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PAX East: Wolfenstein: The New Order Isn’t All That New

Wolfenstein The New Order
Machine Games

Though its considered one of the forefathers of the genre, there haven’t been many Wolfenstein releases over the past decade. Last seen in 2009, the series has been lying in wait while dozens upon dozens of games it inspired have shot to the top of sales and online play charts. Now in 2014, Machine Games has taken up the reins on the dormant franchise, hoping to inject some much needed life into the stagnant series. Wolfenstein: The New Order is definitely a bright and shiny new package, but it very much feels like more of the same.

There’s been a lot of build-up for the return of the classic title, but once I got my hands on Wolfenstein at PAX East, I was more than a little disappointed. The early footage has looked rather impressive, and to be fair, visually this new incarnation does deliver. Despite not getting to see any of the time-twisted ’60s where a great deal of Wolfenstein’s story will take place, there’s no denying just how sharp everything looks. The demo at PAX had us forging down a shell-shocked beach with fortified machine gun bunkers keeping us at bay from the trenches. Remember every single World War II game after ‘Saving Private Ryan’ came out? Yeah, it’s a lot like that.

Once I managed to get through the initial Nazi defenses, there were more black leather-clad soldiers lurking about. There are also some robotically augmented watch dogs looking to rip your throat out the first chance they get. So far, it’s fairly typical Wolfenstein stuff. Nothing unexpected has happened, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just not exciting. Just a few shootouts into The New Order, and everything feels very status quo for the franchise. Machine Games is doing a nice job bringing the presentation and world of Wolfenstein to life, but to this point, we should be expecting more than just merely modernizing an existing model.

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First-person shooters have evolved leaps and bounds beyond Wolfenstein’s earliest days, but the mechanics feel very archaic. Health must be picked up, and it’s all in different sizes. Ammunition is accumulated from dead bodies. Enemy intelligence is still subpar. Not every FPS needs to have regenerating health or massive stockpiles of ammo clearly marked. But for a game touting a new order, it feels an awful lot like the same old order. There are going to be plenty of longtime fans happy to see Wolfenstein sticking to its origins. There are also going to be more than a few players wondering why this game is so stuck in the past.

Improved presentation will only get you so far, and though we didn’t get to experience any of the real narrative at play, just a glimpse into this alternate timeline where the Nazis won the war would have drummed up some more interest. Instead, we visited a time other FPS franchises abandoned long ago because there was no new ground left to tread. Apparently Machine Games agrees with that idea somewhat, as it’s placing some of The New Order during a fictional 1960s instead of just during World War II. I bet that would have been cool to see.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is due out on the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC on May 20.

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