Game Picks

Game Picks: 'Wolfenstein: The New Order'

CorrespondentJuly 3, 2014 

Everybody likes shooting Nazis. It’s one of the cathartic pleasures in several video game franchises, not to mention film, TV and books. Nazis have been a go-to-villain in storytelling for more than 70 years now.

In the excellent series reboot “Wolfenstein: The New Order” ($59.99, rated M), players get a chance to take on a new strain of Nazis – mechanical, sci-fi, alternate history Nazis!

It goes like this: After a brief tutorial prologue, players find themselves in the year 1960, once again assuming the role of hero William “BJ” Blazkowicz. In this alternate-universe setting, the Axis powers won World War II and now the Nazis have taken over the world.

The story proceeds from here through a linear series of first-person shooter combat scenarios and stealth missions. “The New Order” is a decidedly old-school FPS experience, as you equip yourself with increasingly heavy weaponry to take on increasingly deadly enemies.

Engaging story

The Nazis, in this alternate history, won the war thanks to some sci-fi technology breakthroughs, which they now use to oppress the citizens of the world. Mechanized robots and mechanical attack dogs will be your chief opponents in many fights, through you’ll also be taking on plenty of human soldiers and high-ranking officials – especially in the stealth missions.

Five different difficulty levels provide a range of options, for newbies all the way through to veteran FPS warriors. I chose the easiest “baby” setting, because FPS has never been a strong suit. With these kinds of games, I’m in it for the story.

And the story does not disappoint. The designers have a lot of fun re-imagining our hero Blazkowicz for the current age of gaming. In older titles, going all the way back to 1981’s “Castle Wolfenstein,” Blazkowicz was simply the guy with the guns. There has been very little effort to give him a personality.

With “The New Order,” however, our hero is damaged, flawed and often uncertain. Peripheral characters are also well-drawn, especially stalwart Scotsman Fergus Reid, Blazkowicz’s chief ally. Dialogue and voice acting are strong throughout, giving the game a solid foundation in characterization.

Then you have the top-shelf graphics and sound design, which are delivered seamlessly on the supercharged PlayStation 4. Combat sequences are enjoyably intense, with all the heavy metal ordnance producing deep bass rumbles and relentless onscreen mayhem.

Not for younger gamers

As the story progresses, you get to explore a strange and menacing new world, which the city-building Nazis are fast transforming into a vast urban nightmare. The excellent environmental design provides dozens of intriguing locations and combat arenas – a space museum, a Polish insane asylum, a labor camp, a collapsing bridge, a high-tech research lab.

The combat system, meanwhile, will be familiar to players of 1990s-style shooters. Blazkowicz collects health and armor power-ups as he progresses, along with weapon upgrades and specialized items such as laser cutters and Tesla grenades. A combat perk system provides additional combat and stealth abilities, so you can customize your style of play to a limited degree.

While I preferred the stealth missions overall, I have to say that “The New Order” is the first hardcore FPS game in a long while that got me back in a 1990s “Doom” kind of mood myself. The enemy AI isn’t terribly challenging – that may have to do with the difficulty setting – but I liked how tactical thinking is rewarded in almost all scenarios. Different enemy types have different weaknesses, and it pays to exploit them.

“The New Order” isn’t for younger gamers. Unlike the cartoon-y violence of space-age games such as “Halo,” the combat here is often graphic and bloody. Strong language and some sexual content also make this a true M-rated game – the equivalent of a hard-R rating at the movies.

But for grown-ups, especially fans of the single-player FPS experience, “Wolfenstein: The New Order” is one of this year’s best games. Blowing away robot Nazis is good, clean American fun. If the weather goes bad, it’s a nice way to spend the Fourth of July weekend.

“Wolfenstein: The New Order” is now available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.

New This Week: More WWII action with “Sniper Eilte III” and the return of the gonzo action-platformer sensation “Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition.”

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