Now Playing: wolfenstein: the new order
I came away from E3 with a greater sense of self-loathing than usual. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was the most exciting game of the show – a blend of pulp adventure, hippy weirdness and bald savagery – but somehow, I’d managed to miss the prequel, The New Order. Perhaps it came out at the wrong time? Or perhaps I wrongly dismissed it as a dimwitted shooter while I was trying to unravel Child Of Light, or some similarly earnest indie game. Truthfully, my feeble excuses no longer matter: I’m going to fix things by playing The New Order with the force of a thousand hurricanes.
The first thing I notice, apart from the pleasingly frantic opening, is that Wolfenstein is the smartest kind of stupid – the kind that’s actually marvellously clever, because it’s precisely aware of how dumb you think it is. For example, when your fellow soldiers talk about ‘the Nazi war machine’, they mean it quite literally. It’s right there in front of you: a tripedal, mechanised tank, disintegrating Allied troops with a superpowered death ray. These cheerful in-jokes are everywhere. Every World War II trope is given a knowing twist; the sort of references you can only make if you truly understand your subject matter. Wolfenstein might look simple, but there’s nuance there. Pretend that Marcus Fenix writes cryptic crosswords, and you’re on the right lines.
Back in the game, I’m weaving in and out of the war machine’s legs as I sprint toward the Nazi stronghold, like Saving Private Ryan but with the earnestness swapped out for robot dogs. There’s incredible craft underneath the obvious brutality. My objectives seem straightforward – open the door, scale the castle, win World War II – but I’m struck by the variety of ways I can complete them. It’s equally possible to achieve a goal by bursting into a room wielding as many guns as I have limbs as it is to sneak in gently, throwing knives and slitting throats. I also love how my skills expand to reflect this: the more people I silently murder, the better BJ Blazkowicz gets at it. It’s rather like writing about games, except the only thing I’ve got better at is inserting selfreferential similes. So meta.
Prune with a view
After two attempts, I take out the Nazi war machine (the literal one, sadly). I push on to the finale of the first level and the inevitable confrontation with my nemesis, General Deathshead. He’s a brilliant baddie – like white supremacist dried fruit – and the game does a superb job of introducing him. He grins at me through a tiny window as I realise we’re trapped in a room with shrinking walls. It’s too much to hope that I’ll get to kill him in my first session, but I’m excited
about the prospect of coming
“As I stab my way out of the asylum to rescue Anya, I’m hit by how lovely it feels to kill Nazis”
back to gut him later. Your dried-fruit ass is going into a freedom breakfast, you shrivelled Nazi prick.
For now, though, there is only despair. Not only do I not get to kill him, I have to watch as he dissects my buddies. It’s hugely grim and slightly frustrating, not least because I mess up the moral choice it offers me. I get to choose who lives and dies out of wide-eyed new boy Wyatt and Fergus, our chipper but foul-mouthed Scottish commander. To start with, I kill Fergus, because I think he’ll stoically accept death. True enough, he takes being sliced up like a champ. But afterwards, when I’m left trying to escape with Wyatt, I change my mind, because I don’t want to spend the rest of the game alongside a character with all the narrative impact of a Greek-style yoghurt. So, I restart the level and let Fergus live instead. And now I feel twice as guilty because I’ve essentially murdered both of them and cheated. It’s pretty scummy, I know, but Fergus reminds me too much of beloved OXM contributor Dave Meikleham to be sacrificed.
Reich here waiting
Then, just when I think I can’t hate Nazis any more, The New Order hits me with the shocking opening to the second chapter. Blazkowicz is convalescing under the care of the wonderful Anya and her family – the first glimpse of true gentleness I’ve seen in the game so far. As expected, everyone gets butchered, but getting revenge feels amazing. As I stab my way out of the asylum to rescue Anya, I’m hit by how lovely it feels to kill Nazis. Truly, there is no way to murder them that’s too pitiful or horrific. And as brutal and disgusting as this all is, it’s given true meaning by the slower moments. If there’s one thing Wolfenstein does surprisingly well, it’s dynamism. The frantic sections contrast brilliantly with the quiet, introspective bits that every other shooter seems to have forgotten (you’re right to look red-faced, Call of Duty). It’s more impactful – and I can scarcely believe I’m writing this – because Blazkowicz is such a compelling, damaged hero. His broken monologues give me a real sense of everything he’s lost. It’s remarkably soulful stuff from a man with shrapnel in his head, and it gives the game a wistful, road-movie vibe. One moment he’s saying ‘f**k you!’ to the Moon – yes, the actual Moon – the next he’s making me care about characters I’ve barely met.
