‘Wolfenstein: The New Order’ Review

Platforms PS3/PS4/360/Xbox One/PC
Developer Machine Games Publisher Bethesda
Genre First Person Shooter Platform Played PS4

Shootin’, stabbin’, stranglin’ Nazis.

In the years prior to 2008, gunning down endless hordes of Nazi soldiers was the norm in a lot of first person shooters. Before Call of Duty took the world by storm with Modern Warfare which pitted players against modern virtual enemies instead of the footsoldiers of the Third Reich, you’d be forgiven for being sick of fighting the same guys over and over again.

However, I didn’t think I’d actually miss gunning down legions of histories’ most heinous figures until I played Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Wolfenstein: The New Order feels a lot like the old school shooters of yesteryear but with a modern twist which won’t leave you struggling to acclimatise with the game. It blends old mechanics like the senseless violence and ludicrousness of the older Wolfenstein games with modern aspects such as a formidable story with believable characters.

What really grabbed me about Wolfenstein is how well it juggles all of its themes without making a mess. At its core, it’s a game about shooting men into red, mushy paste. But surrounding this core is a nice blend of themes that really complement the final product.

Story has never been a serious part of the Wolfenstein games. I once a attended a panel hosted by ID Software’s Tim Willits which touched upon this area. Willits quoted co-founder John Carmack as saying that “plots in videogames are as important as plotlines in porn.” As the years moved on, Carmack was proved wrong all the time apart from the Wolfenstein games. Past entries in the series post-Wolfenstein 3D have never really focused a whole lot on plot in the way The New Order does. Developed by Machine Games, it manages to actually pull a decent story off.

However, the game isn’t always serious and this helps to remind players of what they’re playing. More importantly, the game’s humour isn’t shoehorned in at inappropriate moments.

After a prologue set in an alternate WWII 1946, The New Order takes place fourteen years after the Nazis won the war and used a mysterious unknown technology to advance their war machine. Players once again take the role of William ‘BJ’ Blazcowicz, a Captain in the American Army whose skills at murdering Nazis are unparalleled. BJ is injured in 1946 and wakes up in Poland in the year 1960 after having resided in a vegetative state for all those years. After fighting his way out of an asylum under the attack of a purge being committed by Nazi soldiers, BJ will meet up with various characters both old and new to join the resistance against the Third Reich in an effort to wrest control from the Nazis and to restore freedom and peace in the world.

While the plot is rather straightforward, the journey in which you will embark upon is thrilling in its action sequences with impressive set pieces for players to explore thanks to limited open level space and with the characters that accompany BJ on his mission.

Nearly all of the characters I met in this game really left the impression that they could pass as real people with real feelings each with a serious reason to fight the Nazis. While not naming names for the sake of spoiling these characters, their motivations almost all derive from being victims of the Nazi regime bar the exceptions of the villains which are themselves brilliantly written. A particular antagonist which really stands out is Frau Engel, a true and true, textbook Nazi with obsessions with Aryan features, politically far right ideology and a strong sense of National Socialism all of which is immediately obvious as soon as you meet the character. She absolutely reeks of Nazism and it makes her all the more believable. Each of the characters all have that little something in their writing which makes them memorable. Even the minor one have their own charms and eccentricities.

I was particuarly pleased to see how well BJ was fleshed out. He wasn’t just a mindless killer in The New Order but instead he was a mindless killer with a personality and a sense of humour that’s immediately likeable.

Another thing which stand out is the sheer attention to detail. The New Order is packed with all these little easter eggs that you might find in games of the same genre from a decade ago. Audio logs as an example seem to be in every game today and that’s about as deep as some game go. Wolfenstein on the other hand, has all kinds of things to collect around levels. A particular favourite was the music you could find in the game, some of which are covers of well known bands from the 1960s such as a German sung version of the House of the Rising Sun by the animals.

Machine Games has created a believable and frightening portrayal of what a Nazi controlled world might actually look like. The world of The New Order is a really interesting place to explore and learn more about which players can do by reading newspaper clippings as one of many ways to find out about this world that could have been.

However, what you’re really here for is how the game plays. The answer? It plays brilliantly. Movement is quick and precise with BJ being able to dart in between cover like a cat. Melee is swift and brutal with a knife to the throat being delivered in a split second with a simple double tap of the melee button.

The shooting is the best part of the gameplay as it should be. Every weapon feels appropriately weighty to its size and each gun packs a real “oomph.” As you fire hundreds of bullets into your targets, body parts will fly and blood will spatter onto every surface. It’s really pretty to look at in a way that only a Wolfenstein game can pull off. All of the weapons have their own distinctive feel which incentivises you to play around with them and see what kind of damage they can inflict on the endless sacks of matter that form the Nazi soldiers.

Wolfenstein, despite many of the things it has going for it, isn’t without flaws though.

The addition of dual wielding amplifies the sense of power you get from the weapons but I often found myself only using one weapon at a time due to the fiddly feel of holding two guns at the same time. It’s nice that it’s there and it certainly complements Wolfenstein’s silly side but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. The only times I used it were to experiment or to clear a corridor with a pair of shotguns but it felt messy and obnoxious to use. It’s kind of like placing your thumb over the mouth of a running hose. The water goes everywhere, but it also misses a lot of the plants you want to shoot to death – I mean, water.

The game also suffers from a few minor pacing issues. At times when the story is flowing nicely, the narrative suddenly jumps ahead to the next scene as if it looked at its watch and thought itself late. It’s a minor annoyance but it feels a bit jarring when it happens. In addition, some of the characters despite most of them seeming rather interesting feel somewhat underused. BJ is the main man of the show, there is no doubt about that but most of the characters do their part in the fight against the Nazis but some do just tend to linger around in the background as if they’re just there to make a difference to one of the two narrative paths you’ll be asked to go down early on in the game.

Later on in the game, players will also be dealt some pretty significant difficulty spikes which seem to appear almost out of nowhere at some points. It’s understandable at a key point such as a boss battle but a spike halfway through the game will raise a few eyebrows.

With all the attention to detail in the game, I found it a little disappointing with how straightforward the skill tree system was. You’ll unlock most of the skills just by simply playing the game which takes away any real incentive to actually try and unlock skills because you’ll just stumble along them anyway.

Wolfenstein is more of an homage to the older days of first person shooters rather than a return to form. However, this shouldn’t be mistaken for a bad thing. In fact, it should be the opposite. The New Order incorporates many older tendencies such as over the top violence, wacky gameplay and the near super human abilities of BJ Blazcowicz but it also makes enough room for newer elements such as story and character.

Wolfenstein: The New Order knows exactly what it is; it’s an action game and it realises that with only a few flaws. It has its problems, yes but if you’re looking for a good, old fashioned first-person shooter with a few modern touches, then this game is something you’ll seriously want to pay attention to.

The Good

+ Old school feel with a new school approach.

Well written characters.

Attentive attention to detail.

Superb weapons and gameplay.

The Bad

– Wonky dual-wield system.

– A few pacing issues.

– Randomly placed difficulty spikes.

– A half-hearted skill tree.

The Score: 9.0