New Wolfenstein is an Uneasy Mix of Romance and Nazis
Flowers for Blazkowicz.
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Some things change, and some things stay the same. Legendary slayer of Nazis B.J. Blazkowicz is back for another red-blooded adventure in Wolfenstein: The New Order. However, this time out, the world of Wolfenstein is a little darker, a little grittier. Just look at the trailer below, and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's violent, that much is certain, but it's not the same sort of B-movie violence we've come to expect. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and play through the first three hours of this first-person shooter and see for myself how this game compares to Wolfenstein's predecessors.
Let's start with the good stuff: the guns. Wolfenstein is a blood-soaked series built on solid gunplay, and the firearms in The New Order instilled a classic arcade shooter vibe. The weapons all packed an exaggerated sense of force behind each bullet, aided by the fact that Blazkowicz could dual-wield damn near anything. Every Nazi caught in my crosshairs was quickly blown to bits, with spurts of blood flying everywhere. However, what stood out most about the gunplay was the sound. The guns were loud--really loud--a sentiment Chris Watters echoed in his extensive preview of the game. Unloading with two machine guns created a sharp, deafening racket followed by a heavy silence when the fighting was over. Speeding through one firefight after the next was exhausting, but in a way that helped sell The New Order's visceral, ultraviolent tone.
Sadly, in my three hours with the game, I didn't find anything as interesting as the previous Wolfenstein's tesla gun or particle cannon--just lots of pistols and machine guns. In fact, The New Order felt a lot more grounded overall than the previous Wolfenstein, which had an emphasis on occult science and supernatural powers. The New Order's outlandishness starts and ends with robots: robot dogs, giant robot dogs, giant dudes in robot suits, and more. They were still a bit outrageous, sure, but the game at least tries to keep things within the realm of possibility.
One thing that was way out of the realm of possibility, however, was the romantic relationship between B.J. Blazkowicz and love interest Anya Oliwa. Yes, this Wolfenstein game has a love story. Developer MachineGames has accepted a tremendous challenge by injecting the historically campy, satirical world of Wolfenstein with a bit more emotional maturity. Blazkowicz is no longer a cocksure, invincible supersoldier. He is a weathered veteran, nostalgic for the peaceful suburban life he never had. "In my dreams, I smell the barbecue," he mused in the game's opening, accompanied by the images of a family gathered around the grill.
It's an interesting approach, but also introduced some problems when the game took itself too seriously. Early on in my playthrough, I was ambushed by a robotic dog. Before I had time to panic, one of my teammates enticed the robo-dog to play fetch with a stick grenade. The dog caught the stick, and then its head exploded. It was pretty funny. Not long after that happened, I was ambushed a second time and taken hostage along with my team. What followed was a harrowing scene in which I had to choose one of my squadmates to be tortured and killed. It was pretty gruesome. When faced with an evil that can be defeated by playing fetch with a dog, but that can also inflict tremendous suffering, I'm not sure how to feel. Any humor felt tainted by the violence, while the violence felt undercut by the humor. Throw the romance subplot into the mix, and I had a hard time getting invested in this nightmare vision of the future.
Romance and humor can coexist with pain and suffering, of course. In Metal Gear Solid 3, Naked Snake gets tortured in one scene, and jokes with Signit over the radio in the next--and it all makes a certain amount of sense. That balance felt out of whack in The New Order based on what I played. The humor was too slapstick to be paired with such intense violence. However, all this could change when I play the final release and am able to see the story through to its conclusion. Emotional nonsense aside, I still had a blast wielding the destructive arsenal of Wolfenstein: The New Order. The game was at its best when it was loud and in my face. I just hope the softer, more sensitive moments are handled as deftly.