Wolfenstein: The New Order is MachineGames’ coming out party. Comprised of veterans from Starbreeze, who made the superb Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay – they have a lot to prove to themselves, their parent publisher Bethesda and, quite simply, to the industry as a whole.
In an age where Call of Duty rules the first person shooter roost, and even traditionally single player games like Tomb Raider are shipping with shoddy multiplayer as if to satisfy shareholders rather than offering anything truly unique, can Wolfenstein: The New Order succeed as a single player only shooter?
In a word, hell yes!
Okay, that’s two words, but I digress.
I’ve got a story to tell
Even without prior history with the franchise, Wolfenstein: The New Order tells a fun, dark, twisted, violent and humorous tale of the horrors of war that would make Quentin Tarantino proud. Players take to role and the guns of William J. (“BJ”) Blazkowicz, an American soldier fighting in WWII against histories biggest villains, the Nazis.
For the uninitiated, hearing that yet another game that has you fighting Nazies in a first-person view is probably enough to make you roll your eyes and scroll past the remainder of this review, vowing to never play this game.
That would be a mistake.
While the first chapter of the games does feel like I was treading familiar ground, the game soon starts to offer up its own unique, old-school, whacked out spin on on the well worn trope. Dual-wielding machine guns, armored dogs, and a deformed by scars villain, Deathshead are but a mere few of the twists Wolfenstein offers anyone who decides to give it a go.
Captured, BJ must make a horrifying decision early on that alters the timeline and sends you on the path of revenge. Not just for your friends, but for the world. You see, BJ suffers a massive head injury while escaping that leaves him more or less in vegetative state for 16 years and in the meantime, the Nazi’s have won the war and have taken over the world. So large does the veil of Nazi supremacy loom that there hasn’t been any push back of any of king in years because every nation’s army has fallen and the Nazis have collected and imprisoned nearly all of the members of the Resistance. During an attack at the hospital where BJ has been recuperating, he springs into action and proceeds to kill tons of Nazis, escaping with Anya, his nurse and helping rescue the other members of the Resistance.
Again, on paper, it seems pretty rote, but this is where MachineGames’ pedigree for first-person storytelling truly shines through. Most of the heroes and all of the villains are memorable, fun to listen to and watch. I use “most” as a caveat because only a handful of the Resistance fighters left an impression beyond their appearance and I was never really given a chance to truly know some of them.
I won’t go into anything further because experiencing the insane and creative places this game goes is half the fun.
Two guns, one gib
OK, maybe “half the fun” is overstating it a bit. I don’t think anyone is picking up this game with the intent of playing a pretty well-written and acted story. No, the real reason why anyone would and should want to play Wolfenstein: The New Order is the shooting. And boy do you shoot, a LOT. You shoot nearly everything that moves and you shoot it often.
Thankfully, the controls are amongst the best I’ve experienced in a console shooter. Some familiar functions for modern day shooters are present and accounted for – left trigger aims down the sights, right trigger shoots, the top bumper (R1 on PS3 and 4) throws the grenade, clicking in the left stick sprints, etc. However, unlike modern shooters, players won’t be limited to two guns. Nope, provided you’ve picked up the weapons, you will have an entire arsenal at your disposal to lay waste to vile Nazis. Shoguns, machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles and a few surprises as well. Each weapon with an alternate firing mode and all except one are able to be dual wielded. Yes, even the sniper rifles because, why the hell not? All of the weapons feel distinct and are all viable and fun ways to dispose of Nazi scum.
And boy, does this game let you dispose of Nazis in truly gruesome ways. Heads explode from well placed shots, limbs are blown of from grenades, hell, certain weapons will even explode enemies into bloody chunks of gore and sinew. It’s all very visceral, over the top, and always satisfying. Again, dual wield to reign extra bloody death upon your foes.
MachineGames has also created an incredibly robust and intuitive cover system as well. Holding the L1 button in tandem with moving the left stick moves BJ in and out of cover, either by leaning to the side, standing up, and even leaning down to shoot under doors and cover. And let me tell you, cover is a very necessary thing on Über difficulty in which enemies can send you to a restart screen before you even have time to react. The destructable cover you hide behind makes for very intense firefights as it quickly gets whittled away from an onslaught of bullets.
Wolfenstein: The New Order also employs an incredibly viable and effective stealth mechanic. By crouching, you’ll be able to move silently around the area, taking out enemies with incredibly satisfying takedowns that always begin with a knife and always end with another dead Nazi (or Nazi armored dog). Throwing knives are the most lethal weapon in the game. If your aim is true, the recipient of a sharp gift of thrown death will fall over dead in spectacular fashion. You will also be able to equip a silenced pistol which can one-shot anyone from anywhere on the map, even while shooting from the hip. Just be sure it’s a head shot.
