Wolfenstein: The New Order review
What if the Nazis had won the war? It’s a hypothetical scenario thrown around in various forms of media, and one apparently well suited to Wolfenstein’s bizarre, supernatural take on World War Two. That is perhaps the biggest surprise of Wolfenstein: The New Order – among the cartoonish Nazi robots and huge laser rifles, there is an interesting take on just how history could have been different with a story and characters far better than they should be.
It’s still all nonsense of course, but it doesn’t stop the characters being surprisingly involving and the world they inhabit surprisingly fascinating. That seems to be the general theme of The New Order: this is a game much better than a lot of people will be expecting.
MachineGames is a new studio founded by developers who previously worked on The Darkness and Chronicles Of Riddick games – again, titles that were nowhere near as rubbish as people expected. And the team seems to have done it again, bucking expectations once more.
The New Order is a sequel to the 2009 Wolfenstein game, although prior knowledge is unnecessary, as outside of a few returning characters these are separate plots. You’ll once again control series hero and possessor of an incredible jawline, BJ Blazkowicz, as the game begins in 1946 with a final raid on the stronghold of the feared Nazi general, Deathshead. Clearly, events have already diverged from reality, but fans of the series will know this is par for the course. In this opening level, you’ll face robotic dogs, giant Nazi mechs and more outlandish enemies, setting the course for the rest of the game.
Things don’t go to plan and Blazkowicz ends up in a vegetative state, left to rot in an insane asylum for 14 years until he awakes in 1960 to find a wildly different world. The Nazis have won the war after dropping nukes on the States, and now rule the world with an iron fist. A suitably dystopian mixture of 1984 and Half-Life 2’s City 17, the ‘new world’ is an incredibly atmospheric, oppressive place. There are few shades of grey here, and while the citizens may waver, the officers in charge of this new Nazi world are all very, very evil. The only thing they need is a bullet in the cranium, and BJ, despite now being middle-aged and rather confused, aims to be the man to do so.
What follows is a purposely old-school FPS, albeit one with plenty of nods to modern game design. Unfortunately, the first ten minutes are the worst example of this classic approach, opening with a boring tutorial and a crap turret section. It’s a seriously underwhelming start, but stick it out for the first quarter of an hour and things quickly pick up.
The core gameplay of The New Order is an interesting mixture of old-school and modern design, one that meshes together well to create an idiosyncratic experience. BJ can carry as many guns as he can find, dual-wielding almost any weapon – even sniper rifles. We’ve missed dual-wielding, once a staple of FPS games but left to rot as the realism-chasing trend took hold. Nothing is as cool as storming an enemy stronghold with an automatic shotgun in each hand or spraying an enemy mech full of holes with an assault rifle on both sides. Dual-wielding removes your ability to aim down the sights, but who needs that? Running and gunning is a perfectly viable tactic for most of the game, although higher difficulties will necessitate some use of cover.
There’s a light cover system: aiming down the sights near the edge of cover will lean out, but that’s it – plus, you can’t do it if you are dual-wielding, so it doesn’t come in particularly handy. What is far more useful is the return of the lean function, another classic FPS staple we’ve been missing recently. Holding L1 lets you lean left and right as well as peek up and down, and on the harder difficulties you’ll be relying on this to get some shots off while avoiding them yourself.
Health is once again an odd mixture of old and new. HP and armour are both measured numerically, and while armour doesn’t recharge, health does – but only up to the nearest multiple of 20. Health and armour kits can both be found all over the place, and are pretty crucial. The small HP recharge is useful in a pinch, but running around with 20 Health is still likely to get you killed before long. Collecting health packs when your HP is at a max will ‘overcharge’ you, increasing your health over the limit but with it slowly ticking down, another old mechanic we’d all but forgotten about. One irritating element to all this is having to press Square each time you want to pick something up, be it a health kit or ammo. Smashing Square all the time is a tad annoying, but we understand why the mechanic exists: choosing when to pick up health kits is a key strategy to learn. Still, picking up ammo automatically would be appreciated.
For the most part, that’s it. Shoot a bunch of Nazis, Nazi dogs and Nazi robots across a campaign that will take you all over the world, as well as under the sea and even up to the moon. Contrary to its name, The New Order isn’t trying to break any new ground – indeed, that is precisely the point.
The old-school approach also applies to the way the story is presented. It’s remarkable to think that, back when Half-Life pioneered telling a story without removing control from the player, that we would one day be sick and tired of ‘follow the man’ exposition, plodding along behind some prick as he explains exactly what is going on. It’s actually refreshing to play a game with proper, cinematic cutscenes for a change – yep, we’ve come full circle, people. The cutscenes in Wolfenstein are well directed and look fantastic – perhaps the reason behind the game’s enormous 50 GB install.
Otherwise, The New Order is a good-looking if never amazing game. It’s clearly a cross-generation title, but the PS4 version is that bit cleaner, shinier and smoother than the rest. Some environments are impressive, although others suffer from classic dull, grey corridors. Old-school design can be bad as well as good.
This is apparent as some stages are far more enjoyable than others. Wolfenstein is at its best when you have a simple map with a bunch of guns and a ton of Nazis to blast through, but when it tries to do other things it falls down a bit. A water level navigating through sewers in a small sub is confusing and dull, as are any other stages that involve navigating more than shooting. There’s no waypoint marker to follow, and sometimes the stage design is too obtuse for its own good. Still, this is the exception rather than the rule, and most of the time little gets in the way of action.
This is good, as the action is solid and fun, if again nothing original. Guns have a hefty weight behind them, and enemy soldiers splatter apart when shot, heads exploding and limbs flying away. There aren’t a huge number of weapons, but each is enjoyable and serves a different purpose, which is preferable to a bunch of guns that look different but feel the same. Each stage starts off with BJ relatively unarmed, acquiring his equipment on-site every time. As such, you’ll be forced to use and become familiar with a variety of weapons, unable to simply fall back on the same one each time.
Bethesda has been ballsy and chosen to ship Wolfenstein without a multiplayer mode, a big statement in today’s gaming world. What this means is that the campaign is of a substantial length, taking a good 12 hours at least. In the era of three-hour Call Of Duty games, it feels like the FPS equivalent of War And Peace. Replay value comes in a bunch of collectables as well as a choice made in the first stage that has a huge effect on the story for the rest of the game.
Still, outside of grabbing all those collectables or doing it again on a harder difficulty, the lack of multiplayer means many people will be done with The New Order after finishing it once. It’s a risk any publisher runs with a single-player only game these days, and whether the campaign alone is worth the money is up to you.
We suspect that some people will really not get on with Wolfenstein. The adherence to old-school design decisions has led to elements that might turn off fans of modern shooters, without the nostalgia and appreciation for the origins of the genre.
The New Order feels like an anomaly, a single-player led FPS with a focus on run-and-gun gameplay and no multiplayer to speak of. It’s all much more fun than we expected, with high production values (thanks, no doubt, to Bethesda), decent graphics, an interesting story and some awesome guns. Fans of Doom, Quake, and of course Wolfenstein back in the day should find plenty to enjoy here.