Now Play­ing: wolfen­stein: the new order

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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.

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