Wolfenstein: The Old Blood
There was a time when I didn’t really think much of Bethesda as a publisher. Their Bethesda Softworks developed games in the Elder Scrolls and Fallout series were great (especially the Obsidian-outsourced Fallout: New Vegas), but their publishing arm was falling flat on its face with failures like Rogue Warrior, Brink, Hunted and Rage. The latter was most disappointing as it was a long awaited project from the well-established id Software. But over the last few years, my opinion of them has really changed. Seems like things started to turn around with Dishonored, and since then they’ve released the The Evil Within and Wolfenstein: The New Order, both of which have been far better received than their earlier output. With such output, I guess it only makes sense that they plan to have their own big announcement show at E3 this year. I hope we’ll see some hints that they plan to continue the Wolfenstein series after the spectacular entry last year, but if not, at least they’ve released some new add-on content for the previous game.
Wolfenstein: The Old Blood is the new standalone expansion content for The New Order, a game that was amongst my bright spots of last year. Seemingly, Machine Games originally intended to release two DLC add-ons for The New Order but instead have ultimately combined the two add-on packs into a standalone game available on digital storefronts for $20. Honestly, it’s a move that makes sense. In a game like New Vegas, it makes sense that the add-on content isn’t standalone, because it requires you to have a preexisting character from the main game. For The Old Blood, nothing carries over from New Order’s campaign, and, consequently, there’s really no reason to exclude anyone who hasn’t played the original campaign. Of course, I recommend playing The New Order first if you haven’t already. Even though it’s a more expensive game, the additional price is worth it if you like non-open world, heavily story-driven action games.
The Old Blood is a prequel to The New Order detailing B.J.’s mission to Castle Wolfenstein (here called Wolfenstein Keep) to collect intel that will precipitate the assault on Deathshead’s fortress that kicks off at the start of The New Order. The Old Blood’s campaign is somewhat curious as it actually seems to finally break the tortuous Wolfenstein timeline. The New Order ostensibly takes place in the same timeline as Wolf3D, with Robo-Hitler dead after B.J.’s assault on the original Castle Wolfenstein, and the mad scientist Deathshead left in control of the fascist forces of Germany. However, The Old Blood seems to imply that this is B.J.’s first incursion into the titular fortress, and considering that the end of The Old Blood sets up the beginning of The New Order, the original game thus seems to have been taken out of the currently existing timeline (as well as all other pre-Bethesda Wolfenstein games). I’m not sure how I feel about this. Considering that Castle Wolfenstein is the series namesake, I would expect B.J.’s mission there to be a little more epic than what is appears in this installment.
The New Order was a heavily story-driven experience, a product of Machine Games whose members can boast such titles as The Darkness and Assault on Butcher Bay as part of their CVs. If you’ve heard anything about The Old Blood, then it’s probably that narrative takes a big backseat in this new content. The story is a throwback to Return to Castle Wolfenstein, focusing more on the Nazi’s experimentations with the occult than the retro-futuristic sci-fi bent of The New Order. It’s incredibly noticeable that The Old Blood was originally intended as two DLC packs, as you can easily tell where the game was split down the middle. The first four chapters feature B.J. escaping from Wolfenstein Keep and facing off against the iron-willed Rudi Jager, while the second set of chapters noticeably translocates the action to a Nazi archaeological dig led by the obsessed Helga Von Schabbs. I think the villains are definitely memorable in their depravity, and there are a few interesting characters you get to meet along the way, but in general, the story of The Old Blood is a very straightforward mission of elude the bad guys and steal the intel you seek. The heartfelt characters, the desperation of their struggle, and the glory of their victories and brutalities of their defeats gave The New Order a beautifully compelling story, especially so when you considered that it was found within such a bombastic action game. Those story elements are lightly touched on again here, but if you found the primary draw of The New Order to be its (relatively) complex and sympathetic narrative, then The Old Blood is probably not going to be for you.
It’s a good thing that the action gameplay is still good! Like it’s predecessor, The Old Blood is just a very good, fluid shooter. As I mentioned in my review of the previous game, while aim-down-sights is an option, it’s hardly necessary in this game. It has the sensibility of a traditional PC game with fast but functional shooting while still maintaining a focus on mobility. Cover is a big part of the game, but instead of docking to a surface as in most modern shooters, it gives you the ability to lean in any direction (even up), so you can shoot from behind obstacles. Leaning feels very natural and doesn’t work to slow down the action as the sticky cover systems of most shooters do.
