Wolfenstein: The New Order opens in 1946 during the midst of an intense battle of World War II in Europe. Nazi forces have mysteriously turned the tide on the Allies and General Wilhelm Strasse (known as Deathshead) overcomes the Allies. Humanity’s greatest hope is lost, and the Nazis win the war. Fast forward to 1960, and the Nazi’s oppressive regime is spreading, utilising mysterious and advanced technology from beyond their years. Playing as B.J. Blaskowicz, who was there and fought in the same battle in 1946, you must stop Deathshead and their iron fisted regime.
While the story in Wolfenstein might not sound like anything interesting, it’s presented in such an interesting way that it’s hard to be disinterested while playing. Blaskowicz does have his broody monologues from time to time, but his supporting cast in particular stand out here. Every character is characterised well, is likeable (even the villains) and behaves somewhat believably – giving a greater emotional weight to the story. While the themes explored are somewhat confronting, Wolfenstein does not shy away from any subject matter and provides a compelling story from beginning to end that’s not afraid to shock or terrify.
Wolfenstein is a pretty mixed bag visually speaking, although for the most part a strong and bold artistic direction saves it from looking generic and uninspired. Environments themselves are well designed to capture the era of the 60s well, but with an obvious twisted “what-if” scenario with the Nazis having won the war. The most interesting of these is a museum which tells the “history” of the moon landing in a different way than most of us would know. The combination of the time era, as well as the alternate timeline gives Wolfenstein’s environments subtle changes to illustrate an overarching larger change. It’s this subtlety that helps elevate its visual design above the rest.
While on a technical level, it’s definitely not what the newest set of consoles is capable of. While the game runs in full 1080p and 60fps on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4, there are times where the textures could have perhaps been a little bit more detailed. The team have obviously weighed this sacrifice up with achieving a higher frame rate, and for the most part, in motion, it appears they have made the right choice. At any given time bullets will be flying, blood will be splattering walls and walls themselves may be falling apart. There’s a lot going on in any battle during The New Order and it’s admirable that the engine manages to keep up during all of it, never dropping its framerate.
Cutscenes in particular have a very film noire feel to them – although some players might find the transition between them jarring as they are filmed at a lower framerate (assumedly for a “cinematic feel”) and presented in a letter box format. Character models themselves look great and animate beautifully too, further cementing their presence in the scenes in which they feature. While the game performs very admirably on the Xbox One, PC and PlayStation 4; older consoles are visibly struggling to load everything at once with some bad cases of texture pop-in from time to time.
In terms of sound design – the soundtrack itself is a very strong offering. Featuring some sombre and downbeat acoustic tracks seen in other games like Metro: Last Light as well as The Last of Us, Wolfenstein’s score does a fantastic job of painting the world as a worn down, oppressed one. During scenes with a greater degree of intensity, a more heavy metal tinge is applied to the soundtrack and it works surprisingly well here. Voice work is also pretty spot on – with both the German and English performances in the game sound realistic and well directed. It’s saying something about the game’s direction when you can watch a character speak in German and just by their actions and intonation tell what they’re feeling.
The worst thing about Wolfenstein was the game’s sound mixing. There were times where characters would be speaking but the music would be overpowering them so it was near impossible to hear what they were saying. Similarly, some guns lack a certain bass to them, which makes them feel rather weak. For a game with reliance on stealth and epic set pieces, having poorly mixed sound can ruin the illusion and/or atmosphere of a game.
The New Order is a first person shooter, and it’s extremely unapologetic about it. It employs all the standard tropes of the genre, and provides something that many developers seem to have forgotten about recently. It provides a solid, fantastically paced single player game filled with interesting and unique set pieces, but rooted in updated design choices that feel like they’ve been lifted straight out of the 90s and early 00s. It sounds like something bad – but it’s not, the game has been designed to give a classically influenced experience but at the same time modernised to be playable and enjoyable today in 2014.
Most of the areas are designed to be approached in multiple ways, either with a gung-ho approach or a more stealthy one. Similarly, environments are physically designed to accommodate both play styles, with more than enough ammo and health packs around to support a spray and pray philosophy and more than enough concealed entrances to sneak through. Essentially, Wolfenstein: The New Order brags the ability for players to change up their approach as they see fit – and it follows through on this brag with the design philosophies to support it. While the stealth approach is a nice inclusion, it’s also quite broken – the AI has clearly not been fine-tuned to detect dead bodies, so it’s sometimes easier to be silent than loud if you’re feeling particularly lazy.
While it appears to be a rather standard shooter from the outset, Wolfenstein’s shining gem is the gunplay itself. Everything feels well-adjusted to the point where the game is just a blast to play. Controls are tight, guns feel great and there’s options for players to duck in and out of cover that work whether wielding one or two weapons. And, in a nod to games less preoccupied with gritty realism, BJ can wield absolutely any two weapons. It’s a simple and yet enjoyable addition that has been missed from a large majority of shooters recently – and while you’d think it’d make the game too easy, the game still provides a good (but not immense) challenge.
While the game is entirely single player, it employs a perk system similar to most multiplayer shooters in the industry at present. Completing small but manageable tasks (like killing a certain amount of enemies with a certain weapon, or within a certain time limit) awards perks. Completing these unlocks perks, which in turn unlocks minor buffs for BJ, like increased magazine capacity for certain weapons and replenishment of health after certain takedowns. The perks system is a great addition because it entices players to play the game utilising all kinds of different play styles, as most of the benefits of earning a perk carry across to all players of all play styles. The tasks are manageable and approachable too, so most players will have no issues attempting them.
As you’d hope, with The New Order being an entirely single-player experience, it’d have to be something substantial to warrant the price tag, not to mention something that keeps players interests from beginning to end. Thankfully, Wolfenstein is very well paced. Every encounter feels meaningful, and nothing feels like pointless filler. There’s a good mix of exploration, stealth and action along with the odd on-rails segment or two. It just feels well-constructed – and despite being roughly fifteen to twenty hours long, it never gets boring and there’s never a dull moment throughout. Nothing ever lingers too long or overstays its welcome. Nothing overwhelms to the point where you have to put the controller down. It’s just extremely well balanced, extremely well-paced and surprisingly enjoyable to play for long periods at a time (and without finishing it too).
When all is over and done, there’s quite a bit to do. Collectibles provide compelling and interesting backstory to characters throughout the world, as well as unlock new modes that place “rules” on the player – such as completing an entire run of the game with one life. At the beginning of the game, a choice can be made which also unlocks one of two timelines. Both timelines will take in excess of twenty hours to complete easily – but neither of them differ too dramatically. One provides access to a lockpicking skill, another provides access to a hotwiring skill – with armour upgrades being hidden in the former and health upgrades being hidden in the latter. Dialogue options, and themes explored in the story will change in each of the two timelines – but outside of the collectible changes and some subtle nooks and crannies to explore, barely anything changes between the two timelines.
So essentially, your mileage may vary with whether or not you’d enjoy and benefit from a second playthrough. As The New Order’s characters are so well written and the story is so well delivered, personally, it was definitely worth it to play it through twice just to experience the different character interactions.
There are some minor cracks in this nearly perfect package however – namely in the game’s poor audio issues, some disappointing unlockables and an unbalanced stealth mechanic that is easily abused. These three things keep the game from being a truly perfect game – but the latter two feel like nit-picks considering how much interesting content is on offer here in the first place.
MachineGames have done exceptionally well with their debut title, and with such a strong debut it’ll be interesting to see where the studio goes next.