Everyone knows that Wolfenstein is the grandaddy of all first person shooters. Wolfenstein 3D is a classic that everyone recognizes as the starting point to things like Call of Duty and Halo. However, 1992 and Wolfenstein 3D were a long time ago and now, 22 years later, we have another attempt to revitalize the aging series. Wolfenstein: The New Order accomplishes this difficult task by managing to succeed in two ways at the same time. It is both a callback to action games of yore while also including great mechanics and visuals that place it squarely in the current generation of video games.
For those of you not up on your Wolfenstein lore, you once again take the role of William “BJ” Blazkowicz, the Nazi-killing bad ass who has taken on the German baddies many times over. While in the same universe containing Wolfenstein 3D, The New Order specifically continues as a direct sequel to 2009’s Wolfenstein developed by Raven Software. Blazkowicz is still trying to take out recurring antagonist Wilhelm Strasse, more commonly referred to as Deathshead. The game opens with a major attack on Deathshead’s castle, which aims to be a major turning point in the war.
Seeing as the attack on the castle is the first level, it should go without saying that it does not go as intended. The whole plan is thwarted and Blazkowicz finds himself injured and left for dead, doomed to live in a semi-comatose state for over 14 years. Upon finally regaining his strength, he is presented with a world in which the the war is over and the Nazis have conquered almost the entire world. Blazkowicz must uncover whatever remnants of resistance are left in order to reignite the fires of war in hopes of finally toppling the Nazi regime.
The story is told with a straightforward, serious tone and style but at the same time there is an omnipresent goofiness throughout. One moment you will be witness to the absolute horrors of war and the pure evil that is Deathshead, then the next minute you will watch a side character killing Nazis gleefully, while singing “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” You will transition from sneaking through a Nazi facility, quietly executing enemies, to being attacked by a tiger-sized, robotic dog. You might think the contrast would lead to imbalance but the game embraces both serious and silly so strongly that it somehow makes them work together to create a style that is incredibly endearing.
The duality of the game’s style continues into the actual gameplay as well. Wolfenstein is a game of two different eras that are mashed together to create a memorable action game. On one hand you have a lot of tropes from classic shooters such as health packs and armor pickups, a large array of weapons almost always available to you and large environments full of enemies with one goal in mind: killing you. It’s classic first person shooter action and the game succeeds in hitting that intangible feeling of great gunplay. There isn’t a huge variety of enemies but the game is really more about blasting through rooms full of guys, so you likely won’t notice, especially when the game starts throwing difficult mini-bosses into the mix.
While there are undoubtedly classic roots here, Wolfenstein is still very much a title that presents new ideas and varied gameplay. Many sections can be played in complete stealth and the game emphasizes this through the placement of Commanders that will call in reinforcements should you be detected. The stealth gameplay is not very deep but still highly satisfying. There is also an adaptive cover mechanic built in that allows you to easily lean in and out of cover at will. A simple, white arrow clearly communicates when you can lean out so it’s incredibly easy to use and understand, making games where you snap into cover feel barbaric.
The game also offers an incredibly compelling Perk system that rewards you for how you play. There are four different sets of perks, each based on a different play style: Stealth, Tactical, Assault and Demolition. Completing a challenge results instantly in a tangible reward and you can easily track your progress and see what you need to accomplish to obtain every perk. You can unlock every perk over time, assuming you have the desire and skill. The challenges are usually not complicated, involving things like shooting enemies from cover with a specific weapon or getting stealth kills with throwing knives, but it is very enjoyable to alter how you’re playing in order to get each perk.
Wolfenstein is a first person shooter through and through, so naturally it’s important that the guns shoot and feel great and they definitely do. But do you know what’s better than one great feeling gun? Did I hear someone say two? That’s right! Almost every single weapon can be dual-wielded in Wolfenstein, from your normal pistols down to the ridiculously awesome automatic shotguns. You can also access an alternate firing mode for each weapon that drastically changes how you play. My favorite: the shrapnel mode on the shotgun that shoots bouncing fragments ricocheting all over the place, allowing you to hit enemies in cover, around corners, etc. (Did I mention how awesome the shotgun was?) Later sections of the game will give you access to the even more powerful laser weapons, which decimate bad guys even faster.
Another aspect that feels great about Wolfenstein is the production value. This is a fully realized world and every new chapter feels unique and distinct. This is a Nazi game so expect to see a lot of grays and blacks contrasted with bright red and swastikas (and also the blood of your enemies painting the floors) but more-so than that, the environments are actually interesting to explore and live in. The character models look great on the Xbox One, although the textures often do not, and the voice acting behind each character is solid across the board. Cut-scenes play out regularly and are well done, moving the story along at a solid pace.
Unlike many other first person shooters out there, Wolfenstein is a purely single player game which means that you can expect a lengthy 12-15 hour journey that also offers plenty of replayability. There are loads of collectibles to discover in each of the game’s 16 chapters, as well as special side-modes to unlock. There is also a point in the first mission that gives you the option of saving one of two characters. While the story plays mostly the same no matter who you pick, each “timeline” offers a unique perspectives and characters, as the person you save is not just a side character but a major presence throughout the rest of the game. It also affects the collectibles, as one branch will teach you hot-wiring, leading to health upgrades and one set of hidden areas, while the other branch shows you lock-picking and a different set of hidden areas and armor upgrades.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a title that has a lot to offer for fans of first person shooters. It pays enough homage to make it feel like a Wolfenstein game, while also bringing enough new ideas to make it something unique on its own. Most importantly what it gets right is that it’s just a fun experience. The gameplay is great and even though it stretches on the longer side for shooters, I never once got bored. Moreover the actual style hits the right balance between serious and silly to make the whole thing come together. The game knows exactly what it is and embraces the goofiness that goes along with a plot based around a future where the Nazis won World War II. Still, it can also present a world that makes you think about the terrible things mankind is capable of and the effect such a world could have on people. It also succeeds in really, really making you hate Nazism (though admittedly, the Nazis themselves made that pretty easy).
SCORE: 9.0 out of 10
A code for Wolfenstein: The New Order was provided to Pixel Related for review.