Review

It is always risky business when you try to review a classic and beloved franchise, especially so when that series was one of the pioneers for the genre. How do you blend modern mechanics people know with the classic gameplay fans have come to love over the years? The 2009 Wolfenstein leaned a bit too much toward the modern styling, and suffered a bit as a result, despite being a generally decent shooter. You’d be forgiven for being cautiously optimistic for Wolfenstein: The New Order, the debut title from Machine Games. Your optimism is well rewarded as The New Order avoids the same mistakes of its 2009 predecessor and one of the most purely fun games released in quite some time.

Once again, the Nazis are up to no good and BJ Blazkowicz is the man with the plan, the plan that involves killing all the Nazis. Taking place three years after Wolfenstein, Deathshead has been making more powerful weapons that are turning the tide against the Allies. Blazkowicz is leading a team to kill Deathshead and put a stop to the Nazi war machine. Of course, because that’s just how these things go, the attack fails and the team is captured. After suffering severe brain damage during a daring escape, Blazcowicz regains his composure, only to find out that 14 years have passed and the war is over. The year is now 1960 and the Nazi party rules the world with oppression and force. However, where there is oppression and control by force, there is always a resistance, Blazcowicz will just have to build it back up first.

Much of the early story focuses directly on BJ rather than the war as a whole. Many sequences have him mentally going over events or his past, his drive expressed through these moments, or his desire for revenge against Deathshead. While these events rarely humanize the Nazi killing machine, they offer a bit of insight into the mind of a seemingly broken man looking to rebuild. It helps that the excellent supporting cast makes up for the personality that BJ lacks, and that the resistance is full of people you’ll genuinely want to succeed. The story starts slow, but once you get a few missions in, this alternative history begins to hit its stride and takes you on an exciting, and at times disturbing adventure. Moments of blissfully countering Nazi oppression are fueled by more subtle missions revolving around seeing the even darker side of the Nazis and the brutality they are capable of. Though the game would have you believe that Deathshead is the villain, there is no enemy you face who is any less evil.

"Captain Blazkowicz. I know a lot about you. We have the same name, you and I. Wilhelm. William. But...You call me "Deathshead". I don't like it. I'm a happy man. You see? It doesn't sound right in English. Say it...Correctly. toten...kopf."

“Captain Blazkowicz. I know a lot about you. We have the same name, you and I. Wilhelm. William. But…You call me “Deathshead”. I don’t like it. I’m a happy man. You see? It doesn’t sound right in English. Say it…Correctly. toten…kopf.”

The New Order doesn’t attempt to hold itself back by trying to keep things feasible or realistic.This is a world built on the idea that the unreasonable and unbelievable are the truth, and the world and story are stronger for it.This alternate reality, Nazi controlled world, is filled with advanced technology and an all around bleak styling. Concrete and steel dominate the landscape while mechanized hounds patrol the streets. Soldiers clad in full combat armor act as a deterrent to free speech and liberty. This world is a bleak one, and one that you will have to liberate from itself. Despite the fact you’ll spend a lot of time trying to poke holes and say how unrealistic it is, The New Order is a well realized alternate history and offers plenty of back story through newspaper clippings and other collectibles you will find along your killing spree. As implausible as it is, The New Order makes you believe it in a way few other alternate history games do.

Things start to fall apart a bit at the end when the pacing kicks it into 11 to try and fit a lot of craziness in a short amount of time, enough so that another level might have been appropriate. It isn’t bad, but it gets away from two of the story’s greatest strengths, its pacing and its supporting cast. A lot of things seem to happen for no other reason than to happen, and there are a few moments where references to the game’s beginning are forced in, just to close doors that were already slammed shut and didn’t need to be reopened. Not to mention the fact that the ending, which I won’t spoil for you, is pretty neutral and much less punctual than the rest of the game. Even still, your 10-14 hour adventure will be memorable and well worthy of a second playthrough.

Set piece sequences litter the campaign and are generally excellent. You’ll do some pretty unbelievable things in your time with BJ, with the very best resting in spoiler territory, however, boss fights are a surprising disappointment. Bosses will often stand still and allow you to unload on them to your heart’s content. The only difficulty in these fights comes if you are low on ammo, but the game is fairly generous with ammo in these instances so this will likely not be an issue. A few sequences fall short of impressing, while a few others seem to be trying too hard to defy the tone of the game, but for each of these there is one that will drop your jaw to the floor. A worthwhile compromise if you ask me.

Let the bodies hit the floor.

Let the bodies hit the floor.

