The Wolfenstein franchise is a strange beast. For something that has been bounced around between developers and publishers as much as it has, it has been remarkably consistent. The New Order is the fifth game in the series (not counting multiplayer only Enemy Territory), and they all share a continued continuity, to the point that a character from Raven’s Wolfenstein from a few years ago is in this game despite the developer and publisher changing between releases. For 2014, Wolfenstein is in the capable hands of MachineGames, a group headed up by ex-Starbreeze employees that were at the forefront of story driven FPS games of the last decade. Their talents have transferred over here, bringing stealth and moments of calm to a universe most known for its nonstop Nazi killing. It all comes together into a stunning mixture of engaging story and visceral gunplay that will leave you wanting more as the end credits roll.
As always, you play as William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz, a legendary Nazi killer who is wounded in the 1940s during a raid on the compound of Nazi chief General Deathshead. You awaken from a coma in the 1960s to find a world where the Nazis have successfully conquered everything around you. It’s B.J. versus the world as he brings down the Nazi regime with the help of a small group of freedom fighters, ancient technological marvels, and at least one trip to space. This may all sound simplistic, but the characters that B.J. meets along the way are fantastically drawn out, and there are newspaper clippings scattered around the environment which give more background to the intricate alternate history that MachineGames has crafted. Altogether, the story lends gravitas to the otherwise straightforward proceedings without getting in the way of the shoot-em-up action you came to Wolfenstein for.
Wolfenstein: The New Order (PC [Reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4)
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: May 20, 2014
Speaking of shoot-em-up action, this is where The New Order truly shines. You have a pretty standard array of weapons from pistols and assault rifles up to a sniper and a laser. However, each of the weapons have an attachment that completely changes how it’s used. For example, the shotgun can be loaded with shrapnel rounds that bounce around the environment and clear rooms much like the Flak Cannon from Unreal Tournament. The sniper rifle turns into an automatic laser machine gun with just a flick of the scope, and your laser weapon gets continuous attachements throughout the game, transforming it from a tool to cut through fences into a monstrous Nazi disintegration gun. All the upgrades visually change the weapons as well, and you can duel-wield any gun in the game (including sniper rifles), which gives the player numerous options and ensures that the combat never sinks into monotony.
In addition to the weapon upgrades, you also have a simplistic perk system which enhances B.J. throughout the campaign as you complete certain objectives. They increase your ammo and grenade capacity, make you more effective while sliding on the ground and shooting at the same time (did I not mention that yet? You can do that too), or turn you into a silent dealer of death. The perks are split into four distinct sets of actions, but you don’t have to dedicate yourself to one category and you’ll unlock plenty of them just by playing the game. Once you unlock a perk it stays on forever, allowing you to stack all of them together by the end if you so desire. In a way, the upgrades tune your character to better fit your play style by buffing what you’re already doing. It’s not a perfect system, but it feels like a novel and interesting addition in the overcrowded FPS space.
You’ll need all that weaponry to take on the upgraded Nazi forces, each one of them a creative evolution of the standard archetypes you might remember from the deluge of World War 2 games a decade ago. There are mechanically enhanced dogs that leap at you, masked super soldiers with stun batons, and commanders which call in reinforcements if you don’t choose to stealth your way over to them and knife them before the start of a battle. Speaking of which, sneaking around with a knife seems like a fine way to tackle some scenarios, and there are parts of the game where it’s required, but I never found it preferable to double fisting assault rifles and mowing down soldiers. Take those words with a grain of salt, as I’m not the biggest fan of stealth after all. Honestly, I’m impressed that it’s even an option in a game like Wolfenstein, and it goes to show you the variety of tactics that the player has at their disposal.
When you’re not off storming the castle, you’ll be at your secret underground base playing entire missions that consist of story building moments between B.J. and his resistance allies, and they’re vital to making B.J. more of a human character and adding a meaningful arc to the story. B.J. gruffly whispers to himself in his travels, and the quips range from action hero one liners to strange observations about the world he has found himself in. These lines, in addition to a few small and well-hidden character interactions, lend to the feeling that B.J. has been through one too many battles and is starting to lose his grip on sanity. This is not the super soldier you’d expect from an FPS, this is a finely tuned weapon in human form whose emotions have been muted for far too long. Its sometimes played for laughs, and there are weird tonal shifts throughout the campaign, but it’s nevertheless exciting to add characterization to a former clean slate protagonist like B.J., and you’ll definitely care about his plight by the end of the game.
There was a time before this game came out where people were skeptical of it. Entry into the DOOM beta was added to its purchase price, seemingly a grasping at straws to sell copies. Even I initially had my doubts going in. But, if you’ve ever played Chronicles of Riddick: Butcher Bay or The Darkness before, you know what kind of pedigree that Wolfenstein: The New Order comes from. Much like Crackdown was a pleasant surprise for Halo fans, I know that DOOM fans will pick up this game and be blown away by its engaging combat and rich narrative. This is the video gaming equivalent of Big Trouble in Little China, an auteur team working on what could have been a throwaway action experience. Instead, The New Order is a masterpiece of FPS design that deserves its spot among the best the genre has to offer. Play this game.