It’s rare nowadays that I sit down with the intention of busting out a game for some pure mindless Nazi-slaughtering action, and MachineGames’ Wolfenstein: The New Order is a title I had the distinct pleasure of fulfilling that desire with. But is there more to this balls-to-the-wall shooter than meets the eye?
Unlike previous entries in the well-established Wolfenstein series, The New Order focuses heavily on the character and development of protagonist BJ Blazkowicz, classic muscular gun-toting hero that he is. To give a very general overview, it’s a very well-polished first person shooter, wherein you will progress through linear levels, constantly hunting for weapons, health and armour, all the while taking out as many servants of the Fuhrer as humanly possible.
The game begins three years after the events of Raven Software’s 2009 Wolfenstein title, with Blazkowicz, pilot Fergus Reid and Private Probst Wyatt III travelling alongside an Allied aerial assault on a German fortress. After being shot from the sky, you find yourself landed in the lair of General Deathshead, the game’s main antagonist, amongst a host of anachronistic massively advanced futuristic Nazi technology. After getting a brief though savoury taste of evildoer evisceration, Blazkowicz and crew are captured by Deathshead and a grim choice must be made - one of your pals will suffer a particularly gruesome fate.
Despite my less-than-stellar expectations of a self-admitted gore-fest, Wolfenstein: The New Order is often stunningly pretty - the 40GB Steam download should have tipped me off. Texture quality is extremely high in the vast majority of cases, and the grim, mechanical nature of your surroundings captured perfectly. Furthermore, I was highly impressed by the model quality of both human characters and other entities you come across in-game - it’s clear that an enormous amount of effort has gone into crafting a gritty, metallic future that comes off as pretty damn convincing.
Gameplay is classic Wolfenstein in every sense of the word, but it was nice to see options available to suit different players. Usually there's a couple of ways to approach each situation you are faced with, be it sneaking through an air duct and silently downing an enemy soldier with your trusty knife, or simply dual-wielding two hulking assault rifles and charging headlong into battle. Or potentially even some combination of the two. You can pick up new weapons either from your environment or fallen foes, and I really enjoyed the health mechanics in place here. Your life total will round up the nearest multiple of 20, but proceed no further - health pickups must be found to replenish the meter, and armour scavenged to provide a layer of defense against your well-armed assailants.
Combat was surprisingly nuanced - weapons have multiple firing modes, unlocked as you proceed through the game, be it rocket attachments for your assault rifle or deadly lasers for a marksman rifle (cool, huh?), allowing for a variety of ammo types and strategies. Unfortunately I felt that not all situations were approachable by stealth as in a title like Dishonored, but then I guess that’s hardly what you’d expect from the Wolfenstein series. Just as another minor gripe, the game suffers from that ‘once you’ve been seen once, every enemy inexplicably knows where you are’ syndrome, which irritated me just slightly given that you are encouraged to use stealth in certain sections of the game.
And most strangely of all, The New Order manages to be more than a brainless kill carnival. An incredibly dramatic story unfolds as Blazkowicz meets members of an underground resistance, and selflessly fights for their survival as well as his own. The writing is often so bleak and well-executed that each character feels very much real in their own right. I really wasn’t expecting to become emotionally attached to any of the bland drones that I wrongly assumed I would find. Because the whole world is fleshed out so well, these characters seem right at home in the grim dystopia, and you’ll find yourself subjected to the occasional bayoneted jab right in the feels. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Not that I want to stray too far from my initial premise - it’s a glorious cornucopia of bloody, bloody violence to be sure. It’s still very much one ridiculously lucky badass inexplicably gunning down an entire army on his own while receiving very little lasting damage. It’s very reminiscent of any given Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie in this regard, but funny as hell due to the nonexistent attempts to hide this. Even as part of story cutscenes, Blazkowicz receives insane amounts of physical torture, being drugged, stabbed, burned and everything inbetween.
There’s plenty of cool things to point your oversized guns at, too. Beyond an array of variously armed Nazi footsoldiers you’ll come across automated drones, menacing mechanical Panzerhunds and augmented supersoldiers in enormous suits of armour, each more than willing to rip your tender American face off. Particularly as the game approaches its end, Wolfenstein delights in its own incredibility, taking you as far as the now Nazi-colonised moon (Iron Sky, anyone?), and I love that it did.
Beyond the main story, there’s a ton of side objectives to complete - become familiar with the endless backstory behind the events of the game by reading news articles available throughout the levels, and collect pieces of the infamous Enigma code to unlock secrets, such as new difficulty options for hardcore players. Gold items can be found, weapon upgrades are stashed in the environment waiting for you, and perks can even be unlocked that further enhance your most commonly used combat styles.
Ultimately Wolfenstein: The New Order is perfect for sating an occasional bout of bloodlust, and does exactly what it says on the tin, allowing you to paint the ground beneath your feet with viscera and destruction. Just beware that you may get more than you bargained for, as the release leaves you vulnerable to the deeply emotive writing and the plight of the well-developed cast members. A fantastic buy at any price.