Reviving an old school shooter into the modern world of gaming is no easy task. Perhaps it’s the attempt at bringing one-dimensional characters into the modern world of a more complex story. Maybe it’s the fact that the expectations and hopes have been set too high (or cynically low) for the game to be given any chance. Or it might just come down to the fact that they either have to stick with outdated mechanics or exchange them for newer conventions that have none of what made the game great in the first place.
FPS reboots have had varying degrees of success, and WOLFENSTEIN is no exception. Whether you consider RETURN TO CASTLE WOLFENSTEIN and WOLFENSTEIN (2009) to be an enjoyable or disappointing installments, it would be hard to find anyone viewing them more favorably than the FPS godfather WOLFENSTEIN 3D or even comparing to the best shooters of their eras.
At first, it seemed like WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER was just one in the many slews of revamps done by new companies with big intentions and unimpressive results. It started off as a mediocre WWII shooter, with its semi-tutorial levels and a plot taken from a depressing version of CAPTAIN AMERICA. It was by no means bad, but it felt like another attempt at reviving an old franchise with bleak storytelling and modern (but surprisingly decent) mechanics.
… until the real game begins.
Flash forward to 1960, when All-American William Blazkowicz wakes up from a shrapnel-induced coma into a universe where the Nazis have conquered the world using the atom bomb.
This is where WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER departs from the rest of the pack.
It’s not just the alternate history, complete with German minimalism and retro sci-fi technology, that sets it apart. For a game that features Nazis on the Moon and a Jimi Hendrix cameo, there’s a surprising amount of heart. The performances feel candid, and the story stayed with me long after I finished the game. WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER proves that it’s not what you write about that’s important, it’s how you write it that makes all the difference. Like almost every other WWII FPS game with a story, you get the stoic jarhead protagonist, ragtag team of merry misfits, nurse love interest, and sadistic Nazi bastards. But rather than being a bunch of cartoon characters, they feel like real human beings.
However, it’s the gameplay that’s the real treat here: a refreshing mix of both old school and new school. MachineGames adds plenty of exploration without it ever becoming hopelessly confusing and a health system that’s a unique mixture of hp and regeneration.
Even though the stealth mechanics aren’t anywhere close to METAL GEAR SOLID or even METRO: LAST LIGHT, I have to say that sneaking around felt natural and easy to do. The game doesn’t punish players for choosing whether to be stealthy or go running and gunning, although there’s a good deal of situations where you have little choice but to get out the big guns and take cover.
The biggest advantage this game has, more than its unique levels, smart AI, or varied weaponry, is the shooting mechanics. I can’t recall another FPS having such a fluid and intuitive shooting mechanic. Aiming down the rails and firing feels like second nature, and each weapon has its own special feel to it.
If there is one major flaw to WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER, it’s the weapon switching system. This might sound like a minor nitpick until you find yourself dying several frustrating deaths when attempting to switch to the right weapon in the heat of battle. There are other flaws, such as the obligatory long exposition dialogues that aren’t necessary and the sometimes-odd cover system, but those nitpicks don’t take away from an otherwise terrific game.
Is it as groundbreaking as WOLFENSTEIN 3D? Of course not. But what ground is left to break in a genre that has been done to death over the past twenty years? The important part is that WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER is a breath of fresh air with a lot of heart and soul by a new company worth checking out.
RELEASE DATE: May 20th, 2014
PUBLISHER: Bethesda Softworks