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Critical Consensus: Wolfenstein delights many, disappoints a few

Critical Consensus: Wolfenstein delights many, disappoints a few

Tue 20 May 2014 8:59am GMT / 4:59am EDT / 1:59am PDT
PublishingDevelopment

Machine Games' unique take on the classic FPS series receives a mostly warm reception

Any fan of first-person shooters should be at least a little intrigued by Wolfenstein: The New Order. Forget, for a moment, the creaky IP on which it is based, and disregard the commercially suspect notion that the market can support a straight-up shooter with no multiplayer elements of any kind. Instead, just look at the talent behind Machine Games, the studio founded by a renegade group of Starbreeze developers who were vital creative forces on both The Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness - among the most striking and inventive first-person games of their respective generations.

And yet this pedigree cannot allay the doubt. Machine Games was founded in 2009 with, one would imagine, loftier ambitions than a Wolfenstein sequel. What was the studio working on prior to its acquisition by ZeniMax Media in late 2010? Hopefully we'll find out one day, but that may depend on the performance of Wolfenstein: The New Order. And if the scale of a game's marketing push is representative of its publisher's commercial hopes, Machine Games has been set a very high bar indeed.

"Wolfenstein is a game that's proud of its heritage"

The Escapist

According to The Escapist - and, full disclosure, the majority of critics - Machine Games meets the basic requirements of both the franchise and the genre admirably. Make no mistake, you will shoot things, and those things will be emblazoned with Nazi iconography. At its core, The Escapist argues, The New Order feels like a throwback: "A game that's proud of its heritage, quite satisfied with placing you in long corridors full of walking meat targets. Targets that are, for the most part, quite fun to annihilate."

However, Machine Games does make some "concessions" to "modern shooter sensibilities," most obviously in its accommodation of different styles of play. In addition to the traditional rocket-in-the-face approach The New Order's levels are designed with both tactical and stealth play in mind, even if the player is never pushed in any particular direction.

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"What I like most about Wolfenstein's gameplay is how it doesn't shove anything down your throat - ironic for a game that skimps on subtlety in almost every other way. Yes, there is stealth, and yes there is cover, but you don't have to utilise any of these features if you don't want to. Unlike games such as Splinter Cell: Blacklist, The New Order doesn't toot its own horn with regards to mechanics, allowing players to discover the choice of play-styles on their own, without grabbing their hands and making them view battles as blandly categorical, either/or situations. Any single battle could flow from stealth, to assault, to tactical methods, or it could be completed from beginning to end with a pair of assault rifles and an armful of grenades."

"All the scripted events mean that this is mostly a game on rails"

Eurogamer

The Escapist, which awards the game 7 out of 10, does note the repetition that sets in by the game's end - a common problem in the shooter genre. For Eurogamer, which gives it a 6, it's another frequent issue with FPS games that ultimately punctures the excitement and tension for which Machine Games is reaching.

"It's all very prescriptive, and although you soon have a gun in your hand and the freedom to run around shooting people, Wolfenstein: The New Order does like its set-pieces and cut-scenes.

"All these scripted events mean that this is mostly a game on rails, taking you from point to point with the minimum of distractions, secrets or alternate routes. Though a few examples of these do exist, they won't keep you off the the path laid before you for very long. Later in the game, a rather obvious Easter egg makes it possible to play some of the original Wolfenstein 3D and the contrast between the two is remarkable. Its ancestor serves as a reminder of just how sprawling first-person shooters used to be, along with how much of their expanse was entirely superfluous, existing only to be explored. In comparison, Wolfenstein: The New Order, like many of its peers, is rigid and claustrophobic."

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In a sense, this is almost a philosophical problem; less a matter of good or bad design, and more about personal preference when it comes to the FPS. Clearly, "on-rails" can be applied to any number of games that lack creative verve, but freedom and openness are not necessarily qualities to which all shooters must aspire. And, taking the tone of the entire sweep of reviews currently out there, Machine Games does an admirable job of elevating this oldest of genre IP with a distinctive style and sense of place.

"The New Order focuses more on the civilian cost of war, of Nazism, than any game I've ever played"

Polygon

Ars Technica, for example, acknowledges the disconnect between The New Order's serious or self-referential moments and its trigger-happy template. The occasional jarring moment is to be expected from any shooter with a desire to transcend the genre, it argues, so it's a case of giving credit where it's due.

"What mostly made Blazcowicz [the protagonist] interesting for me was the fact that The New Order seems completely aware of how absurd he is as a character, throughout the entire Wolfenstein franchise. There are frequent references to Blazcowicz being homicidal, or a maniac, or an otherwise almost-unhinged killer of Nazis. Even General Deathshead rants at Blazcowicz towards the end of the game about how many people B.J. has slaughtered, ironic considering the source of the comment.

