Wolfenstein: The New Order - Review
Wolfenstein: The New Order's opening is really, really funny. Not "ha-ha" funny, but it leaves a stupid grin on your face, as you know the developers know that you get the jokes. During the first mission, one of your squad mates orders you to take down an enemy fortification not by sneaking in, but by running headlong at it, because that's simply the only way to get things done.
The entire level continues with ridiculous over-the-top nonsense. Giant four-legged mechs stop about around you whilst you're chased by Panzerhunds; hulking cyber-dogs created by the Third Reich. Guns and death are abound, there's shouting and yelling, all with a nod and wink from the developers. It's a glorious parody, not just of Wolfenstein's preposterous conceit, but also of modern military shooters.
Better yet, after that first bullet-laden level, developers MachineGames pull the rug out from under your feet. This isn't the game that you're going to be playing; they could have just made a high-definition update of the Wolfenstein formula but decided to go one better. It's a great set-up.
Cherry-picking the best elements from pretty much every shooter in the past decade, The New Order understands the importance of pacing. For every giant shoot-out there's a quieter, more tactical section. Stealth is a genuine option, with many of the game's areas encouraging you to take out Nazi commanders so that they can't raise the alarm. There's almost a Dishonoured feel to some of the larger locations, with multiple angles of attack depending on how you want to play.
There's even a collection of unlockable perks, divided up into four skill trees, that reinforce your play style. Go sneaky and you'll gain the ability to move silently and carry extra knives, whilst dual-wielding a lot will get the advantage of faster reloads and improved ammo capacity. It's pretty shallow in and of itself but does emphasize the multitude of different ways you can tackle many of the game's fire fights.
Likewise, the constantly shifting pace calls to mind Half-Life. There's even a short underwater segment at one point that has you piloting a vehicle not too dissimilar from the one you find early on in Half-Life 2. MachineGames smartly avoid the gratuitous set-piece after gratuitous set-piece mentality of a lot of modern games by simply being willing to try different things, with its plot zipping briskly from location to location. One mission even has you take off to the moon, where the Nazis are building an entire space station. It's a deliberate nod to oddball movie Iron Sky, perhaps New Order's best comparison tone-wise, and makes for yet another memorable section.
It has to be said however, that Wolfenstein's story is what ultimately makes it tick, which was something of a surprise. The New Order never takes itself too seriously, with its tongue almost permanently stuck in its cheek, but that doesn't mean it can't at least make you give a damn about its characters. Players are still cast in the boots of soldier B.J. Blazkowicz, a hulking chunk of man-muscle set on toppling the Nazi regime, but this time around there's a host of supporting characters too, thanks to his involvement with a resistance movement. In any other game, the concept of having a hero with blonde hair and blue eyes in a game involving Nazis would have been a case of the developers missing the point, here though it's another subtle joke that the developers only lightly touch on, with Nazi scientist Deathshead commenting that Blazkowicz would make a perfect specimen in the development of his master race.
A choice early on in the game allows you to save only one of two squad mates, slightly altering the course of the story. The interaction between members of the resistance is what's really impressive. In particular the relationship between Max Hass, a giant of a man born with brain damage, rendering him child-like in nature, and Klaus Kreutz, a former Nazi-turned-rebel, is genuinely touching. Wolfenstein never overcooks its drama, but considering the overall tone and style of game we're talking about here, the fact that it pulls this off better than many other less comedic titles is certainly impressive.
For a game with such a silly tone, the sight of the entire world under Nazi control is a surprisingly well-realized one. The 1960s setting brings to mind the recent XCOM spin-off but Wolfenstein replaces '60s paranoia with the even more oppressive and terrifying vision of futuristic fascism. The German army's visual designs are equally impressive, with steam-punk aesthetics being mixed with overall "weird science" which sets the game apart from more recent science fiction outings. Throughout the first half of the game you discover scraps of information about the "London Monitor", an ominous war weapon that forced the last British fighters to surrender, leading to a much better build-up and payoff than if you were just stuck in a fight with it from out of nowhere.
There's a suitable, if somewhat predictable selection of weapons to use. The assortment of automatic rifles and shotguns feel a little lacklustre after you've seen some of the creations the Nazis have a hold of. Being able to dual-wield all of your guns makes up for this somewhat; nothing says badass quite like toting two giant shotguns. Although it would have been nice to be able to mix and match the various weapon types when dual-wielding for some added strategy.
Similarly, the ordinary grunts come in pretty basic flavours. There's a few tougher variants that crop up later on, and there's the aforementioned robo-dogs that are always looking to take a bite out of your leg. Still, a few more varied enemy types wouldn't have gone amiss, especially considering the game's sheer creativity.
Despite the minor quibbles this is a bold game. For starters there's no tacked on multiplayer, something which has almost become a given staple in any shooter for the past several years. Likewise, the decision to go for a health pack system, much like Resistance 3, rather than regenerating health, makes for a shooter with a genuinely different style of pacing.
Given the subject matter and the need to reference old-school material and throw in some humour, Wolfenstein: The New Order could easily have become a crass, offensive mess, much like the recent Duke Nukem. Instead, MachineGames have crafted a game that's genuinely funny and fun to play in a genre desperately in need of some new ideas. The challenge of trying to unite the old with the new can be a difficult task, but with an emphasis on old-school design backed up with modern accessibility, Wolfenstein 3D has finally found a worthy successor.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was released on May 20th for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, PS4 and PC.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
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