Old Dog, New Tricks--Wolfenstein: The New Order Review
by Brian Skahan
"I wonder if my computer can run Wolfenstein," was certainly a surreal question to ask myself in 2014, especially considering the last Wolfenstein game I played was 2001's Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Having acquired the rights to Wolfenstein thanks to the purchase Id Software, Bethesda left the latest Wolfenstein game to newly founded MachineGames.
Entitled Wolfenstein: The New Order, MachinGames's first game follows the story of William "B.J." Blaskowitz after a raid on General Deathshead's (Death's Head) castle fortress. After his team's capture and subsequent torture, William and those who remain escape, only to find themselves caught in an explosion. Shrapnel hits William in the head, sending him into a coma.
B.J. finds that the Nazis have won WWII, and most of the world hasn't the will to fight back.
B.J. wakes up in a hospital some 14 years later to the face of Anya, a nurse. As Nazis decide to execute the entire hospital, patient and staff alike, William finally comes to in time to stab a Nazi in the throat with a scalpel.
William quickly learns that the Nazis not only won WWII, but also conquered the world. Refusing to learn German just yet, William and Anya attempt to find the resistance and destroy the Third Reich once and for all.
Deathshead as he continues to be a total jerk.
At first glance, The New Order has the makings of being an awful, awful game. It attempts to appease both fans of old-school shooters and fans of modern AAA shooters, but remarkably, it succeeds. With the ability to dual-wield nearly every weapon and change their play style on the fly, players have several options in how to approach a situation.
Players can run in with twin silenced pistols and quietly eliminate their foes. Or maybe they'll run in with twin assault rifles, or maybe they'll try their hand at the futuristic Nazi weaponry. I found myself switching between each style to suit my needs, often starting with a stealthy approach at first only to run in guns blazing when my patience wore thin.
Both story and gameplay carry The New Order.
While the prospect of killing hundreds upon hundreds of Nazis may sound boring after a while, the surprisingly fantastic story manages to make it all worthwhile, with pre-rendered cutscenes showing William what he is fighting for: his friends, his newfound romance, freedom from the evil perpetrated by the Nazis. What is perhaps most remarkable in The New Order is that it not only manages to make killing endless Nazis ridiculously fun, but it also tells a deep, personal story about the brutality of war, loss, and sacrifice.
The Resistance prepares to make some Nazi gibs.
The notes and collectibles add to this sense of brutality, as players read audio logs and diaries of those on both sides, (though Nazis are never shown in anything close to a positive light), experience the horrors of a concentration camp firsthand, hear about Anya's sister in the years leading up until her death, and learn about other survivors in a similar way to BioShock.
Both the soundtrack and the musical score are gripping.
Players can also listen to German versions of popular songs between 1946 and 1960, such as "House of the Rising Sun" or John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" (though "Boom Boom" released in 1961). The soundtrack is phenomenal both in these collectible songs and in the in-game music itself, and adds to the immersion of seeing how these songs would come into being within the Reich.
The New Order shows those with mental illness in a positive light: first and foremost, as people, not part of a quota.
Unexpectedly, The New Order also has not one, but two positive depictions of mental illness. MachineGames doesn't attempt to sugarcoat their illnesses or show them as "mad but brilliant."
Where most games would rely on these characters for comic relief, The New Order welcomes them as important cast members with well-written, occasionally heartbreaking arcs.
"That's some nice armor. It'd be a shame if somebody stabbed it."
Additionally, every character is fantastically written. Anya is more than just a love-interest, Tekla is more than just an analyst with a mental illness, and B.J. is more than just a hero. They have all experienced loss against the Nazis, and they all have reason to destroy every single one that gets in their way.
Boss fights and needing to manually pick up every piece of armor, health, and ammo are a chore.
Perhaps the only downside to The New Order is that of the boss fights, which are frustrating and frequently a matter of finding the perfect timing. While boss fights are meant to be a challenge for only the strongest players, the difficult spike with these fights is extraordinarily high. Also, while picking up health and armor is to be expected from a Wolfenstein game, needing to press the Use key for every piece of armor, every piece of health, and every piece of ammo gets tiring. Fast.
Despite the rather minor shortcomings, The New Order remarkably circumvents almost every first-person shooter trope it runs across and, with the exception of a few frustrating boss fights, the game excels in every way imaginable. Realistic characters, entertaining writing, fun fire fights, and more Nazi gibs than you can possibly handle combine to create one of the best single player first-person shooters in recent memory.