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Wolfenstein: The New Order Is Shooter Of The Year So Far

May 22 2014, 2:02am CDT | by

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Is Shooter Of The Year So Far
 
 

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Is Shooter Of The Year So Far

Wolfenstein: The New Order has been described, in some largely positive reviews, as “competent” but “mostly unremarkable.”

I beg to differ.

There’s something about the game that is so much more than that. Yes, it’s competent. But it’s more than that. It’s a thoughtful, invigorating shooter focused entirely on its single-player campaign. The game is as tight and well-tuned as any shooter I’ve played in recent years.

And quite frankly, this is the most fun I’ve had with an FPS since Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Here are five reasons why this is my favorite shooter of 2014—at least so far. (Competition remains in the offings, with Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, Bungie’s Destiny, and Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4 all headed to various platforms this holiday season.) Certainly I’ve enjoyed it more, as an experience, than the multiplayer-only Titanfall.

1. Stealth

I love stealth options in games, and I really love stealth options in run-and-gun shooters. That may sound slightly contradictory, but just having the capacity to do more than go in guns blazing really heightens my enjoyment of a game like this.

In Wolfenstein: The New Order you can’t go your entire play-through using stealth. This isn’t Bethesda’s Dishonored, not by a long-shot. But the game does give you the ability to use stealth throughout much of its 13 or 14 hour campaign. I swear, if Call of Duty would just implement this sort of open-ended level design and give you some stealth options, that franchise’s campaigns would be leaps and bounds better.

As it stands, one of the funnest things about the new Wolfenstein is your ability to take out entire levels without ever being seen. You can even take down sleeping armored guard dogs using stealth. And if you take out special “commander” units, you can offset the potential for an alarm that brings in reinforcements.

The stealth is actually pretty slick, too. And while it’s never quite as much fun as sneaking into an enemy base in Far Cry 3, taking out sentries, and sabotaging the alarm system, it’s pretty close. For a more linear game, it’s tuned just right.

2. Gameplay

Beyond the stealth mechanics, The New Order gets plenty right when it comes to just about everything else in the gameplay. The shooting is tight but not too tight; not snappy, really, but very controlled. I like the dual-gun option, especially with weapons like the automatic shotgun.

There’s a really fantastic “lean” mechanic also. On the PS4, holding down L1 allows you to lean in any direction using the joystick. So you can duck behind cover and then lean to the left or up over the cover just by pressing one direction or the other. It works incredibly well.

The perk system is also fantastic, essentially rewarding your play style by adding perks after you do a certain thing a certain number of times. For instance, using stealth kills against commanders opens up a perk after a certain number of successful attempts. If you’re a run-and-gunner you’ll open up different perks. It’s almost like a really clever modification of the Elder Scrolls leveling system. The more you do something, the better you get at it, though here the perks aren’t just stat boosts, they’re new abilities.

Levels are also really well-designed, giving players multiple routes, lots of areas to explore and secrets to find, and often the ability to utilize various play styles to your advantage.

The hybrid regeneration/health bar health system is also cool. You’ll always regenerate to the nearest 20 health points you have (unless you die) but to get more life you’ll need to pick up a health pack. This gives you a bit of a tactical approach to staying alive, knowing that you’re not invulnerable, but you can still heal up a bit in-between first aid.

And, at least on the second-to-hardest difficulty setting, the AI is quite good. Maybe not the best out there, but really impressive nonetheless. Enemies will slide into cover, throw grenades at you when you’re in cover, and approach you from all sides. All the advantages of an open-ended level design work in the enemies’ favor as well.

3. Writing

Here, The New Order also really shines. While the plot is sort of over-the-top—we’re talking about a 1960′s world under total mech-Nazi control—the actual characters are top-notch. Dialogue is strong and believable, and voice-acting is excellent.

There were some moments that might be a bit maudlin, a bit too emotionally charged for the context of the game, but these honestly didn’t bother me. Even the sex scene is done really tastefully, which is something most video games have a really, really hard time with.

On top of great dialogue and characters, you’re also given a major choice early on in the plot that affects your entire play-through, which adds enormous replay value to the title.

4. Graphics

On PS4 at least, Wolfenstein: The New Order looks stunning. Best graphics ever? Maybe not. But it looks really, really good throughout. Animations are fluid, the game plays at an incredibly steady frame-rate throughout, and you really get  a sense that you’re in this alternative history.

You’ll travel to non-German cities that have been entirely ripped apart and decked out in Nazi art decco. The effect is stunning. And while character faces aren’t the best in the industry, they still look fantastic. There’s really nothing to complain about here, even though this is a cross-gen game. On next-gen systems (or at least on PS4) the game looks terrific.

5. Single-Player Campaign

Last, but not least, The New Order is single-player-only. This is a breath of fresh air in an industry that is continually moving toward online (and always-online.) Look no further than Bethesda itself and the transformation of The Elder Scrolls from a single-player RPG to an MMO.

So, at least for someone like me that’s always loved a good solo campaign, it’s nice to have this game focus on that. A multiplayer mode would probably be fun, but it’s nice to have developer MachineGames focus its energy (and budget) on the campaign. This is especially true since you basically get two play-throughs with the game’s branching storyline.

This leads to a game filled with exploration, incredibly well-balanced encounters, and a surprisingly good story. It’s not exactly a “classic” or something that spends most of its tame paying homage to the original, but the tight focus on gameplay and the game’s solid narrative keep it from falling into many of the traps of its contemporaries.

For whatever reason, at least in my book, this is more valuable than a multiplayer only title like Titanfall, at least when the price-points are identical.

~

All told, Wolfenstein: The New Order is some of the most fun I’ve had on new-gen consoles. Unlike Tomb Raider or Assassin’s Creed IV, it’s out on both old and new-gen at the same time. Both those games were great on newer systems, but I’d played them each already. Going into this one from the get-go using the PS4 was terrific.

This isn’t to say there aren’t problems. Paul Tassi had his own issues with the digital version of the game earlier, and Alex Knapp is playing the PC copy and preparing his Forbes review even as we speak. The game isn’t perfect, naturally. But on my Buy/Hold/Sell scale, I give this one a Buy. It may be a bit of an oddity—silly overarching plot coupled with a remarkably serious tone that handles the Nazi menace as a truly despicable thing—but it’s a lot of fun.

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