The enemy variety is okay, nothing particularly great. The two main enemies you fight are your standard Nazi with a machine gun and a variant of heavily armored shotgunner. The shotgunners are not easy to kill head on, but if you take time to aim for their explosive backpacks, you can take them and a few surrounding enemies out in one hit. This interestingly lead me to using the sniper rifle a lot (and in relatively close quarters). In addition to these two main enemy types, there’s also some super soldiers, snipers, drones and a few novel one-off enemies sprinkled in. Some might consider this a spoiler, but considering the occult subject matter it’s not hard to predict that there are Nazi zombies thrown in the late game as well. This makes for a few interesting three-way battles, but I don’t think it’s an idea that’s used as well as it could have been.
Finally, just like in it’s predecessor, stealth is a major component of the game, but it’s entirely optional. When B.J. enters an area, the enemies are often unaware of his presence, giving him the opportunity to pick them off from the shadows, either by getting a takedown from directly behind or by using the silenced pistol to deliver headshots. Other than one section early in the game, stealth isn’t necessary. If you want to go in guns blazing, then it’s still entirely possible to progress via that route. As before, most areas are patrolled by “officer” enemies whose positions are revealed on the HUD. If these officer enemies are aware of B.J.’s presence, they’ll radio in continuous reinforcements until they’re eliminated. This provides the primary incentive for the stealth approach, as killing the officers stealthily avoids having to deal with respawning waves of enemies, but the respawning enemies aren’t so numerous that it’s not possible to make a direct assault at the officers to cut them off.
For me personally, I just like to play it via stealth. I’ve always enjoyed games that allow me to play as a predator hiding in the shadows, the aggressive type of stealth seen in The Last of Us and Splinter Cell: Conviction as opposed to the ghost-like stealth of, say, traditional Splinter Cell which rewards being completely unseen and unheard. I snuck through most sections at least until I took down the officers. One thing though, once B.J. is spotted, he’s spotted, and every enemy in the area becomes aware of his exact position at all times. There’s no way to hide because they just know where you are, kind of like the stealth in the latest Tomb Raider. I’m not sure if this is because the developers didn’t want to have to create additional AI behavior for the enemies, or if they just didn’t want the hide-and-seek seen in most stealth games to slow down the flow of the game.
As a side note, I’ve heard and read a lot of people get discouraged with one of the earliest sections of the game. Very early on in the game, there is a 30 minute or so stretch where B.J. only has access to a broken pipe for a weapon. The ensuing section is stealth-heavy, and B.J. must sneak past a series of super soldiers tethered to power-rails because he’s not capable of taking them on directly with just the pipe. The super soldiers can be shut down temporarily using timed switches that kill electricity to the rails that the super soldiers get power from. A lot of people seem to be having trouble with this section, but I found it to be very light. A few tips I can think to give people is that once the super soldiers are shut down, they can be permanently destroyed by coming up behind them and using the pipe to tear off the power tether. Also, their guns can be picked up and used on other super soldiers (although movement is greatly encumbered when carrying this weapon). If you aim just above the super soldiers’ heads, you can destroy the tether permanently deactivating them that way. When they are destroyed, they drop lots of armor to collect. And if everything else fails, you can also run away from the super soldiers since they’re confined to their rails. They’ll eventually forget about you since they have short memories (the only enemy in the game that does).
In short, I really enjoyed my time with The Old Blood. It doesn’t reach the same highs as its predecessor, especially in story, and I wouldn’t recommend this game to someone mostly into Wolfenstein for Machine Games’ storytelling prowess. But the action design is still there, even if it isn’t particularly advanced over the predecessor. If you think of The Old Blood as a DLC add-on pack, it’s easier to appreciate the game, I think. After all, it seems to me like it’s so rare for DLC packs to really offer up anything substantial to a game. I finished the game after 6-7 hours (or so Steam tells me), and I definitely think I was satisfied with what was there. I recommend the game, but not highly so. If you’re on the fence, maybe just wait for a Steam sale. It’s worth playing, but not worth wasting money on if you’re unsure.
Review: Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein has always kind of been the less popular big brother to Doom. Whereas Doom has a deep permeation in the public conscious, the Wolfenstein brand is not really known much beyond committed gamers. Strange enough though and with a total of six mainline titles, Wolfenstein has seen more releases than it’s overshadowing successor series, and while development of Doom 4 drags on at a sluggish pace, Machine Games has managed to deliver another incredibly worthy Wolfenstein entry with The New Order.
The setup for The New Order has us once again returning to the boots of American one-man army B.J. Blaskowicz. After successfully killing off robot Hitler way back in the original Wolf3D, the Allies now face an even greater threat in his replacement, the viciously genius Wilhelm Strasse, better known as Deathshead. Although most of the previous games have focused on Deathshead’s experiments with the occult, The New Order instead shows his more scientific side. Having outfitted his evil empire with powerful new scifi weapons, cyborgs, mutants, and really big robots, the Allies are quickly finding themselves outgunned. Their hope of victory rests in one last all-out assault on Deathshead’s compound, which forms the first chapter of the game. Long-story short, B.J. and his comrades fail, resulting in Deathshead’s successful global conquest. After a timeskip to 1960, B.J. gets back in the action, rejoining with the Kreisau Circle to finally bring down the seemingly insurmountable hold the fascist empire has on the world.
