Wolfenstein: The New Order is a wonderful treat of a game that tells a surprisingly compelling story with excellent character development, wrapped up in an over the top shooter that’s both fun and sometimes brutally challenging. It gives us all the fun features we’ve been missing in games since N64, like dual wielding assault rifles and ridiculous boss battles, while delivering everything we expect out of a AAA title today, such as fantastic visuals, a grade A sound track, and a great tale.
Wolfenstein: The New Order’s story is an alternate history set after the Second World War. Starting at the butt-end of World War II, and moving ahead 14 years after it’s slightly drawn out prologue, in this alternate history, the United States has surrendered to the Nazis and the world is entirely under a Nazi rule. And that’s just the backdrop! Our protagonist and hero, Captain B.J. Blazkowicz is an American soldier, out of time and occasionally out of touch, with an astonishingly Aryan appearance, in search of “the resistance” to take down the Nazis by any brutal means necessary. The game starts with him heading to take down Deathshead, a Nazi scientist who’s absolutely brutal in his methods to create horrific war machines. During this attack, which goes horribly wrong with your team getting captured, you’re forced to make a choice that changes the events of the rest of the game. Only slightly though. This is one point in the game where I was a little bit disappointed, as I was hoping this pivotal choice would have much more of impact on the rest of the game and adding some excellent replay, but it only seemed to slightly change the cinematics and abilities that you have throughout the game.
As the game developed, I found myself very impressed by just about every aspect of the game’s story. One thing that made the game feel new, imaginative, and even somewhat plausible as an alternate history, was the way the Nazi’s technology was presented. Rather than the typical occult and magical story we often get in these World War II era games, this story is very science and technologically focused. I’m sure you’ve seen the shots of the giant mechanical dogs and robots, which are really just the tip of the iceberg. When you discover how those machines are concocted, I wouldn’t be surprised if you gag just a little. On top of all that, the game takes you to some very surprising environments such as the surface of the moon and the bottom of the ocean, which sounds cool both with and without context.
Aside from this alternate Nazi history, the game also delivers a surprisingly compelling narrative of our hero B.J. Blazkowicz. He often speaks of the horrors he’s faced, how war has changed him and given him nightmares that never go away. But the developers didn’t stop at just an interesting main character; they built a great cast of interesting and compelling characters around him, no matter your choice. As the game moves forward, B.J. develops deep, personal relationships with his supporting cast that all helps make the ending of the game far more impactful and makes the stakes of their mission feel much greater, as you not only make sacrifices for the world and yourself, but for love and your friends I was not expecting this from a Wolfenstein game. I was expecting nothing more than a brute, heatless, gun-toting badass (which I would have been fine with), but having that machismo character combined with feelings and something to sacrifice, made the ten to twelve hour campaign feel much more fulfilling.
Now, on to what everyone really cares about: how does it play?
Well, let me tell you something: Wolfenstein is the most fun I’ve had playing a shooter in a while. Playing on hard, the game is nearly unforgiving. It punishes the heck out of you, making enemies smarter and harder to kill, and can hit you with the most ridiculous accuracy. The game brings back some of the classic first person shooter features of yesteryear, such as a well-stocked arsenal and the ability to dual wield just about every weapon in the game. The game also makes a call back to its ancestor with plenty of secret rooms, and levels that, while pretty linear; sometimes present enough paths to feel like a maze. The game slows the pace sometimes with the occasional stealth section, which if you mess up, becomes just a relentless barrage of bullets and probable death. There are also some pretty interesting platforming puzzles throughout the game which involve you cutting fences, chains, and jumping on all sorts of boxes to get around.
The weapon selection in this game is pretty well stocked, but more or less standard. You have your submachine gun, assault rifle, shotgun and pistol which all get upgraded constantly throughout the game if you can hunt down the upgrades. There are also some really cool weapons in the game, like the sniper rifle that turns into a laser rifle, or your multi-purpose laser cutter (which really doesn’t do it justice when you see it at the end of the game). One thing I did find cumbersome with this huge array of available weapons was selecting a weapon. You could quick swap to your previous weapon, but if you ever found yourself without ammo on either weapon, you’d have to bring up this weapon wheel and select with the analog sticks. This forces you to stop, and try to select the right gun with the overly sensitive selection wheel. I often found myself accidentally getting stuck with double weapons or the wrong weapon. Nothing is worse than ending up with knives when you wanted a pistol.
Early in the game you arrive at what eventually becomes your home base, which you stop at between missions. Aside from being used to develop the relationships between B.J. and his crew, there are also a couple mini-games you’ll find there. One being a little knife throwing target practice, the other is a trip down memory lane. There’s a secret mission that you can do many times throughout the game called “Nightmare” where you must Escape from Castle Wolfenstein. That’s right, you play a brief level of the original game, complete with secret passages, original sounds and graphics that spin as you walk around them. To say it was delightful would be an understatement. What makes it really authentic feeling is how unbelievably difficult it was on my first couple tries. What was another great classic treat while playing this game were the boss fights. Challenging, but like all boss fights, it usually came down to figuring out a pattern and hitting the shiny spots. That doesn’t mean they were without that initial, “How the fuck do I take this down?” moment, but the panic and stress often wore off pretty quick. For all these reasons, I’m glad that developer Machine Games put 100% of their attention into a fantastic single player experience and didn’t bother with a half-baked multiplayer.
Wolfenstein can be a really good-looking game most of the time. On the PlayStation 4 I never noticed a dip in performance and can’t recall ever seeing any texture pop-ins. The cut scenes look down right phenomenal with beautifully detailed characters and environments. But unfortunately that doesn’t completely carry over into the game. Wolfenstein looks best when you’re only looking at what they want you to see, which is for the large part while you’re moving around. But stopping for just a moment and taking a second glance at some of your surroundings reveals a lot of flat objects with horribly detailed interior surfaces. File folders look like they’re painted into desks, and buttons and switches look like stickers placed on by children. Fortunately, this doesn’t hold true for everything. Character models are beautifully detailed, right down to decorative clothing accessories and wrinkles at the corners of the eyes. Most surfaces have nicely detailed textures and great looking reflections and lighting. The game often shows gruesome moments with horrifyingly disturbing detail showing bone, muscle and blood spilling everywhere. Which, while disturbing, is often satisfying when you get a headshot and watch someone’s head explode.
The last thing I’d really like to highlight about this game is the soundtrack. It’s subtle but super effective. Many of the songs have a deep bass line that helps build the intensity intense moments of the game. It reminded me of the Half Life 2 sound track, which I regard as one of the best video game sound tracks of all time. Always appropriate and always awesome.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is far from a perfect game, but one I’m glad I gave the time of day. An unexpected and refreshing challenge that felt current but also nostalgic at the same time. It was a real treat to have a first person shooter that delivers on just about every front for its single player campaign; everything from gameplay to story, but not without a few hiccups along the way. Overall, an excellent game that I highly recommend you pick up for your game library, especially if you need a break from the multiplayer focused FPS games that we seem to get annually.