"None of this is a strike against The New Order, though the Sly Stallone-esque moments often felt odd when juxtaposed against the more mature risks MachineGames took with the story. The Nazis in The New Order aren't just cartoon cut-outs to be shot down because they happen to be there. There are constant references to the systemic racial purging and genocide you're fighting against. The first time you see any persons of color in the game is in a forced labor camp in Croatia, in a level that sees you tortured awoken inside a person-cooking oven, with a trio of emaciated corpses surrounding you."

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In that respect, Polygon finished The New Order almost entirely won over by Machine Games' take on Wolfenstein, awarding it a rare 9 out of 10. The heady atmosphere and memorable scenes of drama and tension that elevated The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick are also evident in The New Order's "wonderfully realised" alternate history. Where some critics saw a jarring inconsistency in tone, Polygon celebrates a willingness to explore both the horror and absurdity inherent to game's premise.

"The Nazis in The New Order aren't just cartoon cut-outs to be shot down because they happen to be there"

Ars Technica

"Everything is nudged or yanked in a different direction by the Reich's world domination. Occasionally it's mined for laughs, like western pop music of the 60s gone in a fascist direction. But more often it paints a darker picture, depicting a world in which the final solution is a matter of course, its machinery grinding to its inevitable conclusion across the world, not just Europe. And in this, once again, Machine Games surprises - The New Order focuses more on the civilian cost of war, of Nazism, than any game I've ever played.

"There's a wide spectrum of human life and suffering on display, beyond the often - and often overly - excessive violence. From doctors weeping at their own complicity as they're forced to sign away "subhuman" patients, to German missionaries horrified at the eradication of indigenous peoples around the world; the Polish grandmother who sobs as she tears at the uniform of a Nazi captain, and the African resistance fighter trapped in a Croatian work camp. Machine Games seems invested in shoving human collateral damage right in front of the now almost quaint Nazi-shoot-em-up that Wolfenstein began as.

"The New Order's got all the workings of a classic shooter. But in their trip back to the well, Machine Games has brought all of its talents to bear. The New Order is held together, even rocketed beyond the basic sum of its smart levels and effective mechanics by its characters. That humanity takes what would be a good shooter and makes it something truly memorable."

13 Comments

Kevin Clark-Patterson
Lecturer in Games Development

292 26 0.1
The reviews are overall positive and I for one agree. The Eurogamer review seems to be more about what it is isn't as opposed to what it is - in a vague sort of way liek I just did there.

Go get it! :D

Posted:3 months ago

#1

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

786 595 0.8
I like what I see and I'll definitely buy this one. But since I live in Germany I'll have to wait until my next trip to the Netherlands ^^;

Posted:3 months ago

#2

Christian Keichel
Journalist

640 876 1.4
@ Alfonso

If you plan to buy the PC version, I don't know of how much use an international version of Wolfenstein is if you live in Germany. According to Bethesda, the game is "geo locked", so that you can't activate it in Germany and Austria. I don't know, if they use the IP adresses or if they look at the region the Steam account is registered in or both.

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Christian Keichel on 21st May 2014 8:29am

Posted:3 months ago

#3

Kieren Bloomfield
Software Engineer

92 79 0.9
@Alfonso - looks like there'll be a censored version for Germany:
http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-27488254

Posted:3 months ago

#4

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

786 595 0.8
@Christian @Kieren:

I was aware but thanks anyway :) Still there is the solution of activating through VPN (Not downloading; activating, which is not against Steam's EULA for some reason).
Still this is a game that either I'm getting for PS4 or XOne, which pretty much solves the problem :)

Posted:3 months ago

#5

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

786 595 0.8
@Kieren:
As a small note: I see a lot of misinformation in those articles; this Wolfenstein is not the first but, in fact, the third one we get here (censored, of course) Return to Castle Wolfenstein and that horrendous PS3 and X360 remakes were both published here.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Alfonso Sexto on 22nd May 2014 8:29am

Posted:3 months ago

#6

Christian Keichel
Journalist

640 876 1.4
@ Kieren
A small addition to what Alfonso already said. The reason is not, that video games are not seen as media art here in germany, but that there are laws against the use Nazi symbolism, unless they are used in a work of art (the term for this is "Kunstvorbehalt", it's part of the constitution of germany).