From what I’ve read, Machine Games appears to be composed of a lot of ex-Starbreeze talent, who’s most popularly known for their Riddick titles and the first The Darkness game, both series which have been lauded by fans. If you’ve played either of these series, you know that Starbreeze places a large amount of focus on storytelling, not just using cutscenes but also in-game sequences that are controlled by the player. Put another way, they do not make very “shootery” shooters. Large portions of those games involve the player doing activities other than taking down everyone in sight. The New Order follows in a similar vein. Composed of 16 chapters, there are more than a few levels which actually involve very little action.
At first this seems like a strange fit for Wolfenstein to me. When I think of this series, I think of an oldschool, nonstop run-and-gun, and, although Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein have incorporated a bit of story in them, they have primarily been action-focused affairs. Of the game’s 16 chapters, ~4 of them have you exclusively (or almost exclusively) interacting with your fellow resistance members back at the base, doing various tasks for them. I found these chapters to be rather plodding, but ultimately necessary as the characterization they gave to the resistance is important in the game’s final few chapters. Often games start off really well but fall apart during the ending. This game definitely does not have that problem, and while the story elements feel a little overbearing in certain parts of the game, it all comes together in the final few chapters to create an amazing finale. Otherwise, perhaps my only big problem is that a fair few of the action-focused chapters are kind of short. In these chapters there’s maybe only 3-4 firefights total in the level, although they are really big firefights.
I’m not the world’s greatest game reviewer, so I’m going to be blunt and list all my pros and cons here:
*The game requires you to use a fair bit of cover, but not through a system where you dock to surfaces. Instead, you hold a button (L1 on controllers) which makes you lean in the direction you push the left analog stick. Yes, that’s right, leaning is back. Actually, this is probably a better way of making a cover-based shooter than a system where you magnetize to a chest high wall. It’s better for level design, since the levels aren’t simply open areas littered with the aforementioned chest high walls. Also, it doesn’t really slow down the run and gun side of the game, since you can more fluidly switch between charging down enemies and peeking out from behind cover.
*Speaking of the run and gun side of the game, aiming is very tight, even when using a controller. I rarely had to rely on aim-down-sights, which makes for much faster paced gameplay.
*I don’t want to spoil much, but I’ll just say that the levels are very varied in style and design. You get into some interesting places.
*The villains are truly deplorable. As you would expect of gloating Nazis, these people are remorseless, pitiless, cruel, vain, conceited, and hateful. You will hate these guys and everything they stand for, and victory will be all the more sweater.
*As I mentioned before, the story comes together for a great ending.
*There are a few areas where B.J. is armed only with a knife, and he must methodically sneak through an area and dispatch guards. This is somewhat true to the original Wolfenstein, which, unlike Doom, the enemies did not know B.J. was nearby unless they caught sight of him. If you were out of ammo, then you would have to rely more on sneaking up to enemies with the knife to take them out. The problem in this game is that the stealth really doesn’t have much tension. In the sneaking areas, the guards are usually only armed with knives themselves, meaning if you’re caught, the guards will slowly approach you and engage in a very simple knife fight. Considering their previous work and how significant these sections are in the game, you would think Machine Games could have implemented a more sophisticated and satisfying stealth system.
*In the first chapter of the game, B.J. is forced to make a choice that will affect the story for the rest of the game. This creates two “timelines” which can be seen in the chapter select screen. The story and levels play out differently between timelines, but my impression is that the differences are not very significant. It does create an appeal to replay the game, however.
*The game leaves a very clear loose thread hanging which would likely factor into the setup for a possible sequel.
*This is a “cross-gen” game and I only played the PS3 game. There are a few technical weaknesses in this version. Load times, which occur each time you die, routinely take ~25 seconds, so if you find yourself in a difficult firefight, you may be spending far too much time at the loading screen. Another issue I had was some really severe texture pop-in, although most of this only occurred back at the resistance base. Finally, in some of areas it can be difficult to spot far away enemies, which may be a symptom of the low native resolution. Again, I only played the PS3 version, and running the game on a competent PC or a next-gen console may mitigate these issues.
*As I mentioned before, more than a few of the chapters felt a little brief with only a handful of firefights. I associate Wolfenstein with being a little more bombastic, and more extensive action sequences would have been more appreciated.
*Some of the character models have really weird eyes. Most of them are fine, but some, including B.J., have the beady-eyed look to them.
In the end, I really enjoyed my time with the The New Order, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys these blockbuster cinematic single-player action games.