Why would you want to use stealth in a Wolfenstein game that sounds like it’s gleefully violent? Well, you may or may not want to. However, the game offers some scenarios in which stealth is a very smart way to play, especially on the higher difficulties. In these scenarios there will be one or two Commanders equipped with headsets who can call in an overwhelming amount of reinforcements. Taking out these Commanders silently prevents this from happening, making the rest of the enemies in the area much more manageable.
I should also mention that players will be faced with a life or death decision early in the game, which leads to two timelines. Depending on your choice you will either be given the ability to pick locks or to hotwire. I made the choice that gave me the ability to pick locks. Doing so gave me access to alternate routes and rooms with collectable secrets.
With all the perks
Another interesting approach that MachineGames has implemented is a perk system based on challenges. There are 4 perk strings – Stealth, Tactical, Assault and Demolition. Completing challenges in each of these categories will unlock another perk that makes things a little bit easier.
For example, using the throwing knife for a certain amount of kills unlocks the ability to carry more. The reason why this is useful is because later portions of the game may require you to take out multiple enemies and more knives allows you to be able to dispose of them as quickly as you can aim and throw rather than have to retrieve the same knife from a fallen foe over and over. Other examples are the ability to reload faster, make less noise when walking, move fast when crouching, etc. Nothing game breaking, but always fun to go after.
Places to go, people to kill
While shooters can live and die by their shooting mechanics, so too can they live and die by their level design and missions. Here is another area where MachineGames really nailed the landing. After the initial, relatively rote prologue level, the game really opens up with massive levels and areas, varied locations, and missions. From overtaken art museums in London, to under water Nazi bases, Wolfenstein: The New Order constantly surprises from mission to mission. Even traditional fetch quests around the Resistance HQ manage to eek out a surprise or two.
As I mentioned before, the characters are, for the most part, interesting and leave an impression, even if they are relatively two dimensional. The villains, however, fair much better. Particularly, Frau Engel, the Nazi Commander with a strange penchant for younger men and litmus tests. Her few up close and personal confrontations with BJ are deeply unsettling and utterly unforgettable and serve as high points in the narrative.
Between confrontations with the higher ups in the Nazi regime, BJ mows down various goons, from standard stormtroopers and heavily armored shotgun and rocket launcher touting heavies, to mechanized dogs and hulking, lethal mechs. It’s not incredibly varied but each one requires a different strategy. Sure it’s always “shoot until their dead,” but it always has a caveat that requires the player to use their entire arsenal. All weapons will get play depending on the situation and the enemy – one boss fight in particular is especially harrowing as you feel your safety slipping away as the “roof” over you head is quite literally torn away, leaving you especially vulnerable.
Kinks in the strewn about armor
Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t without some issues. First of all, while the game does look really good and runs at a consistant 60fps, some odd clipping occurs from time to time due to the rag doll physics the game employs. Also, on a couple of occasions, guns and armor would be suspended in mid air.
Another odd choice is the use of pre-rendered cutscenes. I know they’re being employed to hide the loading of the huge levels, but it’s rarely seamless and usually serve to disrupt the pacing a bit because there will still be, albeit brief, amount of loading in and out of many of these scenes.
Lastly, and this is probably more my fault than the games, but checkout points vary wildly from forgiving to punishing. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have engaged in a 10 minute firefight and made out with a sliver of health only to be blasted in the face in the next area and would have to do the whole fight over again. As someone who vehemently despises repetition, it can get frustrating. Then again, no one told me to play through the game on my first playthrough on Über so I have no one to blame but myself, I guess.
Win the battle but not the war
MachineGames bet big on a wildly entertaining single player campaign and to me they have proven to hit their numbers across the board. With a mixture of old-school and new-school shooter elements, memorable characters, an actual story, fun shooting, over the top gore and a lot of heart, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game that I feel every fan of shooters should play. While it remains to be seen how successful the gamble will be in the long run, I know that I’m personally looking forward to playing the next thing MachineGames wrests of their twisted, talented minds. Wolfenstein or otherwise.
Sean completed the game for approximately 15 hours on Über difficulty. The copy of the game reviewed was provided by Bethesda Softworks
+ Shooting is ridiculously fun
+ Excellent level design
+ Cover mechanics
+ Gory as hell
+ Good story
+ Some characters are extremely memorable…
-…Others not so much
-Some technical issues
Available on: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4