Wolfenstein: The New Order
360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One
That subtitle couldn’t be more appropriate. While Wolfenstein 3D, id’s 1992 FPS, popularised a genre, the series’ subsequent history is patchy, regularly shifting from studio to studio, its soul slowly stripped away in the process. Machine Games, a Swedish outfit made up of former Starbreeze staff, staunchly refuses to contribute to that downward spiral. The New Order not only makes Wolfenstein relevant again, it has a good go at shaking up the genre as a whole.
The first statement of intent comes early on. We stumble across a detachable mounted machine gun after clearing out some trenches. Instinctively, we grab it and wait a beat or two for the inevitable wave of Nazis to arrive. No one comes. It feels like a sideways jab at The New Order’s peers, setting the tone for a game that wants to assure you it’s in on the joke.
More surprising still is the almost seamless meshing of a moving story of love and selfless bravery with a deluge of bombastic, tongue-in-cheek Nazi slaying. Inglourious Basterds pulled a similar coup, but balancing those disparate elements in a game is a tougher ask. Somehow it does gel: apart from one unfortunate, cringe-inducing misuse of the American national anthem, every cutscene is a melodramatic pleasure, every moment of play driven by the desire for revenge the story so effortlessly instils. The tale is schlocky and serious by turns, but it’s never less than affecting and the delivery throughout is near faultless.
It’s at its most profound when, during a lengthy prologue, you’re forced to choose which of protagonist BJ Blazkowicz’s fellow soldiers to save from a gruesome end at the hands of the returning General Deathshead, having just fought side by side in a botched assault on the General’s compound. Your subsequent escape sets up The New Order’s alternative timeline, with an explosion knocking you unconscious. You recover from your shrapnel-induced vegetative state 14 years later to find the ’60s just beginning and the Nazis in power. Having spent this time watching powerlessly as soldiers removed patients from the family-run asylum that’s been providing your care, you come to your senses just as the arrangement sours and they begin executing the sick and staff alike. You escape with your carer, Anya, and make a break for her grandparents’ house, and from there formulate a plan to rebuild the hobbled resistance.
A revolutionary hero needs weapons, and this one is particularly well armed. Machine Games’ oversized gun designs are faintly ridiculous, occupying huge chunks of the screen and sporting barrels big enough to fit your head inside. What’s more, you can dual-wield almost all of them, trading scoped accuracy for a hailstorm of indiscriminate death. All weapons have a secondary fire mode, too, unlocked as you progress. The pistol, for example, gains a silencer; the machine gun, a rocket launcher; and a close-range laser attachment makes the
It’s schlocky and serious by turns, but it’s never less than affecting and the delivery throughout is near faultless
sniper rifle more flexible. But while weapons certainly do plenty of damage – limbs fly, heads explode and masonry crumbles – they feel oddly light, lacking the thumping feedback that their onscreen heft promises.
Perks, earned by meeting certain conditions, further augment your armoury, perhaps increasing the damage done by headshots or letting you carry more grenades. You also have a laser tool that can cut through chains, fences, and eventually aluminium sheeting. As you might expect, upgrades soon turn this into an anti-personnel device as well. And depending on who you chose to save from Deathshead’s experiments, you’ll gain either the ability to lockpick, opening up new routes, or to hotwire safes, which will grant you access to additional ammunition or armour.
Any disappointment resulting from the weak gun kickbacks is mitigated by the flexible, grin-inducing combat. Enemies use cover well, running and rolling to get to safety when you’re spotted, and blind-firing to rob you of easy headshots. Given the space, they’ll try to flank you, too, but they’ll always target your last-known position, giving you the chance to repay the favour. Most cover is destructible, which not only breaks stalemates, but forces you to keep moving, and combat spaces are designed like multiplayer levels, full of labyrinthine corridors, vents and walkways. You can, however, approach areas with stealth in mind instead. Machine Games has deftly avoided undernourished, bolted-on stealth sections by folding sneaking into the game’s DNA, a reverential nod to Muse Software’s 1981 Castle Wolfenstein. Central to this are the newly introduced Commanders, officer-class enemies capable of calling in reinforcements. If you’re spotted, they’ll retreat to a defensible area and summon wave after wave of tough, armoured backup. Take them out quietly, however, and you can then mop up forces in the area without fear of interruption. There are no vision cones or floating exclamation marks; hiding is done intuitively, and it works brilliantly. It does, however, expose enemies’ blasé attitude to the sudden deaths of their colleagues, often continuing to patrol despite the prone Nazi in their path. Still, such wobbles never detract from the satisfaction of moving through an area quietly, and when you are noticed, proceedings simply flip back into satisfying combat.
The New Order is, above all, brave. Its odd mix of ’90s-style FPS excess and Nazi atrocities could have come across as outdated and crass. But Machine Games maintains just as much respect for its difficult subject matter as it does for its players, and the result is a game that indulges the mature and juvenile parts of your personality in equal measure. In looking to the past, Machine Games’ brass-balled Nazi shooter has secured a brighter future for Wolfenstein.