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'Wolfenstein: The New Order' review: Welcome back, old friend

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Wolfenstein: The New Order (PlayStation 4)

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After laying dormant for about five years, the father of all first-person shooters is back.

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Developer MachineGames may be making its studio debut with Wolfenstein: The New Order, but the Wolfenstein name has been around for decades. In the early 1990s, Wolfenstein 3-D pioneered and popularized the FPS genre. Fast forward to present day, however, and the franchise isn’t exactly the talk of the town.

The New Order is just what the series needs to show gamers it's still relevant. The game is a proper installment that takes note of where it originated from, but realizes that the old dog needed some new tricks. With strong shooting mechanics and an exciting plot featuring alternate timelines, it's certainly a force to be reckoned with.

It’s not easy to think of a modern FPS with a memorable narrative. Most games in the genre nowadays place their campaign in the backseat while focusing primarily on competitive multiplayer. But that isn’t the case with The New Order. In fact, the game does not feature any multiplayer at all, which is actually an extremely risky thing to do. Fortunately, MachineGames justifies this fact by delivering one of the most exciting FPS campaigns we’ve seen in years, accommodated well by exciting gameplay and gorgeous graphics.

The biggest problem the game faces, though, is that it can't seem to figure itself out.

The New Order struggles with an awkward, unbalanced tone that could get a bit confusing to read. It's a mix of whacky and absurd with grim and gruesome; a mix that doesn't always move together in harmony. One minute you're blasting your way through waves of Nazis (and robot Nazi dogs) with dual wielded shotguns, and the next you're forced to choose which one of your allies would be killed while you watch him get tortured in front of you.

Nevertheless, this instability can also be looked at as one of the game's core strengths. It's a serious game that's not exactly meant to be taken seriously. The gameplay is about pure fun, but at the same time, MachineGames has a story to tell, an alternate history centered around the idea of "what if the Nazi's won World War II and dominated the planet?" Of course, what would a Nazi-ruled world be without ancient, technologically advanced machinery/weapons, right?

The game places players back in the shoes of American War Hero B.J. Blazcowicz. After a failed final attempt at a raid on the sinister Nazi leader Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse's compound in 1946, Blazcowicz finds himself comatose, only to regain full control of his consciousness 14 years later... just in time to kill an entire squad of Nazis before they offed him. How could a man who hasn't walked or spoken in over a decade suddenly pick up a gun and take out a bunch of soldiers? Well, because Wolfenstein, that's how.

Throughout the 16 chapter, 12-ish hour long campaign, The New Order takes players to a number of interesting locations that compliment the alternate history MachineGames has created. From the unique vision of 1960's Berlin with a Nazi twist, to the Nazi space station on the moon. The game never recycles its level design blueprints. Also, those 12 hours can easily turn into 24 if you opt to play the alternate timeline, which offers a few changes, but of course we'll let you figure them out for yourself.

A large proportion of the combat in The New Order can be approached in different ways. There's the classic shoot-em-up option, tactical, cover-fire method and also stealth. To support these play styles is the perk system, where players can earn some useful abilities under separate categories reflective of their battle scheme.

Stealth is arguably the easiest technique, but this is largely due to the fact that the artificial intelligence is not quite as responsive during this approach. Enemies don't react to their fallen comrades and they have almost no peripheral vision. Plus, you don't even have to kneel down in order to perform a stealth kill, walking straight up to them from behind won't trigger anything and works just as fine.

Still, if you're itching for the true Wolfenstein experience, you'll probably want to just go in guns blazing.

The weapons are largely archetypal -- knife, pistol, assault rifle, etc. -- with only a few added science fiction elements and the ability to dual wield nearly every weapon to isolate it. However, rather than the usual two guns plus a knife inventory, players will slowly build up an arsenal, giving them tons of freedom to blast their way through the game.

Sadly, The New Order isn't exactly on par with modern FPS's in terms of first-person mechanics. Take Titanfall for example. Hopping in a titan feels extremely fluent and the first-person angle is spot on, giving a real sense of the player boarding the death machine. Meanwhile, with The New Order, even simple tasks like climbing a ladder feel awkward. One second you're standing in front of it and the next you're on it. Another instance of this is during an underwater exploration sequence, while boarding the vehicle used to get around, Blazcowicz just sort of teleports onto it. It doesn't exactly take away from the experience, but we do wish that the character actions were included.

Pros:

+ Interesting alternate history

+ Replayability

+ Simple, useful perk system

Cons:

- Artificial intelligence is not always so intelligent

- Some clumsy first-person mechanics

The Verdict:

If you enjoy first-person shooters, you're going to enjoy the heck out of Wolfenstein: The New Order, just don't expect too much. It's a solid experience with great characters and an interesting plot, but it doesn't offer anything extraordinary in the gameplay department. Even still, it's a must play for fans of the genre.

A retail copy of the game was provided to Examiner by Bethesda for review purposes. Wolfenstein: The New Order is available today, May 20, in North America and will launch on May 23 in Europe.

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