Sunday, June 22, 2014

MeekinOnMovies On....Wolfenstein: The New Order

Game: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Platform: Xbox One (Also available on PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC)
Price: 59.99
Did I Pay For It: No.

Wolfenstein: The New Order out Duke Nukem Foreveres Duke Nukem Forever. No offense to the developer, but this game had zero buzz before release. Then it came out roughly the same time as Watch_Dogs, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Why?

Because Wolfenstein: The New Order wildly exceeds low expectations. The graphics are pretty, the story is coherent and creative, the controls are tight, and while pretty standard, the first person shooter gameplay has a couple of tricks up it sleeve to keep things fresh. But beyond that, New Order takes what was a typically one-note franchise and expanded it in a way that doesn't betray it roots. While Duke felt stuck in the past, Wolfenstein: The New Order, feels a little ahead of its time.

However, first impressions are poor. The game spends an lot of time telling you how to do things pretty much anyone interested in buying a relatively straight-forward first person shooter would know how to do. Worse, for World War II, the first thing you'll notice about this game is how underwhelming the gun effects are, and the second thing you'll notice are the giant mech-like robots and robot dogs. Getting your hands on an automatic rifle should feel empowering, and instead it feels like a potato gun, and seeing these robotic creatures reacted too in such a matter of fact way sends up a signal that all might not be well in Nazi Occupied Poland.
But then you hit the game's first boss-fight and subsequent mind-bender of an opening act twist, and you'll be dialed in like Neo in the Matrix. It's not every day a video game has the balls to let the Nazis win the war, ya know.  The alternate history setting is handled well with only a few "well what about...?" plot holes that are easy to forgive because the game isn't trying to do anything more than entertain in any way it can.

Aside from the plot, the game eventually settles into a groove of great atmosphere, creative set-pieces, and features one or two gameplay gimmicks that add a bit of spice to proceedings. Many scenarios encourage the silent assassination of enemy commanders you locate via a proximity meter. Doing so without alerting any guards results in the enemy being unable to call reinforcements, thereby making your job a little more manageable.

Locating these commanders without causing a ruckus lends itself to the game's other surprise, its focus on stealth and hidden nooks and crannies. Many levels feature a series of interconnecting tunnels, roof-top bridges, and various other locations off the beaten path, resulting in the game feeling a bit 'Far Cry 3' as you stalk around the enemy trying to figure out the best plan of attack. 
But I used the term gimmick for a reason, as these elements compliment a game that will find throw you into open combat where twitchy controls and quick reflexes are the name of the game - and even on normal difficulty the AI is more than happy to kick your ass. It's a lot of shooting guys before they shoot you. If you don't envision yourself enjoying a dozen or so hours worth of firefights - no matter how creative or intense, you'll probably tire of the game before finishing the story. You can bump down the difficulty, but then you feel like a wimp.
Which is a bummer because the story is pretty creative and well acted. A little personality goes a long way, and pretty much every character with a speaking part in Wolfenstein: The New Order has characterization that goes beyond simply spouting lines. There are accents, quarks, conversational dialog, and while the characters certainly are not three demensional by any stretch of the imagination, the fact that they're not cardboard, in a world where Skyrim gets credit for its 'storytelling', should be lauded. In fact if Wolfenstein: The New Order's writing and charactization is an indication of what's to come from publisher Bethesda, consider me giddy. 

Thus, for folks who aren't scratching at their neck to play any and all first person shooter games, Wolfenstein: The New Order becomes the kind of game you watch a let's play of, then feel bad about not buying because the story was really cool. But if you do like shooters, by all means have at it - it's a really gone one. The controls are tight, the idea of to taking down commanders to eliminate re-enforcements is fun, and there are plenty of fun secrets. Hell, you may just save the world. 


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