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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wolfenstein The New Order Review

Taking a break on the Captain Zero development blog to review Wolfenstein the New Order.

Couple of thoughts:  This installment is a little more disturbing than the last.  

It takes place in an alternate past where the Third Reich got hold of an atom bomb first, and won the second world war.  By 1960, they already had laser guns, desktop PCs, a large populated moon base with regular civilian transports to and from, near terminator-like AI surpassing our current 2014 technology --and with the exception of the resistance that you, the hero, are part of -- a world of relative peace and harmony for most citizens --unless you happen to be in any way unhealthy or of some "non-pure" race.   

You might almost ask why are you resisting exactly?    It bothered me at first that this may have been an underlying message of the game.  Maybe there’s a substantial payoff for absolute evil --in the form of amazingly cool stuff! Yeah sure they’re horrible, but they’ve got a friggin’ moon base and cool as s#%$ robots!   Or as Blaskowitz himself says, perhaps echoing The Evolution Control Comittee’s song,  “I’m on the Mother F#$%in’ Moon.”  Yes I got that reference.

In real life, it was a peaceful Polish Jew who came up with the math and science that lead to the Atom Bomb, and it was the cultural and ethnic melting-pot of the US, not the purity and “efficiency” of the “master race” that got to the mother #%% moon.  Not to mention a gentle soft-spoken and by all accounts highly empathetic British homosexual who cracked their Enigma Code.  

Not only did the Third Reich’s war machine lose the war, but as most clearly illustrated by the 1936 summer Olympics, their ideology lost as well --and it lost badly.  So this world in which they won comes off as an alternate history where their cruel bigoted and dogmatic culture won too.  

This brings back the moral dilemma of ends justifying means, like hearing that great medical advances were bought at the price of their human experimentation --though I’m not sure even how true that is-- just something we all heard growing up.  Or the famous George Bush quote, “The thing about dictatorships is they are very efficient.”  I think there’s a tendency to over-play the “benefits” of evil and underplay its costs.

The game story-line mitigates this in two ways.  First: boy are they evil.  For all their fun toys, the casual executions of the helpless patients in the asylum and the Aushwitz-like grotesqueries of the “labor camp” level obliterate any fictional admiration one might have for their fictional accomplishments. The labor camp is especially graphic albeit sanitized by the shiny layer of disbelief a video game brings. After all any amount of torture and disfigurement can be erased with a health pack --as opposed to decades of healing and therapy.

As it turns out, all these accomplishments are built  literally on concrete that’s being eaten by a special type of mold.  Symbol (blink blink blink) Symbol… that’s symbolic… The edifices of evil however grand eventually turn on themselves and crumble...eaten from the inside by their own… anyhow you get the idea…  

Yet in the game, this seems to go nowhere.  I kept waiting for a call-back to this getting worked into the story line but nope.  Maybe I didn’t look around hard enough.  Still I wanted to see the evil empire eat itlself from the inside out --instead nothing… what was the point of the moldy cement at all?  Must be something I haven’t unlocked.  Seems like they missed the deep storyline boat on this one.  It’s just the pretext for one side-mission and never really gets mentioned again.

Second, as the game progresses, it turns out  that their amazing technology was largely stolen from some precursor or aliens or whatever. Neet! But again not expanded on at all really.  Seems like this game almost does a lot, but never quite gets there.

ABOUT THE SEX SCENES (boom chucka wucka..)

Yes there are sex scenes.  Though only containing what a ratings board might call “partial nudity,” they are graphic and unmistakable.

A common response might be “What was the point of them?”  Seriously they have porn on the internet.  If I want to see people having sex on a screen, it’s only a couple of clicks away. (Ahem) or so I’m told.

I remember getting in this argument with my dad.  He was saying about movies, “Why do they have to show it? In older films, they just went into a bedroom or it was the next day and you knew what happened…. they didn’t need to show it…”

Of course I had to challenge this in my best snarky smart-ass teenage voice… “Ok but then why show a car chase?  Just show them getting into a car and then later have them explain the bad guys got away… We can work out basically what happened…They don’t need to show it. For that matter, why show ANY of the movie?  Just have the heroes walk into a room and say ‘Boy that was some adventure!’  then run credits! The End!  Wow, dad, you could save movie producers a ton of money!”

