More than thirty years have passed since Muse Software’s first Wolfenstein game hit the Apple II and other classic devices, but the series is still going strong. With the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order, Wolfenstein‘s first entry in around five years, the franchise that helped to make the first-person shooter genre a hit with PC gamers is back with a bullet-riddled vengeance.
The New Order reunites American soldier B.J. Blazkowicz with his trusty arsenal and provides him with an appropriately hefty amount of technologically-advanced Nazis to use for target practice. Really, that’s all the game is: Moving from one environment to another and blowing away a shitload of Swastika-wearing bastards (and their mechanized dogs). Then again, that was to be expected. After all, Wolfenstein has essentially become synonymous with both campy gunplay and a love affair with gore.
This time around, things begin in 1946, with an alternate World War II timeline giving Hitler’s forces a noticeable advantage. However, we don’t stay there for a very long time, because a head injury forces our hero into institutionalization and fourteen years pass before he’s able to leave his wheelchair and resume his Nazi-killing ways. Don’t worry, though: Even though the majority of this game takes place during the early 1960s, it doesn’t contain any semblance of flower power.
General Deathshead – a familiar face from previous titles – returns in a starring role as the game’s uber-villain. As ugly as ever, he becomes the main target of Sergeant Blazkowicz and company after heinously killing one of Blazkowicz’s own. There are two possible victims, however, in a twist that allows the player to be the judge, jury and executioner.
Surprisingly, the game’s lengthy campaign features two similar but somewhat different timelines, which split once friendly blood has been shed. [SPOILER ALERT] If you allow Fergus to live, as I did, then you’ll be able to find health upgrades, whereas if you allow Wyatt to remain with the living, then you’ll be searching for armor upgrades. Of course, killing a major character also alters the main game storyline, so certain parts of the game will differ depending on who you decide to sacrifice.
The plot won’t blow you away with its cohesion or creativity, but even as it oozes campiness, it serves its purpose pretty well. As such, you can expect colorful, politically incorrect characters, a heavy dose of blood and guts, and an enemy force seemingly ripped from the pages of a particularly visceral comic book. However, I was left wanting more from the story, and I had a hard time getting immersed within it.
Playing through just one of Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s timelines took me approximately fifteen hours, although some of that time can be attributed to the difficulty level I chose. There are sixteen chapters in total – the majority of which are missions – and most of them are longer than those in your average shooter. They’re full of collectibles, too, so much so that you’re taken out of the experience by the sheer amount of them. If you’re someone who cares about achievements or trophies, expect to spend a lot of time scouring environments for letters, enigma codes, musical records, upgrades and random pieces of gold, of which there are many. Audio diaries can also be listened to, but doing so means having to leave the game and visit menus – something that is as cumbersome and outdated as it sounds.
This particular Wolfenstein iteration pays homage to its roots, by eschewing today’s regenerating health mechanic in favour of more classic fare. However, the result is a system that ends up becoming rather frustrating within a short amount of time. The design of the game means that, instead of hiding to regain your health, you’re tasked with picking up individual med packs and pieces of body armour, all of which vary in size. Being able to overclock your health is a welcomed aspect, as is being able to permanently upgrade the meter, but those things exist within a dated system that maybe should’ve been left in the past.
My comments do come with a grain of salt, however, given that I decided to play on uber difficulty from the beginning. That meant my health depleted very quickly, and that I was put up against crackshot enemies, who made their bullets matter. Others have said that they encountered terrible artificial intelligence, which made the game quite easy, but I didn’t have that experience. At least, for the most part. Sure, there were times where foes would fail to notice me, and the carnage that I left in my wake, but those occasions weren’t too prevalent. Instead, my main concern with The New Order‘s enemies was how they would often appear out of thin air.
Many of the game’s environments employ a simple design, wherein individual captains must be taken out in order to prevent back-up from being called in. If you fail to assassinate them and they spot you, then an unlimited amount of bad guys will pour out of every crevasse. It’s sensible and ties in well with the old school motif that the developers went for, but it doesn’t always work. In fact, I can’t count the amount of times that enemies ended up spawning behind me or randomly appeared in front of me as I scoured rooms for health items.
What I did like about Wolfenstein: The New Order, though, is how it approaches combat, and how it awards perks accordingly. Although the designers didn’t always make perfect choices, they did manage to turn Wolfenstein into a game that allows players to utilize two different play styles. While it goes without saying that one of the two techniques involves running, gunning and blowing shit up with regularity, the other option involves stealth. Yes, you read that right, Wolfenstein: The New Order actually allows players to forego firing loud and heavy bullets, in favour of unleashing sneak attacks on unsuspecting bad guys.
The stealth, which can be hit-and-miss due to the game’s occasionally wonky artificial intelligence, became my go-to choice, since it allowed me to quietly take out those who stood in my path. I did just that, using a mix of executions, throwing knives and silenced pistols, an arsenal that was quite a bit of fun to use. However, I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention my favourite weapon: a battery-powered laser gun. I loved it, because it could be used to not only cut fences and metallic vent covers, but also to turn enemies into bloody pulp via heat-seeking fire. The last facet became extremely helpful near the end of the game, when The New Order tended to drop me into one of its beloved choke points and task me with taking out a ton of heavily armoured foes, while dealing with limited cover options.
Despite the enjoyment I found in utilizing its stealth mechanics, Wolfenstein: The New Order never managed to hook me and actually ended up boring me on several occasions. For some reason, I seem to be in the minority on that count, despite having been a fan of first-person shooters since the days of Doom and Duke Nukem 3D. Wolfenstein had its moments, for sure, but there was just something about the game that prevented me from enjoying it as much as I had hoped I would.
The honest truth is that I still can’t manage to put a finger on exactly what it was about this game that I didn’t like. With that said, though, I will admit that things improved and became more enjoyable as time progressed. Still, it seemed that, for every memorable and enjoyable part, there’d be an annoying choke point or a boring sequence that I wanted to get through as quickly as possible.
My impressions are based on a full play through of the Xbox One version of this title, which, despite being imperfect overall, was predominantly issue-free. It ran well and looked pretty good, albeit with some dated textures, but I had an issue getting it to install the first time around. For some reason, the disc failed after getting to seventy percent, which forced me to delete the file and restart. Thankfully, my second attempt went smoothly.
When you consider how aesthetically campy this game is, it comes as no surprise that its soundtrack, dialogue and effects are much the same. Its campaign is fully voiced, and that fact works to its advantage, because its cast gives appropriate and fitting life to its fictional cast of colourful faces. Going further, The New Order‘s soundtrack also stands out because of its adhesion to German fare, including a foreign language cover of “House of the Rising Sun.”
In the end, Wolfenstein: The New Order wasn’t entirely for me. The action is furious, the story is just substantial enough to work, and there are definitely some highly enjoyable moments, but looking at the game as a whole, it’s simply adequate – nothing more, nothing less.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. We were provided with a copy for review purposes.