Thursday, December 10, 2015

Wolfenstein: The New Order review

    I've actually been kind of troubled by this game because I am caught in a weird place regarding it. I love Wolfenstein, don't get me wrong. I played Wolfenstein 3d when it first came out and have roughly kept up with the series ever since. Unfortunately, I've been avoiding this one for the same reasons I avoided The Man in the High Castle. It's exactly my kind of science-fiction, the production values look awesome, and I love the people behind it.

    I just hate the idea of the Nazis winning the war.

    Yeah, I know it's ridiculous. That's the premise of the game that Nazis winning the war has happened so you can murder the hell out of them and take it back. On the other hand, Nazis have always been vaguely problematic as escapist entertainment. The more you learn about them, the more you resent their use as stock villains when I like to think the bastards should be forgotten and left on the dust bin of history. I need an additional layer of unreality to let me enjoy fiction with Nazi substitutes like Hydra, the Galactic Empire, the Enclave, or the Principality of Zeon.

William Strausse is a contemptible but effective villain.
    But I decided to give Wolfenstein: The New Order a shot and I'm very glad I have. This is a great game. Really-really good. It's not a flawless game and I'll talk about things which bugged me later but I would like to state you should buy the game.

    If you have the base on your controller because the game is 50 gigabytes worth of space. Which is ridiculous and went entirely into the spectacular graphics rather than the story or gameplay but I'll get into that as well.

    The premise of the game is William "B.J." Blazkowicz is, once more, on a daring last-minute mission to take out the Nazi's super-weapons before they're deployed. The thing is, this time, he fails. The weapons are already in deployment by the time he gets to Castle Wolfenstein and General Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse escapes with all the material he needs to defeat the United States within a few years. As implausible as this may be, given Death's Head seems to be employing lobotimized cyborgs in his army, I'm going to give him a pass.

Sadly, there's no flame-thrower to burn Nazi flags.
    As bad as this premise is, it gets worse because B.J. is knocked into a coma by a piece of shrapnel and left in a vegetative state for fourteen years. Losing none of his muscle mass due to the power of pure Polish American AwesomenessTM, he awakens when a group of Nazis come to kill the pretty nurse who has been taking care of him as well as her parents. Understandably vexed by the Nazi takeover of the world, B.J. rescues an old friend from a Berlin prison then makes contact with the resistance to destroy the Nazi regime.

This old lady actually becomes terrifying. I kid you not.
    This premise could easily have trivialized the idea of the Nazis and just portrayed them as another evil empire. The thing is, this reminds me a great deal of Chris Claremont's work on the X-men. He was responsible for Magneto's origins as a Holocaust survivor and, the thing is, he managed to contextualize the evils of the Nazis in a way which my adolescent mind could understand so as not to trivialize it. The game takes great pains to, like Spec Ops: The Line, not to trivialize the conflict its doing. Newspaper articles and characters bring up just how intensely horrific Nazi rule is and how much beautiful culture has been lost.

    B.J. and other characters are portrayed with surprising nuance and depth. Rather than a one-line spewing cliche, Blazkowicz is a man haunted by all the murder he's done and simply wants it to end. Fergus, who has fourteen more years on B.J. in watching loved ones killed, is at the end of his rope and loathes what the world has become. Anya is a sweet, kind-hearted nice girl who has had every bit of world stripped from her by the Nazis. She also gains some more character depth if you assume she's the person responsible for the serial-assassination of Nazi officers around her hometown. I'm also a big fan of Set, who is represents another facet of just what the Nazis are depriving the world.

Shooting, stabbing, and strangling Nazis. It's B.J.'s one job skill.
    The game is gorgeous, as mentioned, taking extraordinary attention to detail which would have been hard to replicate in a movie let alone a video game. Things from the candle-lit memorial to fallen resistance fighters to the dirty dishes in the sink. There's some really eye-popping levels too, which is something we often miss out on in video games. The opening assault on Castle Wolfenstein, the Planetarium, and several things I can't talk about without giving away spoilers. I'm not sure the game is properly optimized, though, as I can't help but think there is quite a bit which could have been trimmed for a smaller storage size required.

    Gameplay wise, there's a couple of missteps in the game. Whenever the game is shooting and stabbing things, the game is fine. However, there's quite a few sections of the game which don't work out quite right. Maps are extremely unhelpful and it can be tedious looking around for car keys or whatever you need to advance to the next level. Likewise, there's occasional mini-games or requirements which the game doesn't really give the proper commands for.

I actually think Anya and B.J. have one of the healthiest relationships in video games.
    At one point, I'm supposed to break a piece of equipment and I have no idea I'm supposed to use the stick in a certain way to gum up the works. Other moments are confusing as to what I'm supposed to be doing like B.J.'s frequent captures where I don't know if I should be trying to escape or something. If you're going to have a cutscene, game, then make it a cutscene. Don't have the main character playable if there's absolutely nothing he can do. The only time that ever worked was Call of Duty 4 and they were wise never to repeat it.

    There's also a really petty complaint on my part where you can play the original level of Wolfenstein 3D as a nightmare but completing it doesn't give you any form of achievement or acknowledgement. I'm not an achievement hunter or anything but that strikes me as definite achievement material.

The Nazis aren't humanized, particularly, but are evil in the petty banal way they truly were.
    The depiction of the Nazis within the game is one I approve of, which is to say they don't shy away from the horrors and absolute pettiness of the evil involved. There's no attempt to make the Nazis a source of competent supervillainy but a wonderful subversion, roughly halfway through the game, which exposes the Nazis as the enemies of efficient scientific discovery. The Nazis aren't orcs but people but they're horrible people. Ones motivated by pettiness, cruelty, and the meager privileges they get from being the bullies rather than the bullied. In a very real way, the game takes a giant dump on the idea of Nazi super-science and that I have to give them props for by itself.
Props to any game shooting Nazis while climbing the side of a castle.
    I also give credit to the game for the romance between B.J. and Anya. All too many games try to turn romance into something which players can win or put enough gifts into in order to achieve. There's no "winning" of Anya as she's a woman who wants to be with B.J. and vice versa. Their relationship and even sex is presented as something which happens consensually between two adults as a thing they both like. It's a small issue but one I think which works much better than other attempts at mature romantic depictions in video games.

    In conclusion, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fun-fun game which can, nevertheless, be very frustrating. I can't be too hard on it, though, because I've completed it and I want to play it again--which is a very rare thing. The game has good characters, good graphics, (mostly) fun gameplay, and good storytelling. If the game ever goes too far then it's probably a mission taking place at a concentration camp but even then they rename it a "labor camp." Overall, I suggest folk buy this if they're looking for some old-school shooting as well as a deadly serious take on something frequently made silly yet which still has robot dogs.



  1. "There's no map to finding things in this game and it can be extremely tedious looking around for car keys or whatever you need to advance to the next level."
    Uh, yeah there are maps, as in multiple for each level, as in there are literal, physical maps all over the place that you have to physically pick up in over to view. And it show objective markers right there on the map screen, as well as collectibles. I don't know what the hell you did to miss that.
    You don't even have to pick them up, the screen fills in for you.
    You have got to be literally the only person to not know this fact.

    1. Yeah, you find the maps in-universe and then press start to find them. That doesn't change my point.