There was a time in the 80s for a while when movie producers figured out that adults didn’t want to go see a movie unless it had an R rating.  So they would somewhere in the movie flash some obligatory tits at the camera literally out of nowhere to get the R.  

Sigh.  The good old days.

But that’s not what’s happening here.  Consider the movie, The Terminator.

The sex scene in The Terminator was graphic enough to get an R rating all by itself… and absolutely necessary.  If it wasn’t there, Sarah Connor saying “...we loved a lifetime’s worth” later on would have been meaningless.  We needed to experience it on some level beyond the referential.  The iconic image of their hands in an orgasmic death grip at the end of it will stay with me forever.  If they would have just “went in a room and came out later” and she said, “we loved a lifetime’s worth.” my response would have been “You did? Wait, when?”  

The times Blaskowitz and his love interest “do it” are a bit clumsy and give away the salient fact that game cut-scenes are still way behind cinema no matter how much money they pour into the title.  With a couple of cringes and a shudder, they are, thank goodness, forgettable.  Whoever created them needed to watch less Machinema Porn and go back and watch Enemy at the Gates for how to have the hero viscerally connect with a love interest.   

Like with most of the game what they attempted was way too much more than what they accomplished.   Like the wheel-chair bound character gets this amazing Iron Man like suit and it just shows up for a couple of seconds here and there in the cut-scenes --and then as an obvious deis ex machena.… nothing more about it really.  

I was waiting for ME to get the suit.. but no, doesn't happen.  It’s like the game almost delivers so much… then yanks it back, and says, “Ha ha!”

Where are the Zombies?  Where’s the Supernatural?

I respect their choice to go away from the supernatural in this installment, but I don’t necessarily like it.  Where are the zombies?  It’s not Wolfenstein without friggin undead!  In Return to Castle Wolfenstein, those were the scariest zombies I had ever seen.  The parallel “spirit world” in Wolfenstein (3), was pretty cool.  

Here they in a way took the high road and abandoned a trope that was well taken over by COD’s Nazi Zombie series.  While I gotta give them props for that, I do miss the zombies.  On the other hand --scary robot dogs right out of a dark Jetsons cartoon!

The Ending (Spoiler Alert)

At the end, you have a defeated Death’s Head in one hand and a big knife in the other.  At this point, you’re pretty mad at him and probably want to stab him, but I didn’t want to.  I wanted to be better than him or at least see what happens if I don’t stab him.  

Turns out you can’t --any button you push will stab him.  You have no free will in the matter, so why bother making it a playable event at all?   Really it’s just a cut scene paused at a moment before you stab him, and you have to press A or the trigger to make it continue.  

What’s really funny though is you can stay there forever and never stab him --you can’t drop him; you can’t move.  Stab him or sit there are your only options.  His expressions are priceless as the moment gets more and more awkwardly, comically long.   Once in a while he says “Coward” and briefly laughs maniacally and coughs.  I wanted to see how long he’d keep doing that if you don’t stab him and apparently it’s forever.  Try it… it’s ridiculous.

Somewhere there’s a series of Youtube mash-up jokes that can be done with this.  I humbly suggest,  Deaths Head Karaoke.

“...get your motor running… head out on ze highway…Born to be viiiled”

Like many bad criticisms, I’m judging this game more against what it could be, than against other games, or what it is.  Even though it doesn’t go as far as in my opinion its potential, it goes really far.  The gameplay is amazing.   Some of the levels are the most challenging I’ve ever played in a single player FPS campaign.  Challenging in a good way, not in a “they’re cheating” way. Also a lot of what I'm saying is missing might be part of extended content that you unlock during re-plays. I only played through once on "Normal" and unlocked hardly anything.

But as a very wise woman once said, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"

In spite of where it may come up short, can’t help but be a really good game, and if you’re a fan of the franchise, you’re probably gonna buy it anyway.  I sure did.

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