And here you thought you were done with killing Nazis. Well, think again. The WWII shooter genre went stale a few years ago, and even the Nazi zombie gimmick has become overplayed (refer to South Park: The Stick of Truth for further discussion). In fact, most shooters appear to be moving forward in time rather than going back. However, Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t about history; it’s about the big “what if?” – the Nazis winning the war and essentially conquering the world. Developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda, The New Order is all about delivering old-school action and a worthwhile story while being, above-all, an incredibly fun experience.
In the opening scenes of the game, it’s obvious something isn’t quite right with the world. It’s 1946, and a massive Allied air armada is on its way to a Nazi stronghold, in what might be their last chance to halt the Nazi war machine, or at least stave off defeat a little longer. Once again, the player is thrust into the boots of OSS operative B.J. Blascowicz, a man who’s had just about enough of those Nazi chaps, on his way with the assault on Deathshead’s Compound. For those out of the loop, Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse is one of the antagonists from previous Wolfenstein games and has a penchant for highly unethical science and otherwise cruel predilections.
However, Now it appears that he is responsible for the Nazis dramatic advance in technology including giant mechanical dogs and the colossal Baltic Eye, which has left them virtually unstoppable. They also seemed to have left all the occult stuff from previous installments behind in favour of purely mechanical advancements (although they’re also from mysterious origins). Without spoiling much, the Allied assault fails and BJ is left injured and stuck in a Polish Asylum in a coma for 14 years. He awakens from his coma to find the war is lost and the Nazis have conquered most of the world. After making an amazing recovery (comatosed to Nazi killing in 5 seconds flat) and rescuing his nurse Anya Oliwar, BJ sets off to find the last remnants of the Kreisau Circle resistance movement.
BJ Blaskowicsz has never been much more than a Nazi killing machine throughout Wolfenstein history, so MachineGames and Bethesda decided to rectify that this time around. We’re presented with a bitter, angry and introspective BJ who’s had enough of war. In fact, he’s so sick of war he’s on a personal mission to kill Nazis so he can stop killing Nazis. Once Deathshead is gone, then hopefully he can put down his guns. He comes across as charming yet blunt, often kind and more often regretful for the people he couldn’t save. He’s appealing because he doesn’t mope and is pragmatic, yet he shows real vulnerability and fear. The love story that develops between Anya and BJ feels organic (although the sex scenes don’t look particularly organic, they make sense in the story) which adds emotional depth while acting as a juxtaposition to the brutal reality the game otherwise deals with.
A deep understanding of the Wolfenstein universe isn’t required to enjoy The New Order as the previous games aren’t explicitly referenced, but there are a few recurring characters. Blascowiscz this time around is bitter, and in turn, out to kill every damn Nazi there is. Seriously, the one big thing you take away from The New Order is how much he hates them. He’s portrayed in the manner of Brad Pitt’s Lt. Alto Raine in Inglorious Basterds, especially his passion for “Nazi killin’”, and with that tone, doesn’t mind firing off the odd one liner, either. The story has a pulp/heist movie feel to it; complete with oddball cast, fast editing and snappy dialogue. There’s something to be said about the slight disconnect between the themes presented and the tone of Wolfenstein. The Nazis were responsible for some of history’s greatest atrocities, which can’t be taken lightly, yet Wolfenstein is a somewhat silly series of games. The New Order features some fairly confronting scenes to do with the holocaust, and in my opinion, it kind of feels a bit at odds with a game that has the quote “Nazis are on the moon huh, f*ck you moon.” It’s sometimes hard to discern if The New Order is trying to say anything more than simply “the Nazis were bad.”
The New Order starts off a little rocky with some uninspired button pressing and turret sequences, but once the action ignites, the fun really begins. It doesn’t take long to pick up a few weapons, and then suddenly, BAM! See that other rifle over there? Why not wield that one, too? That’s right, you can double-wield almost every weapon in the game. Not only that, you can have one gun in your left hand using one firing mode while the one in the right could be firing rockets or lasers. Double shotguns are especially devastating/awesome. Gunplay is handled so damned well it may reignite lost passion for shooters in even the most jaded gamer. Health packs and armour pickups make a return, which may irritate those devoted to the altar of regenerating health, but it adds a certain charm and certainly some strategy to the gameplay. The big gimmick of The New Order is the oh-so-excellent Laser KraftWerk – a device that can cut through certain metal objects and also fires Nazi-exploding laser-beams – that acts as your backup weapon and, basically, a secret-finder. It operates by rechargeable battery, but it’s rarely hard to find recharge points, plus there are upgrades littered throughout the campaign that really make it sing.
What’s great about the gameplay is the freedom the player is given for their own play-style, and the flexibility of weapons which makes both stealth and full assault plausible. For example, at one point you have to clear out a checkpoint, but are simply pointed in the general direction you have to go. If you’re so inclined, you can go straight up the middle for a gunfight which lets you unleash laser miniguns, whereas taking a quieter approach will reward you with a silenced pistol to sneak through the base. The New Order handles stealth well, even if the AI is a little stupid (guards don’t investigate, and will happily walk over mounds of their deceased comrades without batting an eyelid), and rewards players with secret item locations when commanders are stealth killed. As you play your preferred style, you begin to unlock abilities on three different tiers. While stealth AI is a little on the derp side, the soldiers will have no qualms about flushing you out of cover with grenades or keeping you busy while flanking you from the side, plus, they generally stick to cover rather than filing toward you for a cheap death.