I’ll keep going until I’ve killed General Deathshead (or until Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, if this game doesn’t let me), but let’s finish with one final thing I adored: coffee. The start of the third level features the best caffeine physics I’ve ever seen in a game, as BJ nervously carries two cups through a Nazi-filled train compartment. All throughout the lifeand-death minigame that follows, I’m more worried about my drinks getting cold than I am about being shot by the icy Nazi commander who’s intimidating me. It’s the kind of nuance that means The New Order is constantly surprising. If it can make me care this much about beverages, imagine how I’ll feel when I finally get my hands on Deathshead.
what is it? A brutal FPS, set in a world where the Nazis won World War II, which is far smarter than it looks thanks to several clever references.
above You’re smiling now, gonad face, but you won’t be when I reach the end of the game and (hopefully) kill you.
Inventive singleplayer experiences are hard to find in 2017. Sure, there are plenty of single-player games kicking around, but few of them really push the boundaries. Shoot this, travel to the Moon to speak to a guy, go collect five magic lampshades – it’s all the same stuff, packaged up in different ways. Brothers forgets all that stuff, and gives you a singleplayer experience that, for me, was as memorable as Inside. That’s high praise, right? And it’s deserved.
Let’s pause for a quick history lesson. Brothers was originally released in August 2013 as an Xbox Live Arcade title (ahh, the good old days) and it was received pretty well. OXM gave it a 9. I didn’t play it. A few years later and it was re-released on Xbox One, this time packing some artwork and a director’s commentary. I still didn’t play it. Today, it’s available as part of the Xbox One Game Pass, meaning that you could sign up for a two-week free trial of it and play the whole game without spending a penny. With Starbreeze’s next game ( A Way Out) recently announced, that’s exactly what I did. And I wish I’d played it sooner.
The game is explicitly story-driven, but there are no subtitles, narration, or a line of English to be found. Like Inside, the game communicates the story visually, sometimes with subtle movements, and sometimes with overstated gestures to point you in the right direction. The characters do speak, but their language is nonsense – the only words you’ll start to recognise are the names of the two brothers, Naia and Naiee (told you, total nonsense). But somehow, it works. For me, this was because of the pace that the game moved. Frantic, action-packed sections that have you sprinting to a checkpoint or desperately climbing are few and far between – mostly things are sedate, and more about puzzles and the world around you than anything else. But the game never rests for too long on one idea, or drags an idea out more than it should. Each area gives you something new to play with, a new mechanic or ability; you use it for a while, and then you move on. Maybe you’re leaping crevasses on mountain goats, or swinging between hand-holds, or helping a troll to escape by stealing a key… whatever it is, you’ll do it for a few minutes, and probably won’t come back to it again. Every level feels like a new idea; it’s really refreshing. There are some real highlights, which I won’t spoil for you here. What I will say is that there are benches dotted through this game world (who the hell is building a bench on top of a mountain?) that let you have a sit down and enjoy the scenery. Do it. Usually it has no purpose at all, but it’s worth it just for the moment of quiet to admire the world design. At least once, sitting on a bench will unlock an achievement, but I won’t tell you which one because it’s more fun to find out on your own. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that it’s a really easy 1000G on Xbox One – you can get all 12 achievements in your first run-through if you want, or scoop up any you missed with the chapter selection tool later.
I won’t remember Brothers for the 1000G, though. I won’t remember it for the slightly awkward dual-stick controls that at times confused me and had the brothers running in opposite directions (okay, maybe I will a bit). What I’ll really remember is the story and the world, both of which kept surprising me. Until playing Brothers, I wasn’t too interested in the multiplayer prison-break story of A Way Out. Now I can’t wait.
“There are no subtitles, narration, or a line of English to be found” what is it? A sombre story of two brothers who must travel across a mythical world filled with trolls, giants and goats in order to save their dying father.