Wolfenstein: The New Order
System(s): Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Release Date: May 20, 2014
Publisher (Developer): Bethesda Softworks, Machinegames
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+ for violence, strong language, strong sexual content and drug use
Wolfenstein: The New Order comes burdened with glorious purpose. It’s a reboot for one of the most famous shooters in history. It deals with the atrocities of Nazi Germany, and that is always a dangerous canvas to paint on. While the Middle East and “not too distant future” are the most common shooter settings these days, it wasn’t that long ago that World War II was the place for them to be. Other series have the luxury of moving to another era, but not Wolfenstein. There’s no way to do this without breaking a whole lot of the Nazi war machine’s pieces.
War Never Changes
Our story begins in 1946. History buffs will realize World War II was over by then, so we’re going into full Harry Turtledove territory. The Nazis are on the brink of world conquest thanks to the advanced technology of General Wilhelm Strausse, also known as Deathshead. We’re talking stuff like armored dogs and robot soldiers. The player is in control of Captain BJ Blazkowicz, one of this war’s greatest heroes. He’s on hand as The Allies make one last ditch to turn this around by taking out Deathshead himself.
Since this is the beginning of the game, I don’t consider it much of a spoiler to tell you that plan doesn’t work out. Also, the back of the box tells you the main story begins in 1960, with Blazkowicz in a hospital. Despite the coma, killing Nazis is like riding a bike for BJ. He does make a brief illusion to his atrophied leg muscles, but this is hand waved away pretty quickly. The rules of science don’t apply to this soldier when there’s work to be done. BJ finds out that the Allies lost and the Reich now rules the world. They’ve even planted their flag on the moon. This world ain’t gonna stand, not while BJ is breathing.
Those We Left Behind
This is a crazy thing to say about a game in which the Germans have moon bases and battle mechs. But Wolfenstein: The New Order deals with the realism of war. Yes, BJ is a superman who will have singlehandledly killed thousands of enemies by the time we’re finished. But even he can’t save everyone. At the very beginning, Deathshead will force you to choose between two of your soldiers. The story takes two branching paths depending on the choice you make. I’m very eager to start my second playthrough to see how things shake out differently.
BJ doesn’t know how history is supposed to unfold, all he knows is the pain and loss he’s seeing all around him. Amidst the carnage, I can’t help but wonder how many soldiers died never knowing what their sacrifice made possible. Many games and other media use our knowledge of the Nazis as a shortcut. We know the sins they committed, so writers often cheat and don’t show us why they’re evil. Wolfenstein places you in an incinerator at one point. Deathshead gleefully reminds that all the Fatherland’s advanced science came from the blood of its enemies, innocents and anyone else he could take a scalpel to. That makes it much more chilling to realize that while the armored hounds and German victory are fictional, the callous disregard for human life was completely real.
So yes, we hate these guys. None of that matters if killing them isn’t fun. Wolfenstein delivers here with a skill tree that rewards you for how you kill. Stealth kill a bunch of commanders, and you unlock a skill that pinpoints them on your map. This is important, because commanders can flip an alarm that sends a neverending stream of enemy reinforcements. Going in guns blazing unlocks its own set of perks including dual-wielding and quick reloading. This is a shooter you can play your way. Factor in the branching storylines, and it warrants multiple playthroughs.
Gun Control Means Using Both Hands
As our Rick Moscatello pointed out in his excellent 10 tips, the true purpose for dual-wielding is to avoid having to reload during a shootout. Your accuracy is non existent while carrying two guns. So it’s better to fire them individually, and switch guns rather than reload during a firefight.
Playing stealthy is a fun diversion from shooting everything in sight, but exposes flaws in enemy AI. Guards often don’t see or hear their cohorts getting their neck snapped and falling to the ground just a few feet away. They are also remarkably oblivious to corpses. They hear strange noises, but their attention span for investigating them is short.
Wolfenstein offers a large number of places to explore and secrets to find. You can track down enigma codes, stolen gold and secret caches of health and ammo. Gaining health over 100 points allows you to “overcharge.” That way you’ll have a little extra health, perfect for a quick charge at an enemy battalion. It ticks down rapidly to your normal level of health, so get aggressive while it’s active.
I reviewed the game on Xbox One, and in addition to the game install there’s a 7 GB update you’ll need as well. The game told me I could start without the install, but I was unable to play past the first chapter without doing so. I’ve encountered some reports of other players having the same problem. I reinstalled the whole game, letting everything finish downloading completely, and haven’t had an issue since.
Reinventing a classic isn’t easy, but Machinegames has a lot to be proud of in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Captain Blazkowicz is as much of an action hero as he’s ever been, but not an unfeeling one. This shooter manages to combine real life atrocities and sci-fi alternate history into an amazingly cohesive experience. Initial sales reports indicate this one’s going to do well, so we’ll get to visit this universe again. Somebody pass me that assault rifle. Speaking of legendary shooters, don’t forget The New Order includes a beta code for Doom. Everything legendary is new again.