Daily Archives: June 16, 2014

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

One of the weird things about Wolfenstein: The New Order is that apparently it is a sequel to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein (which I didn’t even know existed. and seems to be out of print since even used copies are going for over $70 and I can’t find it digitally distributed anywhere). Since this game takes place in an alternate timeline, it seems strange that they would make it in continuity with these other games (if that is the case). Even if it is a sequel, there’s nothing in it that marks it as such and the game is a pretty fun experience with a few other weird things thrown in along the way.

Most of the weird things about the game are elements that it carries over from the original Wolfenstein 3D such as the ability to eat dog food to gain back health and the collecting of hidden gold which doesn’t seem to really have any impact on anything as far as I can tell. These overtly game-y elements clash with this story which goes to some length to show the cruelties of war in general and the Nazis in particular (spoilers: the Nazis were not nice.)

That ludonarrative dissonance extends to things like having to hit “E” to pick things up which is a real pain when you have to pick things up all the time because enemies drop bits of armor as you hurt them. While the trope of picking up armor, health, and bullets didn’t really strike me as clashing with the storyline because they are conveniences, having to hammer “E” really did because it was an inconvenience.

Another weird aspect is the perk system which adds a bit of RPG to it. It is weird because you level up from doing things but the perks are automatically applied to a stat boost so you can’t pick a skill to improve. So you get better at doing the things you are already doing which seems kind of pointless. I only played the game through once so I don’t know how being better at something else really changes the game.

(Similarly, there is a point where the story branches and since I only played it the one time I don’t know if the different paths are really all that different. )

Perhaps the worst part of the game are the boss battles which don’t really vary from the old “hit the boss in one place then another” or “wait for the boss to expose its weakness before shooting it.” Thankfully it does refrain from the worst boss battle sin of having to nearly kill the boss only to have the boss regenerate and then have to kill it again and again.

While the gameplay does have some of these quirks, it is otherwise pretty solid FPS that has a nice variety of shooting and more stealthy things like crawling through conveniently man-sized vents, hiding from security cameras, and stealth. Likewise, the storyline of a world where the Nazis won is pretty well done. Many people have noted the Bioshock Infinite-style alt-universe covers of pop songs and there are some interesting bits where you will see an obviously pro-Nazi-biased newspaper clipping about how wonderful things are under Nazi rule.

The strongest part for me was the part where you have to infiltrate a prison camp. I really liked going around and getting quests from different prisoners. It reminded me of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay which isn’t surprising since this Wolfenstein: The New Order was apparently made by many of the same people who made the Riddick game.

Unfortunately, the prison level also results in trivializing the experience of concentration camps and prisoner of war camps because you end up escaping from it the same day you get there which makes it seem like the prisoners are clueless weaklings incapable of doing it themselves. It ends up giving the message that “all it took was a real man.” There was a moment when I thought the game was really going to force you to work in a prison factory but that lasts all of about two minutes. It would have been a really brave and interesting game if they had forced you to do some meaningless button mashing for a while. Of course, it also would have been a very different game, as well.

Another plot point that borders on venturing into problematic territory is the existence of a secret Jewish society called Da’at Yichud.

Some minor spoilers here….  See, the reason why the Nazis have robot dogs and moon bases and stuff if because they stole it all from Da’at Yichud. The problem is that this concept of a secret society with super-science risks perpetuating stereotypes that Jews are secretly holding out on the rest of us and maybe they are controlling things behind the scenes. As a plot point, they use it as a simple way to explain why the bad guys have robots and moon bases in the 60s but by making it a secret jewish society it gives the Nazis a kind of justification for their genocide. It doesn’t go that far but it does border on it which makes me wish it had just been a multi-ethnic secret society or something in order to sidestep those kinds of issues.

Regardless, I had fun playing Wolfenstein: New Order because it is a decent shooter, the Nazis winning WWII is an interesting premise which gives the game to have some purely evil bad guys (the scene on the train is a standout) and it is quite long for a modern game so even though there is no multiplayer you do get your money’s worth.

five thumbs up

“B.J.” Blazkowicz
Saves the world in the end but
he is no Doom Guy