While the majority of the game is traditional shooting (and leaning from cover!) there are quite a few diversionary activities to mix things up, such as driving cars, underwater craft, mechs, and, of course, finding new and interesting ways to kill Nazis. The one big thing, and it cannot be understated, is that MachineGames intended this game to be fun. It’s about harking back to a simpler time of having a huge arsenal strapped to your back and blasting away with glee. The slower in-game plot-related moments may not appeal to everyone though as BJ is sent on little errands which act as character exposition exercises, but those sections do add colour to the story.
As previous mentioned, The New Order is fun. Super fun. The sort of fun that will have you replaying levels just to see the different ways you can get through it, or simply to hone your Nazi Killing skills. The game generally has a soft hand in directing the player, and most of the time only offers suggestions for the next course of action, which I thought worked really well. The game is also made fun by giving the player the feeling of being an absolute arse-kicker, but then giving the player the agency to decide how that arse will be kicked. My playthrough was spent skulking through corridors knifing soldiers in the back, and then double-wielding shotguns when I was caught. The gunplay is so damn satisfying, it seems a wonder that we somehow lost this feeling over the past few years.
Throughout the game, there are some nice little touches that are easy to miss, that, in my opinion, add personality to the experience; such as special vocal cues from BJ as you look at certain things, or interacting with characters after certain actions. Adding to all the old-school charm are little details in the menus such as being called a wuss for trying to quit or the different difficulty levels starting at “Can I Play, Daddy?” including a picture of BJ with a bonnet and pacifier. Health packs, ammo, and armour are littered around levels like the days of old, but require the player to press a button to collect them. It’s a little annoying when you’re rushing around mashing the button trying to collect everything, but at least it means you can then save those resources for later, if necessary.
Another interesting element in the game that I’d like to bring attention to are the “commanders,” which add new layers of strategy to battles as they can call reinforcements when you’re spotted. Killing the commander unawares stops all reinforcements and reveals secrets on the map, which is handy for completionists, plus it forces the player to come up with a strategy to avoid being overwhelmed. The game also allows for multiple playthroughs with different choices, plus unlockable extras to keep you playing. There’s no multi-player, a brave move for a series such as this, but unless it was going to be implemented in a worthwhile way it probably won’t be missed.
The New Order presents a dark cruel world, in a time we would naturally associate with colour and freedom. As the Nazis gradually took over, they began warping everything to their own monolithic image, and also apparently drained the world of colour (except red). In the 14 years since the end of the war, the Nazis developed a “super-concrete,” which they used to quickly build huge imposing structures around the world, including Berlin and occupied London, which have become the biggest visual impact of the Nazi’s leaving their mark on the world. The whole aesthetic of The New Order is interesting with all the vehicles and weapons having a futuristic design reflecting the Nazi’s technological advancement, and really offers a completely alternative image than what we’d expect from that era. A great deal of effort went into piling on detail in each level as the locations actually feel “lived-in.” The New Order is also quite gory as soldiers lose body parts and occasionally explode in a shower of red and gibs, and some incredibly disturbing scenes are also shown with every grisly detail – you’ve been warned.
The characters are all rendered well without reaching too far into uncanny valley, with every little care-worn crag, puckered scar or freckle giving them life and personality. The voice acting is fantastic to match the equally well-written dialogue, with one-liners a-plenty. In particular, Scottish pilot, Fergus Reid, will perhaps be regarded as one of the great NPCs of gaming, at least for his never-ending array of quips and witticisms. Sound, however, was a bit of an issue when reviewing the game as things like gunfire didn’t seem loud enough, and there is next t zo no sound options. The guns also sound a bit subdued and didn’t feel like they had enough substance. The music of The New Order both works to get the blood pumping and to add context to this unfamiliar era. At some point, the Nazi rounded up four lads from Liverpool and had them singing about U-Boats, which you can listen to in-game.
While characters are rendered with great detail, the environments are at times a little ugly. The depth of field isn’t great and The New Order doesn’t excel at wide-open spaces, of which there are few. A lot of the action occurs buildings or complexes that aren’t overly exciting to look at, with the aesthetics sitting more on the grim side of things. There’s an interesting sequence where you’re sent though an obligatory sewer sequence, but you soon discover the architecture has more beauty than the monotonous concrete structures above ground. The biggest issue comes from texture pop-ins within the scenery and occasionally enemies blinking in and out of existence.
It would be easy to write off The New Order as just another shooter, I know I did, but the alternate history angle was enticing enough to keep curiosity levels high. More often than not, these days, single player campaigns in shooters are the thing your blaze through to unlock content for multiplayer, or simply ignore for said multiplayer. It’s as if developers either forgot, or don’t know how to make a crafted story experience fun anymore. That’s why it’s a surprise, that out of nowhere, this game has ticked so many boxes. It’s not the emotional rollercoaster of The Last of Us, yet it still provides a well delivered, sincere story while not forgetting to entertain the hell out of us.
Note: This article was based on the PC version of the game, and provided to us by Bethesda Australia for review.