It’s around the time that B.J. Blazkowicz drops acid with an afro-wearing, battle-scarred guitarist and starts pondering the nature of the human soul that the weirdness in Wolfenstein: The New Order shines through. This latest Wolfenstein might not bring about the design revolution that its increasingly distant id Software-developed progenitor did, but it’s a helluva fun ride all the same.
And for a game built around snuffing out Nazis, it applies a surprisingly delicate touch to character building. There’s a raw unevenness to this MachineGames title that, against all odds, works again and again in its favor.
In The New Order, MachineGames ditches the series’ trademark fantastical World War II setting for an alt-history post-war set in the 1960s. The Nazis won and freedom-seeking haters of fascism around the world are forced underground into resistance cells. In a clever inversion of real world crises that leans on one of history’s greatest villains for justification, The New Order’s knights in shining armor (male and female) are effectively terrorists.
The game opens on a familiar World War II setting, albeit one in which the Nazis employ squadrons of jet fighters and giant, mechanical robo-hounds. B.J. Blazkowicz and his multi-national comrades-in-arms are off on a mission to take out longtime series antagonist Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse. Things seem to be going well… until an unfortunate run-in and a difficult choice send the game’s story spinning off into the future on one of two slightly different paths.
The “who lives and who dies” moment that creates a split timeline in the story doesn’t amount to much of a difference on the gameplay side of things, but it speaks to the thought MachineGames put into developing a human soul for this war story. The characters populating B.J.’s adventure – and there are differences, depending on the timeline you occupy – bring tragic, believable backgrounds to their interactions, and the result is a diversity of surprisingly human character moments.
B.J.’s drug-fueled head trip is but one example. His relationship with Anya, the female lead, is convincingly built and frequently reinforced with quick pecks on the cheek and nooners in the supply closet. The writing is hardly bar-raising, but it’s at least a complete package. The script and the plotting never loses sight of the fact that the passive viewer of cutscenes needs concrete links to the relationships that help define Captain Blazkowicz.
Wolfenstein: The New Order capably toes the line between fan service and bold reinvention.
It also helps that there’s variety in B.J.’s corridor shooting. Running and gunning is a perfectly viable strategy, especially when nearly every weapon in your arsenal can be dual-wielded, but large sections of the game allow for a stealthier approach. Unlockable perks reward you with bonuses like increased ammo capacity or quieter sneaking, and they’re earned by completing challenges related to the activity they boost. Stealth perks won’t unlock if you spend most of your time gripping a machine gun in each hand.
Level design elegantly supports these different approaches. It’s easy enough to waltz into any new location with your guns blazing, but there are also plenty of vents and other crawlspaces tucked just out of sight that allow for stealthier play. It’s only in the final moments of the game that a quieter approach proves unwise, with a handful of big battle encounters that require a lot of noise and destruction.
No matter how you choose to approach Wolfenstein: The New Order’s challenges, there’s a satisfying feedback loop that comes from gunning down that many Nazis. It’s almost a back-to-basics appeal when you go loud, a flavor of action that taps directly into what was so appealing about Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 (which makes an awesome surprise appearance for thorough explorers). Even the stealthy play satisfies, as you seek out hidden paths and use them to chart a course for your knife into an oblivious Nazi commander’s neck.
There’s even replay value, which is practically unheard of in a single-player only shooter these days. The campaign story doesn’t change significantly between the two timelines, but that along with the promise of taking on a different play style makes a repeat playthrough more appealing. Collect enough Enigma Code collectibles and you open up a collection of unlockable modes. It’s a neat bonus, though the collectible hunt required to get them might be too much for some players.
MachineGames delivers on the “new order” in the game’s title with this first effort for the studio in the Wolfenstein series. For all that’s familiar and comfortable, there’s an undeniably fresh take here, one that brims with personality and a distinct sense of style. Wolfenstein: The New Order is more of the same in some ways, but MachineGames capably toes the line between fan service and thoughtful reinvention.
This game was reviewed on a PlayStation 4 using a copy provided by Bethesda Softworks.
- Thoroughly entertaining oddball story
- Design supports multiple play styles
- Lots and lots of meat on these bones
- Dialogue occasionally falls flat
- Some extra content gated behind a lengthy collectible treasure hunt