Developed by: MachineGames
Published by: Bethesda Softworks
Game played on: PC
Released on: May 20, 2014
I’ll be right up front and say I have no particular feelings for the Wolfenstein series one way or another. I picked up Wolfenstein: The New Order back in 2014 on a whim, since I had heard surprisingly good things about it and it was one of the few games of that year to seem relatively interesting. So I played it, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it, so much so that it became my second favorite game of that year next to Alien Isolation. Now that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has been announced to come out later this year, I rebought the game on PC to prepare myself, and see if it’s still as good as I remember. Long story short: it is.
What jumped out at me the most about Wolfenstein: TNO was how focused it was on a single player experience. There is no multiplayer or co-op mode of any kind in The New Order. It is also something of a soft reboot for the series, with newer fans being able to follow the story with no prior knowledge of the previous games needed. And the game is all the better for it, since the development team MachineGames had to focus its time and resources on the campaign, which resulted in a very good campaign.
The New Order’s campaign premise is you play as long time Wolfenstein protagonist William Joseph “B.J.” Blazcowicz. After failing to kill Nazi scientist Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, B.J. suffers a head injury that leaves him in a vegetable state for years. At the same time, thanks to Deathshead’s research, the Nazis develop technology that gives them the upper hand in World War II, resulting in their total victory and domination over the world. B.J. eventually recovers from his injury to stab a Nazi purging the hospital B.J. is a patient at in the neck with a dinner knife, snarling “Nazi scum”. From there, B.J., with help from old and new friends fights in a resistance group called “The Kreisau Circle” hiding in Berlin to take down the Nazi regime in Europe, and kill Deathshead.
The game knows how absurd its premise is and gives no shits about it. Yet, at the same time it never feels cheeky or like it’s parodying itself. The game is aware of its absurdity yet also takes itself very seriously. This could’ve crashed and burned easily, but thanks to stellar writing, it all manages to work. The characters are exceptionally well realized and developed. Blazkowicz, instead of being an empty vessel for the player to insert themselves into, is actually a character with depth and humanity to him. He’s a badass, but he’s also tired of the killing and violence, and wants a normal life of peace and quiet, but fears he may never have it. The side characters such as his former Nazi turned freedom fighter Klaus and his love interest Anya, are also extremely endearing and likable characters in their own right. Just as well written are the game’s Nazi villains. The revolting coward Bubi, his love interest the sociopathic Frau Engel, and the terrifying Deathshead have some of the most memorable moments in the entire game, with special mentions going to the end of the second level and the train sequence, which I wouldn’t dare to spoil here. Another well done aspect of the story is The New Order’s world building. The premise of a world ruled by the Nazis isn’t just an excuse to kill Nazis, it is explored in detail with all its horrific implications. The concentration camps, cultural genocide, and bigotry of the Nazi ideology enforced on the entire world is explored with the appropriate weight it warrants, including a level in a forced labor camp, which while ending with an explosive finale, is handled with care and maturity.
All this said about the story, an FPS needs good gameplay, and The New Order has that in spades. The level environments are varied and interesting in their settings, with collectibles scattered throughout the levels to find that unlock concept art and character figures to look at, and their design encourages players to choose their own style of play. Loud wielding duel shotguns or sneakily taking out Nazis with a knife, both are equally viable options. Of course, the game will have mandatory shootouts at some point in each level, where stealth simply isn’t an option. Luckily the weapons of The New Order are fun to use, feel great to use, and are varied in function. Weapons will often have multiple modes of fire, such as shotgun shells that bounce off walls to catch enemies in cover. The way enemies become absolutely obliterated by weapons made me almost want to get caught during a stealth section to watch what would happen if I used this weapon or that weapon.
The enemy AI is relatively competent, if at times wonky. In combat, enemies will flank your position if you stay in one position too long, forcing you to be constantly on the move and checking your corners. They’ll also dodge roll out of fire into cover, forcing you to change position to a better vantage point. All that said, when in stealth mode, enemy AI can be a miss at times. As you can’t pick up and hide enemy bodies, patrolling guards will at times completely ignore bodies within eyesight, or at times even you if you quickly get back into cover before they get into an alarmed state. It was never an issue that ruined my playtime however. Enemies also vary from regular soldiers, elite shotgun wielding soldiers, Nazi super mechs, and commanders that can call for reinforcements, which ensures fighting never gets stale.
Visually, The New Order is one of the standout games of this generation so far. It ran at an extremely smooth 60 fps while in gameplay with very detailed environments suffering from very minimal texture pop in. Outside of gameplay, cutscenes have well done animation and lighting that give a very cinematic atmosphere. All this is capped off with a memorable Dieselpunk artstyle that mixes the aesthetics of the 1950s with futuristic technology and an alternate history where the Nazis won WW2, and a soundtrack that features tunes that will make you want to kick ass one moment, and then the next be utterly terrified by the atrocities you witness. Voice acting is across the board standout, with Brian Bloom as B.J. Blazkowicz and Dwight Schultz as Deathshead in particular giving very memorable performances. I suffered three technical issues while playing where enemies got clipped onto the environment, and I ended up falling through the level and dying. I had zero problems otherwise and the game ran overall proficiently.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game that easily could’ve become another dime a dozen first person shooter that would’ve been forgotten about a month after its release. But developer MachineGames decided to give the Wolfenstein series a soft reboot that takes daring risks that attracts new fans while still being a game older fans of the series can have fun with. With its sequel The New Colossus coming out on October 27, 2017, now is the perfect time to buy and play it.