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The Man in the High Castle: Wolfenstein The New Order Review

Flak cannons open fire upon the incoming allied air invasion of Germany. The joint US/UK operation is a last gasp effort to kill the mad German General Strasse, whose twisted inventions have already caused World War II to stretch into 1946. Impossibly fast jets scream out from Strasse's headquarters, a massive spire looming over the German coastline, wreaking havoc upon the invasion forces. Fierce resistance from cybernetically enhanced stormtroopers and massive Nazi war engines crush the few, meager troops that managed to make it ashore. It's amongst this carnage that Captain B.J. Blazkowicz's surprisingly entertaining tale of resistance starts, but it won't be until 14 years later when it finally ends.

MachineGames takes the standard Wolfenstein formula of "enter room, kill Nazi" and expands on it while still keeping the feel of the franchise intact. Taking place in a nightmarish 1960, during which the Third Reich rules the planet with a iron fist, The New Order gives the normally two-dimensional Captain Blazkowicz a far more human side. Trapped in his own body as he recovers from injuries sustained in the intro, he watches a world rapidly trampled over by jackboots from his room in a Polish hospital.

The Doctor will see you now

The narrative to any of the previous Wolfenstein games was always laughably thread-bare. It always served as a simple vehicle to explain why Blazkowicz was marching down corridors and hallways blasting Nazis across the room. The New Order, however, does an excellent job of highlighting just how bleak this timeline is. Stories of cruelty from resistance members that share your hideout as well as a few disturbing scenes later in the game perfectly illustrate what happens when infinite power is combined with infinite sadism.

I want my scalps

While far from award-winning, the voice acting and writing is significantly better than past entries. Resistance leader Caroline Becker is appropriately hardened from years of guerrilla warfare, while Blazkowicz himself could easily fit into the cast of Inglourious Basterds. Not everyone fits the tone of the game, however. Jewish scientist Set Roth is a walking stereotype who doesn't fit the seriousness of the setting. Roth feels like he should have been in an episode of Seinfeld, not fighting back against an oppressive regime.

There is one special note I want to bring up in regards to the plot. The New Order had possibly one of the most well handled sexual relationships I've seen in a game. Most games use sex as a reward for doing X and it usually consists of a topless scene and a woman grinding up and down against someone, a visual "atta-boy" for picking the right dialog or finding the right room. MachineGames handled sex here in such a way that it didn't feel forced, nor did it feel like a cheap reward for doing a good job. This is something that needs to happen more in games if they ever want to grow as a story-telling medium.

Just as grim as you think it is.

Wolfenstein very much plays like its predecessors. Waves of brainless soldiers and mechanical monstrosities roll toward the player waiting for their turn to be gunned down. Health and armor don't regenerate fully and rely on pickups to be replenished. Hidden files, notes, and treasure are scattered across each map to be found, some of them requiring a bit of Indiana Jones-like pulling of swords or candles to uncover.

One major annoyance was that nothing could be acquired by simply running over it. I was constantly pressing the "pick up" key over and over during my playthrough to make sure every medkit and bit of ammo was retrieved. Other than trying to stay true to its roots I can't think of any reason for this mechanic to be here and damned if I wasn't tired of smashing the same button repeatedly as I moved through a level.

Feeling as much a reboot as an homage, The New Order incorporates several things found in more contemporary games as well, with mixed results. A simplistic stealth mechanic rewards those willing to silently remove officers while not forcing itself upon the player.  A level up system not based around experience, but completing different challenges, feels almost ripped from the Call of Duty playbook. While uninspired, it does add incentive to try out everything the game has to offer in exchange for perks like faster reload speeds or quieter footsteps.

Scripted events much likes those of several other triple-A shooters are sprinkled throughout. With their Michael Bay inspired mayhem they are over-the-top but enjoyable. One Tarantinoesque conversation with the sinister Frau Engle over an Aryan purity test stands out in my mind. While bordering on the cheesy side of tension, it did convey a sense of dread and powerlessness. Knowing there was nothing that can be done as she carries out the test adds to the absolute feeling of helplessness that comes with this new world.

Not everything Wolfenstein tries to include works out for its benefit. A basic cover system was so clumsy and awkward  I ended up ignoring it except to complete the few challenges that required me to get a certain number of kills using it. The intro is bogged down with a lackluster rail-shooter that is the lowest point in the game. A shame since it's the very first thing the player is introduced to and starts everything off on the wrong foot.

Doomed to fail

My biggest complaint comes from The New Order's signature gun, the Laserkraftwerk. The Laserkraftwerk is an upgradable weapon with all manner of modules that can be added to increase its power, and if that is all it was it would be fine. The problem comes from its secondary function, a laser cutter meant to carve holes into aluminum boxes and chicken wire. Used to open passages or bust open metal crates, the Laserkraftwerk's cutter is cumbersome to use at best and outright frustrating at worst. There were several instances where the hole I cut was not big enough to progress through and trying to trim away any excess bits I missed was nigh impossible as the physics of the gun won't allow for small corrections. There was more than one instance where I had to restart from the previous checkpoint, which are thankfully plentiful, in order to try to cut again. What could have been something that made the game stand apart from most other shooters instead turned into a burden forced upon the player.

Much like Blazkowicz himself, the game feels stuck between two different ages. While MachineGames attempt to merge both the classic with the modern works for the most part, they bring some of the bad of each along with a lot of the good. Blasting Nazis always feels satisfying and fleshing out B.J. beyond a floating gun adds gravitas to what otherwise would have been another unremarkable frag fest. It's a shame that a few mechanical problems hamstring what was an enjoyable 12 hour game, but not so much that I can't overlook them.

Capitalistpig (Steven Brown) reads The Grasshopper Lies Heavy every night before bed. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to hear him ranting about more or less anything in general.
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About Capitalistpigone of us since 5:48 PM on 02.11.2013

Reach exceeds grasp. Not that I lack skill, I just have small arms.

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