Friday, January 22, 2016

Wolfenstein: The New Order and The Old Blood

Played on: Playstation 4
Release Date: 

  • Wolfenstein: The New Order: May 20, 2014
  • The Old Blood: May 5, 2015
It's hard to talk about one of these games without talking about both at the same time. 

The current Wolfenstein reboot borrows elements from so many games.

The sneaking ability is that of Thief and Dishonored where you have to trust the AI to your periphery won't see you because you're stalking a soldier, crouched, and hoping you can land a melee blow without anyone noticing.

The combat is ultra-violent like something ID Games, Quake and Doom, would make.

The level design feels oddly like Resident Evil 4 and Metal Gear Solid in these Gothic castles with branching paths.

I don't think many people had this on their radar, but something about the reviews I read spoke to me and I had to get them both.

What I didn't like

The New Order starts out with an ultra-violent tutorial that has you running through trenches, dual wielding machine guns, turning Nazis into blood mist. If I had to come up with a like piece of media for the tutorial, I would say the newer Fast and Furious movies. It's fast, ridiculous, and dumb action fun.

Likewise, the Old Blood starts out in an annoying similar way. You enter a Nazi castle using a disguise, sneak in, and then find yourself in a large, two story room fighting 30-40 Nazi's. It's not fun, but it does teach you how to use 4 different weapons types and shows you 3 different Nazi types you'll encounter. 

The tutorials could've been halved in time and I would've been much more satisfied. 

I'm only about 20% finished with the Old Blood, so I can't speak to the boss fights in it, but the New Order has an annoying final battle where you must zigzag through a maze of fences to shut power pylons down, to remove the shield on the bad guy, and then gun him down as best you can before the shield goes back it. It's a very anti-climatic ending to something that did a great job of pacing and building the tension.

Can we agree, unless you're Miyamoto or Kojima, can we stop having classic boss fights?

What was OK

The thing I liked about World War 2 shooters a decade ago is the M1 Garand was sort of the default rifle you used for most the game. I liked it because it required you to look down the site and think about every shot you were taking. 

I'm not a huge fan of machine gunning your way through a situation. Wolfenstein is largely built around this idea. It was an adjustment for someone who likes looking down the barrels to forget what I learned, put two machine guns under my arms, and pull both triggers to fire.

Saying that, it feels great when you turn the corner with two shotguns and let a heavily armored guy eat shells.

What I liked

B.J. Blazkowicz could've easily remained a silent protagonist or worse yet, doomed to be a Duke Nukem rip off. Instead, we get a poet. A man who speaks of the horrors of war with prose you would expect from Hemmingway or Salinger.

OK, maybe that's a little extreme. It may be closer tot he brooding 80s comics of Frank Miller or Alan Moore. The writing, the voice acting, it's all incredibly done for a game I think most people expected to just disappear. 

The characters are written in a way where you attach yourself even to side characters. J.K. Rowling is last person I can remember to affect me this way with the Harry Potter series. Whether it's the French farmer who gives you a ride to the Nazi checkpoint who feels like Remus Lupin or the Nazi you meet on the train ride has so many delicious levels of Dolores Umbridge. Every NPC in this game stays with you.

The level design in both games is inspired. There's a great balance between old corridor shooters like Doom and Quake, open playgrounds where both snipers and assault enemies are a threat like in Battlefield, and multiple path bases like in Dishonored or Metal Gear Solid V.

The mission progress makes sense in the story too. You never find yourself dropped into something just because someone had a cool idea. And when the action has been wrenched up to maximum, you always get relief either with a trip back to the rebel HQ or a quiet stroll through a museum in a castle. 

One of the missions that most stood out to me was in The New Order called "A New World." In order to get through several check points you must negotiate several barracks and eliminate any guards that might recognize you and find the gate controls.

After beating the mission, I immediately reloaded to try it a different way. And at the end of that, I thought of another way to beat it. 

And probably the most emotionally haunting mission, Camp Belica, you must get yourself thrown into a concentration camp in Northern Croatia in order to talk to scientist. Obviously the game pulls back some to the true horrors, but you feel this sickness in the pit of your stomach. 

Even the comic book torture dungeon on the premises forces your mind to think, "this is all real."

The variety of environments, from giant Nazi castles, World War 2 bunkers and trenches, and factories keeps you on your toes.

And don't even get me started on the way my mind broke when I fell asleep and was pulled into a classic Wolfenstein 3D level on my big dumb TV.

Final Thoughts

I was well on my way to having shooter fatigue. I didn't want to play another Call of Duty or Battlefield. This is such a departure, it feels fresh.

These are the sort of games not many play, but in a forum 8 years from now, it pops up as someone's favorite game and collectively, everyone in the forum talk about how much they loved it.

I hope Bethesda continues down this line of Wolfenstein. B.J. Blazkowicz in his current form has many more adventures that I'm ready to go on. I have to applaud the writers and voice actors for being able to bring a 25 year old character to the modern era where so many others have failed.

Rating: Buy New Order first, then The Old blood

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