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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #38—Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. This week we look at a different perspective of war than last week’s title—one set in an alternate outcome to the Second World War…

Wolfenstein The New Order gameplay art

#39. WOLFENSTEIN: THE NEW ORDER, by Rhain Radford-Burns

“In my dream I smell the barbecue. I hear children. A dog. And I see someone. I think I see someone. These things… None of it for me. I move by roaring engines. Among warriors. We come from the night.”

After over thirty years of mindlessly running down corridors and shooting Nazis, war hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz was due for a change. Even in his 3D and HD iterations, Blazkowicz lacked personality: his blocky head and simple persona maintained an anti-hero attitude and, as Bethesda’s Pete Hines described, “He’s just the guy that you play.” MachineGames set out to rectify this with Wolfenstein: The New Order.

From the game’s first cutscene, the depth of Blazkowicz’s character becomes evident. This is not a man who kills for sport, as is so common in World War II-themed video games; this is a man fighting against the injustice of the Nazi regime so that he can live in a world without the terrors of war or the fear of conflict. The game’s prologue forces this fear onto Blazkowicz in the most brutal manner, one that the player themselves will struggle to come to terms with: choose which of your two allies should die.

“Inhale. Count to four. Exhale. Count to four.”

Before long, the player’s expectations are flipped on their head as they discover that Wolfenstein: The New Order is not a World War II game. Blazkowicz barely escapes death and falls into a deep coma for fourteen years. He awakens properly in a psychiatric asylum in 1960 to discover that the Resistance has been disbanded, the Allied forces surrendered their arms, and the Nazi regime has won the war.

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With the help of the asylum’s head nurse Anya Oliwa, Blazkowicz tracks down the remaining members of the Resistance movement in Berlin, living in their base alongside Anya for some time. The Resistance members are characters from all walks of life, demonstrating the widespread impact that the Nazi victory had.

Among the Resistance is: Fergus Reid, a skilled pilot and Blazkowicz’s right-hand man who eases the situation through his use of comedy; Probst Wyatt III, a young private haunted by the death of his senior but risen as a true leader among the group; Caroline Becker, an older woman left paralysed by a previous encounter with the Nazis, who rallies the team to victory; Set Roth, a former member of the Da’at Yichud, a secret society who performed advanced scientific research; Klaus Kreutz, a former Nazi whose family was killed by the Gestapo; and Max Hass, a mentally handicapped pacifist and Klaus’s surrogate son.

“It’s agony, to dream like this. Wake up to reality. But sometimes… truly… it’s good to remember what you’re fighting for.”

Throughout the narrative, the player discovers more of Blazkowicz’s personality by listening to his inner monologue. Reflecting on the past and hoping for the future, Blazkowicz’s speeches—expertly voiced by the talented Brian Bloom—provide a deep insight into the mind of a man at war with his actions. Each conversation is well-written, adding depth to the characters in the game—both in the Resistance and out.

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Even the game’s main antagonist—General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse—has some depth. Despite having the most generic nickname imaginable, he is far from generic in personality and demonstrates the brutality of the Nazi regime in his very first scene. Deathshead makes the player’s blood boil every time he speaks, and MachineGames could not have selected a better villain for the game.

The enemies that the player faces the most throughout the game—the hordes of Nazi soldiers—present a perfect challenge for the player, providing enough conflict and interest to keep the player engaged throughout each level. The gameplay itself also continues to keep the player entertained, with several traversal and puzzle segments interspersed between the heavy combat scenes.

Wolfenstein The New Order gameplay screenshot 3

 “Strange sensation, trapped in my body. I black out, I’m losing time. Sometimes seasons change in the blink of an eye. I’m having trouble with my thoughts. They dissipate like a scent on the wind.”

Each cutscene in the game plays like a movie. Not only does each actor perform brilliantly in each scene, but the scenes themselves are expertly crafted, with cuts and transitions reminiscent of a high-budget film. The developers appear to have researched effective filmic techniques when constructing this game, and that is evident from each scene. Check out one of the best, from early in the game:

Similarly, the game’s soundtrack is something to marvel. Composed by the talented Australian musician Mick Gordon—also known for his work on Doom and Prey—the game’s original score is a perfect mix of slow, reflective tunes and heavy, distorted themes. Most impressive, however, are the songs created for the game’s marketing campaign: ten fictional German pop artists creating Nazi-focused music in the 1960s. Among these ten tracks were three covers rewritten in German—“Boom Boom” by John Lee Hooker, “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals, and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas—which remains one of the smartest and most impressive marketing techniques for a game to date.

Wolfenstein The New Order gameplay screenshot 1

Wolfenstein: The New Order is not a perfect game, but it does not set out to be one. MachineGames effectively achieved its goal of humanising B.J. Blazkowicz and creating an interesting and thoughtful narrative with deep thematic undertones. The New Order demonstrated that first-person shooters do not have to be mindless, and can possess the ability to keep players heavily engaged and entertained until the very end.

“A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name: Mother of Exiles. With silent lips: ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me.’”

Wolfenstein_ The New Order gameplay screenshot

Thanks for joining us again with this innovative and interesting entry in our 50 favourite games list. Next week’s game is a step in a very different direction: a title known for its sunshine… For the latest from the world of single-player gaming, be sure to bookmark OnlySP.com, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join our community Discord server.