It is forbidden to sell media on this list to minors and to advertise such media in the public, this leads in the end to a distributionstop of these media in germany, but technically they aren't banned and can be obtained by any person over 18. Media on the index are seperated in 2 different categories List A and List B, media on List A is considered as harmful for the development of the youth, media on List B is considered as harmful as well, but furthermore is considered as potentially illegal (e.g. glorification of Nazism, pornography, glorification of violence, etc.) and the Federal Department expects that these media will be confiscicated by a prosecutor in the future.
But a movie or book isn't considered as a work of art per se, for example, when Norman Spinrads "The iron dream" was first published in germany, the book was indexed for glorification of Nazism, the publisher went to court against this decision, by saying it is a work of art and it was up to the judges to decide if the book was art or not (the same happend to "American Psycho"), in a different case the judges decided, that "Josefine Mutzenbacher" should be considered as child pornography and doesn't can be determined as a work of art. Ususally publishers of books, comics or games don't go to court against the decisions of the federal department or against the confiscication of the prosecutors, because the verdict predict and it takes a long time and costs them much money. Prosecutors of one state often confiscicate media, while others don't, this can lead to odd situations, like in 1990, when the police confiscated posters for Art Spiegelmans "Maus" Comic for use of Nazi symbols, the comic was later confiscated several times in different states, but isn't generally banned here in germany.
To make things more complicated it is the case, that movies are treated in a different way than games or books, without any law this different treatment is based on.
Movies like Raiders of the lost Ark or the many German movies with plots during 1933 and 1945 and their use of swastika flags all over the place aren't objected in any way, unlike books with swastika flags on the cover, games or comics with swastikas (even Captain America comics are usually censored here and in the late 1990s a Captain America book was indexed because the editors forgot to take out one swastika in a story, that was placed in the second world war).
I hope this information helps to get an idea of how youth protection and censorship work here in germany, it's complicated to understand, and even the people living here usually don't know exactly what it means, when somebody says a game is banned and I can imagine, that it might sound even more complicated for people outside of germany.

Edited 3 times. Last edit by Christian Keichel on 22nd May 2014 10:33am

Posted:3 months ago

#7
Before the reign of Germanic Nazis, the solar cross was a popular universal esoteric symbol...now warped infamously

Posted:3 months ago

#8

Alfonso Sexto
Lead Tester

786 595 0.8
Excellent analysis, Christian. I would just include how this causes weird misinformation and reactions inside the industry like: Everyone in the press saying that the first "Dead Space" was banned here, when it was released 100% uncut. Or "Fallout New Vegas" being released censored here and, just a year later, released uncut in it's GOTY edition.
Of this Wolfenstein; Bethesda blocking the videos related to it in its YouTube channel for Germany when there is no need to do this at all.

Posted:3 months ago

#9

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,072 1,007 0.9
The Steam store promises that all swastikas were replace by symbols which are "no less atmospheric". Problem being that usually all English dialog is replaced by German speakers who are, most of the time, a lot less atmospheric. Not sure where this game will land on.




Indiana Jones makes no sense, if you watch an older German version. In the US version Jones wonders how the Nazis knew where to dig and the plot twist is the villain showing his hand while raising his hand. Not that Indy matters for the outcome of the movie anyway, right?

Posted:3 months ago

#10

Kieren Bloomfield
Software Engineer

92 79 0.9
@Christian thanks, I feel well informed.
@Klaus eurogamer did a quick comparison video to show what replacements look like.

Posted:3 months ago

#11

Klaus Preisinger
Freelance Writing

1,072 1,007 0.9
In that comparison video, Tom Phillips certainly fell prey to Google translate giving him the literal translation of each word, instead of the translation of what was expressed.

Wolfenstein has a few immersion hick-up of its own. Such as windows in Berlin being pushed upward to open American style and Berlin prison guards talking in thick Bavarian accents across the board. Some of the fake news headlines on the wall also seem to have never been read by a native speaker before before getting approved. Another mistake are vehicle number plates. The plates on Police vehicles would have started with POL not WH (which would have been the number plate for army vehicles). You want to be nitpicky, then there is plenty of chance outside of pointing at plot convenience and the way characters behave (particularly after wearing a steel mask in a German torture prison for three months and meeting a guy they thought dead for 12 years.)

For a franchise that used to bank its chips safely on the shock value aspects of its gameplay and imagery, this game is surprisingly moody and plays rather well. Which is more than you could hope for in a game which was promoted by granting players access to the Doom4 beta. So much for publisher confidence in the title, despite all the trailers being awesome. Seems to me Bethesda was expecting terrible word of mouth from this game.

Posted:3 months ago

#12

Roland Austinat
roland austinat media productions|consulting

125 62 0.5
Wolfenstein has a few immersion hick-up of its own. Such as windows in Berlin being pushed upward to open American style and Berlin prison guards talking in thick Bavarian accents across the board
Klaus, hilarious stuff. There are two versions of the game available: the international version and the German version.

The German version has an excellent voice cast that has been recorded in Germany. In-game signs etc. have also been checked for the German version. However, you don't get the Nazi references which you may or may not like.

The international version has all the Nazi imagery, like the infamous space suit with the swastika on its helmet. However, as a native German, I suspect from listening to the accents of the voice actors that they have been recorded in a land far, far away from Germany. ;)

So if you speek German - which I assume from your name - you can chose between the game with great localization minus Nazi imagery and the game with funny German plus Nazi imagery. ;)

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Roland Austinat on 30th May 2014 11:11pm

Posted:3 months ago

#13

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