Preview: Wolfenstein: The New Order

I really wanted to enjoy Wolfenstein: The New Order. The rumblings around PAX East suggested that the upcoming Bethesda title was actually pretty good. I love alternate history as a concept (Fringe is one of my favorite shows of all time), so the idea that Nazis won World War II titillated me, to say the least. Unfortunately, my hour with Wolfenstein: The New Order was both frustrating and underwhelming.

• Developer: MachineGames
• Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, Windows
• Release Date: May 20, 2014

A gory first-person shooter set in an alternate 1960s run by Nazi Germany, Wolfenstein: The New Order is filled with action. In the demo I played, I fought my way through a set trenches on a Normandy-esque beach before entering a Nazi compound. Taken as a whole, the environment is enthralling; there is a distinct sense of unease present, as Nazi lore is still somewhat taboo in 2014. Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s greatest aspect is its setting, as I felt that I was truly in a different universe throughout my playtime.

Campy humor, a staple of the Wolfenstein franchise, is back in full force in this particular iteration. My personal favorite moment in the demo was when B.J. Blazkowicz’s (your player character and the protagonist of Wolfenstein: The New Order) comrade tosses an elongated grenade to a giant Nazi robot dog. Your friend shouts, “Here boy!” to draw the dog’s interest before allowing the dog to catch the explosive out of mid-air. The instant devolution from programmed death-beast to man’s best friend was hysterical; as a dog-lover, I could not help but smile. Unfortunately, the experience surrounding these fun moments completely turned me off of Wolfenstein: The New Order.

I will say that Wolfenstein: The New Order has a fairly captivating concept.

I will say that Wolfenstein: The New Order has a fairly captivating concept.

I want to preface my criticism of this game by saying that I was playing a demo specifically meant for PAX East consumption. Perhaps some of the issues I witnessed were specific to this particular demo, with the actual retail title possibly free of technical problems.

The load times I witnessed were somewhere between obtrusive and obnoxious. For those of you that played the recent reboot of Thief, you know that loading screens can completely destroy any sense of immersion a player may have. I waited between one and two minutes between each death, so nearly one fourth of my play time was spent staring at a spinning logo. If the retail version has the same amount of loading as the PAX East demo, I can definitively say that this has the potential to be game-breaking.

Wolfenstein: The New Order's shooting is overshadowed by a slew of annoyances

Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s solid shooting is overshadowed by a slew of annoyances

The enemy AI in Wolfenstein: The New Order is woefully stupid. Arguably the biggest complaint with Killzone: Shadow Fall was the lack of intelligent AI; after playing this demo, I feel as though Wolfenstein’s AI is considerably dumber. Enemies will look at you for seconds before deciding to fire their weapons, making them feel like bullet sponges more than legitimate foes. The worst offense came after shooting out a wooden plank that a Nazi soldier was using for cover. After the wood splintered away (the only semblance of environmental destruction in the entire game, mind you), the enemy continued to duck behind the area where it once was. I actually died at this point because I was completely at a loss, forgetting that I was actually playing a video game due to pure confusion. In short, Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s enemies do not recognize when their pre-programmed cover is no longer present. After witnessing the brilliant emotional awareness of Below‘s enemies, this AI idiocy was nothing short of baffling.

On a macro level, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a very good looking game. It runs at 1080p and 60 FPS, so it technically has all the specifications of a “next-gen” first-person shooter. My issue with the visuals comes at a micro level, as some of the small details are just plain ugly. Being someone who enjoys exploring in games, I found myself looking at small details in every room I could find. When I entered an office, I noticed a bulletin board had a number of notes plastered to its surface. Upon sauntering up to it, I noticed that the text was completely illegible. When one draws a stick figure holding a note, typically small squiggles are used to symbolize text. This is exactly what I saw, and I could not help but laugh. This is clearly not a game where you stop and smell the roses, so do not bother to explore if you pick it up. While this is a minor complaint, the overall level detail in Wolfenstein: The New Order is lacking, making the game feel like a shell of what it could be.

A game that appears pretty on the surface can get ugly very quickly.

A game that appears pretty on the surface can get ugly very quickly.

Although Wolfenstein: The New Order is essentially a corridor shooter, it somehow manages to lack  a general sense of direction. If I am playing a blatantly linear game, I expect it to be blatantly linear. The objectives quickly disappear from view, forcing you to awkwardly fumble with a touch-pad based journal. Objective markers are woefully small. In trying to destroy a machine gun, I found myself wandering around an exit-free room with no way of knowing where the weapon actually was. As it turns out, the quarter-sized red diamond on the surface of a large apparatus was actually a marker indicating the specific weapon that needed to be destroyed. The objective point was so minimal that it appeared to be an in-game logo. I was extremely close to giving up on this demo, as getting lost in a completely linear game is exceedingly maddening.

[youtube id=”hhDrX95-wXg”]

In one hour, Wolfenstein: The New Order went from a game I was prepared to buy upon its release to something I might pick up during a sale. Any joy or sense of accomplishment was overshadowed by frustration and disappointment. As an aside, I should reiterate that a number of people did enjoy Wolfenstein: The New Order at PAX East, so perhaps it will bring you great satisfaction. However, I can only speak for myself when I say that Wolfenstein: The New Order was the most disappointing game I played all weekend.

Official Game Site

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  1. I played a demo at E3 and while I talked about it a bit on the podcast, part of the reason I didn’t write a preview for it was that my time with the game was so littered with technical hiccups that I didn’t think I got a accurate representation of the game. Have to say when it was working I had a lot of fun with the game though and I actually liked the non-linear nature of the level design.

    I would really hope that the technical issues would be fixed in time for launch though, especially stuff like loading times and a bit concerning that this is still an issue this close to launch. Let’s hope that they are better at making games than they are demos! = )

  2. All indications were that I played a vertical slice of the game. I feel that it’s close enough to launch that things such as loading times and poor AI deserve to be criticized.

    There were a ton of people who enjoyed their time with the game, but I can only write about what I experienced (which was most certainly not pleasant).

  3. I still have Wolfenstein pre ordered through Amazon and reading this has me considering canceling the pre order and waiting till reviews hit, which may sound silly, but I loved the last Wolfenstein game and this had me immediately excited from the word go.

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