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OnlySP 50 Favorite Games

OnlySP’s Favorite Games #34—Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us

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OnlySP Favorite Games 34 - The Wolf Among Us

Thanks to the staff of OnlySP, I am inviting you to come on a journey through our 50 favourite games. The game this week is another Telltale series (The Walking Dead is at #19) that continued to push the envelope for adventure games.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 1

#24. TELLTALE’S THE WOLF AMONG US, by Sep Gohardani

In 2012, a video game adaptation of the popular comic book and television Show The Walking Dead catapulted Telltale Games from niche studio obscurity into the limelight. The company’s model of securing the rights to popular IPs and moulding them to its adventure game format resulted in other acclaimed titles like Guardians of the Galaxy and Batman that sought to twist the common formula and offer something different in those massive franchises.

In amidst the rising tide of their reputation, the company took a chance on something that was not quite as big or as popular, opting to give the Telltale treatment to Bill Willingham’s long-running comic book series Fables. What ensued was a wonderful twist on the tale that quite possibly makes The Wolf Among Us Telltale’s greatest achievement amidst a plethora of other very creative work.

The game is set in a world where fairytales are real, but not in the way one might expect. Instead of a magical far off land, the game is set in Manhattan (though maybe that is Manhattan for some), in a specially created enclave called Fabletown. This small settlement is where a plethora of characters from famous fairy tales and myths have been living after having fled the Homelands, which is now ruled by a mysterious, dark Adversary whose draconian regime became too difficult to bear.

The Wolf Among Us gameplay screenshot 2

Those who escaped have managed to assimilate in to America without much trouble due to cloaking magic, while any non-human ‘fables’ must use an enchantment known as a ‘glamour’ to maintain a human appearance and not arouse suspicion, or be taken off site to The Farm, a refuge that those who cannot change their appearance go to.

Bigby Wolf (formerly known as the Big Bad Wolf) is the Sheriff of Fabletown in the year 1986. He is charged with maintaining order, but Fabletown is not too eventful of a place. Soon, however, trouble is brewing and a simple trip out to help someone get home starts to unravel to reveal something dark and insidious in this last refuge of the great Fables.

This is a game that nails its tone. As soon the opening titles appear, Jared Emerson-Johnson’s brilliant score, and the moody, purple lettering of the title make clear that the game was going to be drenched in noirish atmosphere. The art style welcomes this theme: it is vivid and evocative, but never overstated, providing a rich setting for the characters and embodying both the darkness of their situation and their new gritty reality.

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The player takes control of Bigby and is tasked with figuring out why things are getting increasingly out of hand when no one can afford them to, meaning lots of detective work. Bigby himself is fascinating. He is the gruff, sardonic, chain-smoking main character one might expect from a game like this, but he has nuance under that exterior. He is moulded by the decisions the player makes. The extent of the choices available mean that the way Bigby interacts with those around him dictates what the most important aspects of his personality will be, whether that is compassion, dedication, or a thirst for blood. Adam Harrington is brilliant in the role, and was well deserving of his BAFTA nomination, his main triumph being the subtlety in his line delivery and the way he makes each version of Bigby feel a bit different.

As everything unravels, Bigby slowly finds himself having more and more dots to put together as each environment contains clues and answers that are pivotal to figuring out how to stop those at the heart of the problem. This example demonstrates how immaculately written the game is that each of these moments feels gripping, from the very beginning of the first episodethrough to the end. The way the mystery is built up, with all the twists and turns along the way, makes for a thrill-ride worthy of any famous detective.

But not just the mechanics of the plot make the game Telltale’s greatest output. The characterisation of each and every one of the prominent characters is fantastic. Each citizen of Fabletown feels unique, with their own issues and opinions and sometimes even skeletons in the closet that Bigby has to deal with, and those character moments indelibly affect the way the game plays out and what sort of person Bigby wants to be. Notably characters like Snow White, who here is pragmatic and adamant that the rules in place keep the Fables safe, do end up having an impact on Bigby and his decision making, while others, like Colin the Pig, can help to show a different side to him, presenting him with many dilemmas along the way.

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In this way, The Wolf Among Us becomes more than just a simple detective story. The game becomes a rich, intricate world full of complex interpersonal relationships that is barely managing to hold together and is straining even more while the mystery is solved and the threat is increased. These relationships become central to the game’s moral dilemmas, and in true Telltale style these are difficult decisions to make because the characters feel important, their perspectives understandable, their circumstances challenging. Bigby’s journey through these problems shapes him and those around him, ultimately deciding the future fate of Fabletown and potentially bringing him eerily close to the villain of the piece.

In a certain way, one can easily guess the kind of experience Telltale will provide for them in gameplay terms. The gameplay is fairly standard, and quick-time events make up a large part of the gameplay in moments of action or urgency, while exploration and discovery are encouraged in the detective work. The gameplay can at times be frustrating, but it is ultimately a mechanism to further the story and allow the player to shape Bigby in their image, according to how they would try to solve the problem.

Despite some frustration with the aforementioned quick time events, The Wolf Among Us is the adventure genre at its best. The perfect mix of characterisation, intense action, and world building works well in tandem with Telltale’s tried and tested gameplay and art style, the latter of which here is perfect. Emerson-Johnson’s score is always evocative and adds more texture to that innate feeling of immersion that the game provides. That the game will now no longer be getting a sequel due to the studio’s closure is a giant shame, but at least this example of video game storytelling at its best was made to show how it is done.

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Do you have a favourite adventure game that did great work in story, but perhaps never had a fair shake? Maybe you could recommend the game for other players—why not join in the discussion below? Next week’s game also did great work with game narratives, though it is very much not an adventure game. In the meantime, you can follow OnlySP on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, and join in with the OnlySP Discord.

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