In a terrifying alternate reality the Nazis have won World War II, though not in the conventional way. With advanced technology on their side they’ve turned the tide on Europe and have forced the United States to surrender with a heady mix of cyborg dogs, giant robots and pure evil. London landmarks such as Big Ben and St Paul’s Cathedral still stand but are dwarfed by a colossal Nazi fortress. The English capital has an oppressive air, decked out in Swastikas and Nazi flags, while blimps patrol the sky-lines and armed soldiers line the streets. However, all hope isn’t lost just yet.
Step forward the square-jawed action hero, and Wolfenstein’s perennial Nazi ass kicker, William “B.J.” Blazkowicz, who has seen unspeakable horrors orchestrated by the Nazis during his mission to the Baltic Coast of Germany in 1946, which is where Wolfenstein: The New Order begins. After a rather bland opening half-an-hour, a generic run through bunkers and buildings, clearing rooms and blasting Nazis to pieces in typical FPS fashion, things really start to get interesting and The New Order proves itself to be anything but an ordinary, run-of-the-mill FPS.
From the moment that you and two of your comrades, Fergus and Wyatt, are captured by the sublimely evil General Deathshed, who then makes you choose which one of them to kill, it’s clear how far things have evolved since the last Wolfenstein game. Overall, The New Order is an excellent production with top quality cut scenes, credible voice acting, slick animation and a cast of love-to-hate characters that draw you into its twisted fantasy with some style. Aside from some bizarre moments, such as the search for some impenetrable Nazi concrete and a trip somewhere that you’d least expect (no spoilers), the narrative, excellent characterisation and tongue-in-cheek script do more than enough to keep you hooked.
The moment that The New Order really grabbed us was when Blazkowicz falls into a coma and is taken to an asylum in Poland, which is a front for the Nazis to take away patients and experiment on them. A love story begins to develop between Blazkowicz and head nurse Anya who he watches care for him through his vegetative state. One day the Nazis arrive in force to close the facility, killing all the patients in the process. But, as B.J. is about to be killed, he wakes up and fights back. The game is on… Blazkowicz has a lady and revenge on his mind and seeks out the resistance to aid him in some serious payback.
Gameplay switches between bouts of frenetic combat, slower-paced stealth sections and boss battles, all of which are broken up with entertaining cut scenes that introduce some enjoyable characters, such as Nazi sadist Frau Engel and her camp toy boy Bubi. There’s a vast array of weapons, from shotguns to assault rifles, all of which are upgradable and have secondary fire modes, such as rocket launchers and long sights. There’s also some technologically advanced arms that add some variety to the usual FPS set-up, such as the Laserkraftwerk, which allows you to cut through fences and take down Mecha.
Consequently, there’s a ton of different ways to kill enemies and tackle each chapter, blasting heads clean off with the shotgun, stabbing Nazi scum through the neck with a stealth kill, or even just dual-wielding two assault rifles and blasting through a mound of Nazi bodies like John Rambo. It’s fast-paced (mentally so at times), explosive and a visual treat as limbs fly off bodies and Nazis squirm in pain. Blazkowicz is totally unforgiving in his destruction of any enemy that stands in his way, and after seeing the atrocities that the Nazis have got up to, we found ourselves taking great satisfaction from mowing them down through gritted teeth and switching up our combat tactics to test out what all the weapons had to offer.
Weapons feel meaty and death animations are suitably gory, but developer MachineGames also does well to rein things back a little in terms of tempo by giving players plenty of opportunity for tactical play. The cover system and level design helps in this respect, allowing players to systematically move between cover positions with the press of a button and pick off enemies rather than just wade in. When the game throws a mix of enemy types at you, such as flying robots, giant Mechas and plain foot-soldiers, it becomes extremely tactical as you switch between EMP grenades, quick shotgun bursts for close-quarters combat, or pick off headshots of enemies who might be perched high up on a balcony. The cover system becomes an integral part of the game, and it works extremely well in The New Order as you bob over cover spots, or take pot-shots around the side.
Stealth play also adds tactical variety. Sneaking through a Nazi compound trying to avoid tripping alarms, using the Laserkraftwerk to cut through fences and sneaking up behind a guard for a satisfying stealth kill is great fun. Indeed, the variety in level design keeps the action feeling fresh with the likes of tight, corridor or room-clearing battles giving way to open expanses that provide plenty of tactical opportunity and encourage exploration. With plenty of collectibles to search for, such as Nazi gold and enigma codes, or trying to seek out the secret location hidden in each chapter, there’s also decent replay value.
The New Order also does a good job at encouraging you to experiment with weapons and making you wary of just how much ammo you’re using. Such is the rate of ammo that you lose in a fire fight, you’ll find yourself constantly playing the game like a sniffer dog, with your nose to the ground searching for extra ammo and med-kits. It gets a little annoying at times having to constantly press the Square button to pick up ammo (it should have been automatic) but it does add to the tension as you’re forced to bring up the weapon wheel and switch arms fairly regularly to adapt to each situation, or the sudden loss of bullets.
An automatic perk system also runs in the background, unlocking extras such as extra magazine capacity, better armour and the ability to throw knives, but rather than assigning points to it, it adds perks based on your play-style. Though you can stop the game and head into the menu to see what you need to do to unlock each perk, it soon became a feature that we generally forgot about as it was just running in the background rather than being an integral part of the game. Perhaps if we could have assigned points ourselves it would have felt more meaningful, but as it stands it didn’t really seem to have much impact on the game.
The main disappointment in The New Order, however, are the boss battles and the mini-boss battles, which consist entirely of taking down giant Mechas. This largely involves just hiding out of the way or running around like a lunatic to avoid their gun-fire and then attacking them. Though there’s more tactics needed for the final boss battle, it also ends up being a little disappointing and lacking imagination, especially considering we’d had so much fun in the lead up to the big showdown.
Nevertheless, Wolfenstein: The New Order delivers an entertaining narrative, complete with a gutsy campaign that has left us eager for much more from the series. With boring boss battles being the main bone of contention (they constitute for probably less than 30 minutes of a pulsating, engaging 12-hour campaign), there’s little about Wolfenstein: The New Order not to like. Not only does it get that balance of storytelling, level design variety and immersive FPS gameplay spot-on, it does so with great style.