Wolfen­stein: The New Or­der

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Bethesda Soft­works De­vel­oper Ma­chine Games For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4 (ver­sion tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

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.

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