Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Wolfenstein hasn’t been a strong franchise since Wolfenstein 3D. I’ve had a reasonably good time with all the later titles. But I wouldn’t hold up any of them as particularly strong shooters. I went into The New Order with cautiously optimistic expectations. I’m glad to say it exceeded them.

The mood of the game feels almost ethereal. It reminds me a lot of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay. Which maybe shouldn’t be a surprise since it’s by the same people. The New Order goes for the “play the way you want” school of FPS design. Combat arenas are open with plenty of alternative routes, and the AI is designed to allow for both stealthy and gung ho play styles. And it works! It doesn’t have sophisticated stealth mechanics, but they do the job. And what I mentioned earlier about the mood is conveyed in large part by the music. It hits just the right note for this type of game. It doesn’t stress you in any way. The voice over and dialogue is similarly subdued to not make you feel stressed. All this made it feel nice to be in the game world.

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Despite this the game has a slew of problems, like the combat. In other FPSes like Serious Sam or Shadow Warrior you learn instinctively how to react to certain enemies. Like how you’re supposed to move in order to avoid their attacks. In Wolfenstein I never had a solid idea of how enemies really behaved. I’m scratching my head just thinking of how I’d describe the optimal strategy to taking out normal soldiers, or shotgun dudes, or the tough armored soldiers. It doesn’t feel like they’re designed to have an optimal strategy you can learn. Just shoot them all in the head and hope for the best. The design just isn’t good enough for a game of this length. It’s the same with the health system. It doesn’t have regenerating health, but I wish it did, because this wasn’t designed well enough to work without it. Sometimes there’s not enough health packs, and sometimes there’s way too many. It was rarely “just right”. It’s not a complete disaster, but far from ideal.

It has other minor annoyances like how it randomly chooses which weapons you have at the start of each level. Sometimes you get to keep your sniper rifle between maps. Sometimes you don’t. At one point it disappeared for several hours, only to reappear in my inventory for no reason, with all my other guns removed. There was no satisfactory in-game excuse for this, so it seemed like the game was screwing me over for no reason. Let me keep my guns you pricks!

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The story also had obvious problems. There’s subplots that don’t go anywhere, and the drama curve is off. Meaning that when you reach the finale there’s no sense of occasion. The game hasn’t built up to that moment properly, so there’s no feeling of anticipation or excitement. Instead it just sort of happens. Overall I liked the story. It tried to make the main and supporting characters into actual characters, and it kind of worked. I’ve seen some describe it as laughably bad, and I don’t agree with that. This is head and shoulders above the current FPS average. It needed more time in editing though. The issues are glaring.

Despite all the problems I really liked the game. The stuff that sucked didn’t ruin the game for me. It still had elements strong enough that the problems didn’t matter. It would’ve been nice had the combat and story been better. But even with those issues it managed get enough things lined up right that it clicked. I wanted to see what was around the corner. I was never bored. That’s why I hope this team gets to do another singleplayer FPS. They’ve got a good thing going here. Try again, and maybe you’ll make a classic.

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