Wolfenstein’s New Order true to old form

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There’s many a young whippersnapper out there – which at my age is anyone under the age of 25 – who never played the original 1992 Wolfenstein 3D, never flushed hour upon hour away, white-knuckled and bleary-eyed, blasting Nazis away in the grandfather of first person shooters with but three lives with which to play.

Wolfenstein: The New Order does, in many respects, capture the spirit of the original: donning the persona of William Blaszkowicz as he hunts down scores of Nazis in a post-Second World War alternate reality. Unlike its predecessor, 2009’s horrible version of Wolfenstein with embarrassingly hokey occult elements, A New Order stays true to the spirit of the franchise, embodying the action and the intensity of the original.

The New Order takes place in a skewed 1960. Thanks to the Germans having perfected the atom bomb before the U.S., the Nazis won the Second World War and now rule the world. Having woken up injured in a psychiatric hospital, Blaszkowicz refuses to accept this new Reich. He travels into the heart of Germany to free what’s left of the resistance and to usurp the power of General Deathshead.

There are no real plot twists in the overall good guys win; bad guys lose. Yet smaller plot twists are present, ones that are refreshingly unpredictable. This isn’t a typical Second World War game. You’re thrust into the bowels of enemy operations, never knowing when you may end up in Nazi hands. Unlike the goal of the original – that of escaping Castle Wolfenstein – this new iteration takes you through grand mansions and concentration camps, factories and U-boats, even to a lunar research facility, all with Blaszkowicz trying to retrieve the key vehicles, people, technology, and weapons needed to rekindle and empower the resistance. Some may say that it isn’t as emotional a storyline as other action games of 2014, especially considering there’s no multiplayer, but are you really playing Wolfenstein for its character arc? That’d be like going to an Expendables movie hoping for a realistic plot, free of deux ex machina. Action is what Wolfenstein does and The New Order accomplishes this very well.

Mowing down Nazis, especially with dual-wield assault rifles, is still as thrilling as it was in 1992. The narrow passageways and fairly linear levels, as rather mundane as these may seem by today’s standards, heralds back to those bygone days of 1992 and the brooding intensity of the levels is palpable. The addition of a cover system as well as the choice of stealth kills – true to form, there are non-lethal takedowns in Wolfenstein, naturally – brings a new tactical element never before seen in the series.

Still, A New Order is far from perfect. The game’s initial visual presentation is sorely lacking, with faces being rather stony and expressionless, reminiscent of the original Second World War Call of Duty games. As the game progresses, as the plot thickens and the intensity mounts, and as the cast of well-acted secondary characters becomes more flushed out, the graphics, lighting, and sound all show stark improvements.

There were certain inconsistencies with the game play that bothered me. I could pick up knives and guns, but a saw, crowbar, or baton? Forget about it. I could break open wooden boxes with a flick of my knife, but emptying a clip at a light bulb yielded broken glass but the light would remain lit. When I hi-jacked a robot walker, I could break through concrete walls with it, but shooting at a slim power pole proved an immoveable adversary. These inconsistencies simply pulled me from the verisimilitude inherent in the setting.

You’ll also need to get used to the over-the-top design of some of the buildings, mechanized technology, and the fact that you’ll be dual-wielding shotguns on the moon. Yes, you’ll want to chow down on Wolfenstein with a side of suspended disbelief.

Wolfenstein: The New Order holds true to the spirit of the original. It’s simply the best Wolfenstein in over a decade. And there’s one Easter egg added for die-hard fans: when you meet the resistance, keep a lookout for a bed with the word "Nightmare" over it. Choose to sleep and you’ll be able to play the pixilated simplicity of 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D. It doesn’t last long (one life only) and you can’t replay it, but it’s a nice trip down nostalgia lane while it lasts.

When he’s not teaching high school, St. Albert Catholic High School alumnus Derek Mitchell can be found attached to a video game console.

Review

Stars: 4/5
Rating: M (extreme violence, torture, language, brief sexuality)
Platforms: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4
+ Initially static presentation gets a boost later in the game
+ Captures the intensity and raw action of the franchise
+ No more crystal-charged medallions like last time
- Over-the-top design and gameplay inconsistencies plague experience

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