer the semi dark?), levels which are constructed partially unreadable and for which you will need a chaperon to help you through, as well as enemies which often blend into the environment (hello same colour palette!) this can be an issue. If you really want to see stuff, and want to know where you are going, i recommend you just stick to your knife! MachineGames seem to think the same, because they made a knife-kill an especially gruesome and detailed experience – almost as if to say: this is what you should be doing all the time!
The game can look stunning at times (using the same tech as Rage though, it does have it’s limits), but the simple truth is: a lot of times you just don’t notice it. Either through pace of action or simply because everything blends together or is obscured, a lot of the attention to detail that MachineGames have obviously put in, is simply lost. Even high quality videos of in game environments make it clear that the game was never intended as a full next gen experience. The only reason it seems to land on next gen consoles is because it kept getting delayed. And as of yet iD-tech 5 does not look stunning on next gen. Perhaps another year would have helped with that.
One of the things that stand out is the AI. Again the heritage of former Starbreeze games shines through and it is clear that opponents in New Order can think, at least somewhat, for themselves. There does seem to be some inconsistency though, both with AI senses as well accuracy. AI for example never really seem to hear you approach from behind and the ease with which knife kills are achieved appears to be slightly on the comical side. Similarly whenever the game veers into a more open setting and there are multiple enemies firing at you, their accuracy seems to be ridiculously low, giving you plenty of time to pick up the uber weapon, conveniently placed nearby, and unleash a rain of death and destruction on enemies and environment alike. The AI works best in mid to close range when aware of the player. Then they behave like proper soldiers and they can be lethal.
Overall then Wolfenstein: New Order is a frustrating title. You can clearly tell the dark and edgy story underneath is done by a crew who helped to make greats like The Darkness. You can clearly tell that guns, AI and environmental art are lovingly crafted and well designed. You can clearly tell that MachineGames understood the essence of what Wolfenstein is: a light hearted, arcade, fun and fast paced shooter. All the elements are there, but it appears to me that in almost 5 years of development MachineGames have failed to bring all these ingredients into the 21st century. It jumps from being fun to being insanely frustrating when you get lost, when you run out of ammo, when struggling with some of the dated game design elements.
The game appears to have been made by hard core gamers enjoying shooters for hard core gamers enjoying shooters. It is not a game for novices to shooters or someone who simply wants to dabble and give it a go. It is a must have for any Wolfenstein fan and for anyone looking for a few hours of fun with amazing through the gun experience. But anyone looking for more, looking for depth, anyone looking for replay value, better look elsewhere. I think the game severely lacks in usability and i feel for that reason it will fail to find mass market appeal. It is not the Wolfenstein iteration which finally will bring BJ Blazkowicz to the masses. And i think ZeniMax knows this, which is why it tried to give the game even more time and now has coupled any purchase with a Beta pass for the next Doom game, in an attempt to generate interest. Unless you are a hardcore fan of the franchise, pick this up second hand or wait for a sale. Due to little to no replay value the first used copies should in stores within a week of launch and i would not be surprised to see special deals with this game reasonably quickly.
As a first outing by MachineGames it is an average one. With the pedigree of the studio, 5 years of development time, an established engine and the backing of ZeniMax, they should have been capable of delivering more. It will be interesting to see if this project will manage to break even and what the future will hold for MachineGames. Will they be able to try again, or will they become a porting studio for ZeniMax? If they try again, they should get some fresh, young, blood in that helps them move out of the 1990s of game making.
I certainly would not mind a true 21st century version of Wolfenstein.
Disclaimer: nobody at notplayed.com has actuallly played the release version of Wolfenstein: New Order. This is a mock-review purely based on material available on the internet (marketing, game-play videos, articles and interviews).