The Wolfenstein games, like some other long-running franchises, have managed to stay relevant despite the passage of time. Although 2009’s rather uninspiringly-named Wolfenstein did little to make waves, it was nonetheless a solid shooter experience which endeared fans and reminded us that, along with zombies and aliens, having twisted Nazis as enemies never gets old. With this in mind, it was no surprise that we all got a bit excited [And with that, we officially have the understatement of the millennium – Ed.] to see a new Wolf game was in the works, and now we finally have our latest Reich-crushing fix in the form of Wolfenstein: The New Order.
TWO WRONGS MAKE A REICH
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: 360 / PC / PS3 / PS4 / XBO
The game stars you as the square-jawed US soldier B.J. Blazkowicz, who is a certifiable 1940s Rambo and bane of the Nazi war machine. However, things aren’t looking too hot for our dear B.J. nor the Allies in general: it seems the war has taken a turn for the worse as the Reich has surprised everybody with all manner of superior, out-of-place technology. A desperate raid on Deathhead’s (the recurring antagonist from previous games) bunker doesn’t go exactly as planned, and B.J. suffers from a critical head wound whilst escaping.
B.J. spends the next 14 years incapacitated in a Polish asylum, until one day he snaps out of it when a German soldier tries to kill him. He discovers that, in the time that he’s been drifting in and out of conciousness, the Nazis ultimately won the war and expanded the Reich into an oppressive global regime. Furious at the prospect of settling down and raising a family in a world run by Hitler, B.J. sets out to locate the last remnants of the resistance and finish what he started more than a decade prior.
While it certainly won’t be winning any Academy Awards, the story is nonetheless engrossing, more so than any prior entry in the series. This Bizzaro, Nazi-controlled version of Earth in the 1960s is superbly realized, complete with anachronistic technology and overflowing with imposing, gargantuan monuments to the might of the Reich. Scattered around are newspaper clippings and other bits of trivia that flesh out the background and explain key points in the game’s history. I implore players to take their time in these sections and read all they can, as it greatly enhances the game’s atmosphere and mood. The performances are top-notch too, as characters fit into the story convincingly and play their parts with grand style. B.J. himself occasionally has internal monologues that muse on the situation at hand, though thankfully they are rare and brief, lest they get too hammy.
THE WOLF AMONG US
Underneath the thematic elements lies a really good shooter. The game thankfully ditches modern, ultra-realistic considerations for a more old-school style; B.J. is not limited to carrying just two or four guns, and can even use two of the same guns at once, such as assault rifles and shotguns. Some of these even have alternate fire modes, which sacrifice firepower for accuracy.
The New Order also lets players choose their combat style: are you a person who likes to head in with guns blazing, or are you a more silent, stealthy type? Both these approaches are possible and encouraged, and the game even has a perks system that rewards players for a particular play type. Best of all, there’s no penalty for screwing up a surprise attack; if you find yourself tripping alarms – an occurrence that is rather frequent – you can just pull out all your guns and get ready for a satisfyingly violent fragfest.
Though the world may be superbly realized, it is all the same standard fare for shooters: searching for secret rooms, finding collectibles scattered haphazardly, occasionally searching for an item, solving the odd lightweight puzzle and traversing narrow corridors filled with ugly creeps. These aren’t just your standard Nazi brownshirts, though; the retro-futuristic setting also throws vile robots and cyborgs at you, some easy and some tough, some inconsequential and others quite disturbing.
Perhaps taking note of players’ disgust at having to shoot dogs in the previous Wolfenstein games, the canines in The New Order are either partially or entirely robotic, the former of which will blindside you often whilst the latter will prove to be nigh-invulnerable and require some extra-sneaky tactics on the player’s part to elude. There’s not much here we haven’t seen before, but it’s so stylish and competently-made that you’ll love it, even if it does get a tad monotonous.
FAST AND FÜHRER-OUS
There are a few aspects that attempt to breathe some new life into the tried-and-tested formula. The first is the inclusion of several choices for the player to make early in the game, not unlike those that were presented in the BioShock trilogy. However, these choices are strictly of the Morton’s Fork variety, having to choose which of your squad members must die and unlocking a timeline based on your decision. Though grim, this prospect opens up different technologies and paths for upgrades, such as lockpicking or hotwiring. This also means that, in order to unlock all the game mechanics and scenarios, multiple playthroughs are not only recommended but mandatory.
Also included is a laser cutter, which not only slices through fences and chains but can also be upgraded into a rather sadistic weapon. It’s a neat touch to cut out human-sized holes in fences in order to pass through some sections, though if you think you’ll find any sort of brain-bending puzzles, you’re in for a disappointment. Pity too, because they missed the opportunity for some really thought-provoking puzzle pieces and the potential to lift the game even further above the “simple shooting” trope.
Wolfenstein: The New Order ends up being a surprisingly worthwhile investment. We were all expecting a decent Wolfenstein game and what we actually got is a very good one. Despite some unrealized potential in some of its mechanics and a lack of variety in later levels, it’s turned out to be an excellent single-player love letter to long-time Wolfenstein aficionados, as well as a superb poster-child for ushering in a new generation of fans for the series. Best of all, I can confirm that the game runs fine even on an i3 and that performance is acceptable even on moderate settings. If you’re a shooter fan and you have a mid-range PC, you have to get it. Get it now.