I will level with you, o'mighty tiny readership. I had initially written a review for DOOM '16 when realising that I had played through Wolfenstein recently and that they were made by the same people. So it's going to look awkward when I talk about a review that hasn't yet hit the digital shelf.
But, fuck it - if the worst thing to happen to me today are some continuity errors, then so be it. I'm a big boy (literally AND figuratively). I can take it.
So, Wolfenstein the New Order, then.
I should probably try and find some games I hate so I can tell you when I find a video game that I don't like. I'm not very picky, though and I'm a sucker for letting the developer's game vision match my own. At least for a time. I'm prepared to let developers get away with sloppy controls provided the story is top notch such as in Metal Gear 1 and 2. I'm prepared to let a game escape with minor story bruising if the visuals and gameplay are excellent, as in my review(s) for Spyro.
Editor's note - If you're wondering where all those reviews got to, don't worry. they'll be back eventually.
It's a triangle - Story, Visuals and Gameplay. But it is possible to have strong showings in all three of those categories. There are plenty of games that do - and Wolfenstein is one of them.
It's not immediately obvious, either. What we knew from the outset is that ID software made a declaration that Wolfenstein the New Order (WNO from now on, because fuck typing that out repeatedly) that there was no tacked on multiplayer. You must respect ID (and Bethesda, I guess) for making that decision. In that moment, you knew there was going to be no recurrent user spending and no microtransactions. There was DLC (that turned out to be a little bit naff) but to understand that WNO was to be a game to be occasionally experienced and savored instead of having a permanent gameplay loop, in the early age of loot boxes and greedy shareholders, is something that should be recognized and applauded.
From the outset of the game, you knew that IDs decision made all the difference to the final product.
I often prattle on about how games feel to play. I still maintain that the feelings you experience whilst playing a game are what matter most. WNO feels like an excellent game to play. It starts with the immersion. You start by attempting to prevent German victory in 1946 and you are allowed to see the consequences of your failure. What becomes of a world where, in the words of someone cleverer than I, the Germans had brought a few more woolly jumpers to the Russian front. You are presented with a frightful alternate reality. Designed to feel alien and different. This is aided by WNO's excellent visual design, which feels like a natural progression of actual Nazi Germany's very squared, boxy and efficient (maybe) design philosophy. It's immediately clear that you're permitted to exist in this world because they haven't found you yet.
Whilst the world's new overlords are presented as technologically advanced and cultured, it doesn't take long to figure out that there is a terrible price of progress. ID doesn't shy away from showing the logical progression of Nazi ideals, with confronting sequences in concentration camps, draconic interment facilities, the concerning impact of propaganda and dedication to purity. It lends the game an air of authenticity - whilst at the same time making you glad that maybe Hitler didn't realize how big Russia was. It's not a coincidence that most of the resistance members are flawed in a way that this new society would deem unacceptable and grounds to be executed.
Of course, that's just half of the story the game wishes to tell.
The other half is the plucky resistance - out of options, out of time and out of resources, it's up to you, BJ Blasko, to lead the charge and take your occupiers down a peg. Or twelve.
With the framing device established and the characters in place, it's now time for the gameplay to take charge. Though the gameplay starts slow and uses standard weaponry as a callback to previous wolfenstein games, it doesn't take long for the excellent gunplay, level design and weapons to take charge.
WNO's best trait is how satisfying it us to use all of its weapons. The assault rifle has a satisfying 'clunk' to it and the impact sounds when downing enemies gives a spine-tingling feeling that's difficult to match. Even when the variety of enemies increases and there's more armor, each arena always features a number of berks that are easy to mow-down to help keep the momentum of the player high. There are clearly designated arenas and fight scenes which place an emphasis on movement. With the exception of the Bridge in the second half of the game, there's always a focus on movement and selective engagement. There's also minor stealth elements, where players can, using a limited suite of stealth options (including a punchy, punchy pistol) eliminate bad guys quietly before the fight scene begins in earnest. Whilst normally this would be seen as the weenie option, it's incredibly satisfying to do so and just adds to the enjoyment of the combat.
It also helps there's tremendous depth to Wolfenstein's weapons. Alternate ammunition types, a perk system unlocked by achieving certain organic combat objectives and a steady provision of interesting new weapons prevents the game from becoming stale. One of the most interesting ideas the game has is the Laserkraftwerk, augmented with upgrades found through exploration. In this way, the progressive upgrade mirror's the player's own development, through the game. Eventually it's possible to rely on it entirely - though there's so many other fun weapons to use it's hard to stay loyal to just one.
All of this is paired with an excellent soundtrack which ups the tempo just when you need a boost, but knows when to cut the audio entirely to ratchet up suspense and tension.
Wolfenstein: The New Order marks the start of the upswing in excellent single-player focussed shooter titles - at least from ID. I do recommend it as a consumer of video games. I recommend it for the atmosphere, for the gunplay and for the narrative design. It's not a perfect game, but it's damn close. It's a shooter you can point to in recent memory and hold up as a pillar of the genre - and an example of what making sacrifices to your bottom line for the sake of art can achieve.
Catch you next time,
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