I had my initial apprehensions about another first person shooter taking place in World War 2 and for the first hour of Wolfenstein: The New Order you get just that. Thankfully the rest of the game ends up being one of the biggest surprises of 2014.
I was worried since my PAX East hands-on of The New Order left me mostly indifferent. Thankfully the introductions of passive perks, excellent world building and challenging gunplay gave me a renewed interest in Wolfenstein I had thought long left me since Enemy Territory.
The Nazis have have marched all across Europe thanks to the nightmarish futuristic weaponry developed by the villainous General Deathshead and it’s up to B.J. Blazkowics and crew to take out Deathshead and his giant bad-guy filled base. However, the mission goes horribly wrong leaving B.J. gravely wounded, comatose and a huge piece of shrapnel lodge in part of his brain.
Spending 14 years in a coma, B.J. wakes up in a world where the Nazi war machine never stopped moving forward. Most of the known world is the under the oppressive heel of the Nazis. With only pockets of resistance still active, B.J. finds a way to hook up with other freedom fighters to essentially take back the entire planet.
A lot of Wolfenstein’s personality comes from the Resistance comprised of members who have had their lives ruined due to the Nazi victory. All of them have tragic back stories with their own reasons for fighting. I do wish some of the resistance fighters have gotten more screen time by the end of the game, though.
The world of Wolfenstein is almost a character in itself. Audio diaries, newspaper clips and even ambient dialogue do a decent job on revealing the current state of affairs. The horrifying recollections of defeat after defeat during B.J’s absence really makes the resistance attempt seem hopeless until our favorite Nazi mass murderer shows up.
The Third Reich has made monumental scientific and technological advances that practically turn Earth into a 1960s City of Tomorrow-style utopia. Of course this utopia was built by slaves who were anyone who didn’t fit into the Nazi definition of “pure.”
B.J. himself feels uneven as a character. He often reflects on the horrors of war, which comes from a man who had to watch Nazis take over the world from the sidelines in a vegetative state, and then makes terrible action movie quips only moments later while stabbing a sleeping soldier in the back. B.J. has always been a cipher for the player and I do enjoy the layer of survivor’s guilt and overall contempt for the evil regime. The only problems are that his dialogue is mostly flat and the majority of his character development comes from other people telling Captain B.J. how’s awesome he is.
The New Order introduces a passive perk system that allows you to unlock slight performance upgrades to your Nazi killing repertoire. Get X amount of headshots with your silenced pistol to receive a passive perk that will increase damage by a silence pistol. While this is a neat little addition, you’ll go through most of the game not really knowing why you’re suddenly carrying extra grenades or doing more damage with your assault rifles.
Stages are smartly designed and fit really well into the gradually over the top story. Missions will range from working undercover to liberate a prison camp to fighting Nazis on a Moon base. Stealth is now a viable strategy as many stages have a ton of nooks and vents you can hide in and take out officers (who can call backup when alerted) with a well place knife in the face. If you prefer just dual-wielding machine guns and depositing millions of bullets into the Nazis’ bank of flesh, that’s completely fine too.
The combat is fairly much what you would expect in a Wolfenstein title. You’ll literally mow down hundreds of Nazi soldiers, Nazi robot soldiers and giant robot Nazi dogs with the usual assortment of laser rifles and assault rifles with grenade launchers. My favorite murder tool came in the form an upgraded laser cutter that you use to bypass wire fences and vents. Its alternate fire turns into a high-powered laser capable of turning Nazis into chunky pile of goosestepping goo.
Gameplay is actually challenging, mostly due to the fact that your health can only regenerate about 25% of your max amount when near death. Other than that you have to rely on health and shield pick-ups. You also have to make good use of your lean to take on the seemingly never ending number of enemies in certain stages.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is ambitious in ways you wouldn’t figure a Wolfenstein game would be. Machine Games managed to craft an enjoyable intriguing world while keeping the classic tradition of graphic and nonsensical violence. It’s a good time.