The New Order embraces some old school mechanics, such as dual wielding assault rifles and shotguns, to great effect. BJ is a real tough guy who survives far more explosions than any man has the right to, and his arsenal is built to match. Nothing is too crazy for killing Nazis. He can sprint, slide, stab, dismember, stab, decapitate, assassinate, and stab, just to name a few parts of his repertoire. Despite embracing some old school shooter style, the game still feels very much like a modern shooter, just more fun. The modern staple of shooters rears it’s head in the form of a cover system, but The New Order uses one of the better designs for their system. Push up against or crouch behind a wall to enter cover. From there you can aim down or peek around to spot targets and take them down. The game could just as easily do without it, but having it, in this particular case, is better than not. Gameplay doesn’t revolve around realism, hell neither does the plot, but instead embraces what makes shooters fun, killing lots of bad guys in awesome and exciting ways. Whether fighting a room full of Nazi soldiers or taking on mechanical dogs and bipedal death machines, you will have fun playing this game.

Unfortunately, while new and old mesh well for the most part, gameplay is not a dream come true. The archaic means of picking up items, requiring you to press a button and, more often than not, looking directly at what you are picking up, becomes a much greater annoyance as the game goes on. Items piled on items become a chore to search through, especially in the heat of combat. It also becomes very easy to just start spamming the button, only to pick up unintended items, such as the health that would be more useful in two minutes than it is now. Navigating the game’s vehicles is a hit or miss endeavor, with a mid game underwater vehicle sequence being particularly awful.

The A.I. is surprisingly competent at times, at times being the key words. You’ll have the guys who stand in the middle of nowhere practically begging you to end their life, but for each of them you’ll have to deal with another rushing your cover to flush you out. Soldiers will flank in groups, use grenades to force you into the open, and will not hesitate to open fire when you leave cover. The game is far from punishing on normal difficulty, but even still, some tactical thinking and smart use of cover is sometimes better than just running in guns blazing. This is especially apparent later in the game when cover is far more scarce and enemies have a greater ability to punch through it.

The humble beginnings of a mighty resistance.

The humble beginnings of a mighty resistance.

The New Order adds a bit more challenge in the form of unlockables which require you to perform certain combat feats. Some are as simple as killing enemies from behind cover, others require you to kill bad guys without letting up on the trigger. Completing these challenges accomplishes two very important objectives. The first, and most apparent, is that you gain buffs for BJ that makes him better at what he does, killing Nazis. The second you probably won’t notice, but is almost more important, it forces you to learn how to play the game. Sure there is the basic tutorial section early in the game, but these challenges task you with going more in depth with the many mechanics for killing. This, in turn, makes you a much more efficient force of destruction and opens up entirely new strategies you otherwise might have missed.

Much as it does with the rest of the game, Wolfenstein blends new with old when it comes to health management. Armor is very important and must be found, hence it will not recharge. Health will recharge only to the nearest 20 health, so 40, 60, 80, etc. You can overcharge your health by continuously picking up health packs while at full health, but this effect will drain over time until you rest once again at full. It makes for an interesting trade off, is it better to have more health now that drains over time or have more health later if you takes a lot of damage? Ammo is far from scarce but is easy to blow through. Destructible crates litter the environment just waiting to be smashed and looted for the precious resources within. If all else fails, just stab a few Nazis. They practically bleed ammo.

Running on id Tech 5, the same engine behind Rage, The New Order is a pretty game, if not one that will blow you away visually. Character models are very detailed, specifically faces, and the game world generally looks great. More narrow levels will show more flats textures, but this comes as a result of being closer to the surrounding environment. However, this is more than forgivable considering the game runs at 1080p and 60FPS on both new consoles, and of course on PC (with the appropriate hardware). There are no performance hiccups and the smooth gameplay makes slaughtering Nazis an easier task. One thing to note, the game is particularly gorey, both in combat and in cutscenes. Though I highly doubt you’d be playing a shooter if you are the queasy type, some of this stuff gets pretty gruesome.

Nazis and mecha and trains, oh my.

Nazis and mecha and trains, oh my.

The New Order adopts a unique soundtrack, forgoing the orchestral scores found in most modern shooters and relying on guitars and heavy hitting tones. It’s a little more in your face, and is an excellent fit for the game’s attitude. It’s also worth noting that there is a surprising amount of scenes with no music at all, with these scenes being punctuated by the action on the screen or current setting, rather than the music. Weapons sound excellent and impacts sound as powerful as they look. Voice acting is great, in spite of some campy writing.

This is the part where I was going to talk about the game’s lack of multiplayer, a staple of the Wolfenstein series. However, it is better that the team did not worry about multiplayer. The lengthy and generally great campaign clearly excelled thanks to the team’s exclusive focus on it. It really puts to bed the idea that a great shooter needs to have a multiplayer mode, and that you can’t build a good shooter around a strong narrative. Multiplayer would have been nice, sure, but even without it you’ll get your money’s worth from The New Order.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is about the best Wolfenstein has even been. It blends new and old shooter conventions and offers top notch gameplay. The story is great and offers one of the more fully realized alternate histories in gaming as well as an excellent, if sometimes underutilized, supporting cast. It looks and runs great. This is about the best you can ask for in a video game, and you’d have to go out of your way not to enjoy it.

 **NOTE: This review does not pertain to the PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 versions of the game.

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About the Author

Chris
No hard feelings... / Chris@thosegamingnerds.com /