So, several months after I actually got the physical box of the game, I finally managed to play Wolfenstein: The New Order, all thanks to a horrendous, mandatory, 10GB patch — 10GB being one month’s download cap, meaning I had to let it download in stages… over months. Because Steam couldn’t possibly let me play the game unpatched, no sirree.
Bah, first world problem. I have some shooting to do.
Wolfenstein: The New Order
I’ve never played any Wolfenstein game before, so on the face of it, I wasn’t particularly interested in this iteration of the franchise. Killing Nazis and stuff, well, world war settings have never appealed to me, no matter how many mecha-Hitlers are injected. However, word reached my ears that this game was — horror of horrors — a purely offline singleplayer game. Imagine that! In this day and age!
Feeling honour-bound to support such a worthy venture (Steam infestation aside), and, well, based on reviews saying it was actually a good game, I put it on my crimbo list and Santa dutifully obliged. Thanks, Santa.
First impressions? The game has the exact same start as Quake 4. You’re in a plane, the plan crashes along with all the other planes, you have to raid some trenches and meet up with your squad — there’s even a big stompy robot walking around overhead that you can’t kill and doesn’t actually attack you (unless you try to use a gun emplacement on it, then it one-hits you). Okay, there are more bells and whistles, more set-pieces, but it’s the same intro told with different clothes. Find-and-replace “Strogg” with “Nazi”.
On the other hand, it’s got less in common with a raw shooter and more with the likes of Fallout 3 or Human Revolution. Yes, shooting is your primary mechanic, but you have to use things to pick them up — you have to pull levers, open doors, pick locks and even suffer impromptu quick-time events along the way. Stealth is an option too, and levels are open enough to allow the choice of approach, at least enough so you can whittle down the enemies before going guns blazing to finish the last few.
It has destructible terrain, from concrete cover that gets broken away to crates that disintegrate just where you hit them, spilling their contents in a Borderlands-style lootsplosion. Enemies often drop fragments of armour that you can pick up for your own use as well as ammunition, so there’s quite a bit of time hoovering up chunks off the ground… As well as scouring the universe for arbitrary collectibles.
The most fun to be had to destructible terrain, however, comes from Wolfenstein‘s very own gimmick-gun — the laserkraftwerk. On the one hand, it’s a laser rifle with an abysmally small clip that has to be recharged by staring at a battery on the wall for far too long; on the other, it’s a laser cutter. Sure, it’s a laser cutter that can only get through very specific vents, gratings and chains, but we can’t hold that against anyone when the shape you draw with the laser is the shape that falls out of the wall. Technology!
The rest of the weapons are pretty miserable. Pistol, assault rifle, shotgun — the only twist is that once you find a second one of any weapon you can dual-wield them, which is a whole lot more fun than iron-sights but chews through ammunition like water. The shotgun is semi-automatic, but for a game that’s got crazy technology everywhere the weapons sure are dull as dishwater.
Annoyingly, each mission tends to start you with nothing or just a knife, so you have to reacquire your arsenal every time. It’s often as strange as having to re-research all your technologies every mission in a strategy game campaign, though at least a few missions here (not all of them, mind you) do have plot justification for the lack of, you know, bringing guns with you.
Maybe the most stand-out element of Wolfenstein: The New Order is the use of a scarred hero. Nazis won the war with insane technology and super-soldiers, and as our protagonist shoots his way through their ranks he constantly laments all his lost allies and his own endless sadness at it all. It doesn’t stop him from gunning down everything he sees, but I guess it’s an interesting counter-point to the gung-ho, quipping action heroes of the late-90s shooters that lead us to this point.
The narrative, though, the hero’s constant tragic monologue, seems like it would be a more natural fit for something that gave you time to have lengthy conversations than a one-way roller-coaster ride of a shooter. What if you could talk to the Nazis?
The thing is that, although the depth is of a reasonably high quality for itself, it seems misplaced. Although there is brutality everywhere around you, the Nazis are portrayed in written and spoken word as caricatures — they are irredeemable, cartoonish puppy-killers, which is perfect reason to slaughter them in their droves in a simpler context.
Layer on the emotional turmoil and the microcosmic sob-stories of the Resistance members, though, and it seems very… lop-sided. You can’t really have a serious emotional discussion on one side and a rollicking murder-fest on the other; or if you can, I suspect it would require a more nuanced delivery than Wolfenstein offers. It’s all perfectly constructed to tug at the heart-strings and it is successful enough as a tear-jerking tragedy, but it seems… I don’t know, unfair? Cheap?… to do that at the expense of more than half the inhabitants of this alternate universe.
So a conflicted soul in more ways than one. As a game it is well built and offers plenty of overblown spectacles, and even if the weapons are a bit dull the shooting is serviceable enough and, thank goodness, doesn’t require iron sights (there is a decent crosshair).
I’m not sure it lives up to the hype for me, though. It was strange and interesting and often funny along the way, even though that is counterbalanced with leery close-ups of brutal backstabbings and, well, Nazi stormtroopers shooting unarmed civilians in the head.
Just because they’re caricatures, though, does that make it right? I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that.