"Wolfenstein: The New Order" is a game that rewrites history. Not just in its "What if Germany won World War II?" storyline, but in the way Machine Games adds tighter, more varied gameplay and a charming cast of characters to a series known mostly as just the "one where you kill Nazis." Featuring a meaty campaign and plenty of replay value without relying on multiplayer, "The New Order" is one of 2014's standout shooters.
"Wolfenstein: The New Order" begins like many World War II shooters do, throwing you headfirst into an assault on a German base. However, the Nazis win the war in Machine Games' version of 1946 Europe, as Captain William "B.J." Blazkowicz and his men fail to bring down the menacing General Wilhem "Deathshead" Strasse during a desperate final assault.
B.J. must make a difficult choice at the end of this battle, one that sends a significant ripple through the game's narrative and creates two different playable timelines.
Severely wounded as a result of the fight, Blazkowicz spends the next 14 years in a Polish mental asylum, waking up in 1960 to a world completely ruled by the Nazi regime. B.J. and his caretaker, Anya Oliwa, escape the asylum once the Nazis come to clean house, setting the course for a long adventure that has you teaming up with a colorful cast of resistance fighters in an effort to bring down Deathshead for good.
The "Wolfenstein" franchise has always been about blasting over-the-top portrayals of Nazis into oblivion, and that hasn't changed. Shooter vets should slip into "The New Order" pretty easily, as Blaskowicz can jump, sprint, slide, and pop in and out of cover while using a wide arsenal of weapons to waste the opposition.
"The New Order" is at its most interesting when it lets you tackle its levels as you see fit. Sometimes, you'll quietly tiptoe through corridors while stealthily executing enemies with your knife, and other times you'll run through the room guns blazing, carrying two assault rifles that double as rocket launchers. All-out firefights are unavoidable in certain portions of the game, but many sections feel like they're designed with player choice in mind.
The game's "Perks" system reinforce its dynamic combat options; this system rewards B.J. with new abilities for completing tasks across four categories: Assault, Tactical, Demolition and Stealth. For example, focusing on stealth kills will allow B.J. to sneak around faster and more quietly, while incinerating as many Nazis as possible will increase the number of grenades he can carry. The reward system encourages you to experiment with the way you bring down your opponents, providing a satisfying sense of progression as you get better in each category.
Even on standard difficulty, "The New Order" puts up a good fight. Your health percentage only regenerates to the nearest multiple of 20, and mechanical Nazi dogs and robotic soldiers will rip you to shreds in just a few seconds if you're not packing armor. This level of challenge creates a tactical flow in which you pop out of cover, down some enemies, scavenge for items and get back to safety.
As fun as they are to conquer, the game's more challenging segments expose its few mechanical flaws. Since picking up items requires a button press, we sometimes found ourselves missing out on crucial armor and health packs as we were trying to scramble away from enemy fire. The game lets you switch between your two most recent weapons with a single button, but it won't automatically skip guns that are out of ammo. Thus, there were times we frantically whipped out an empty assault rifle only to quickly meet our end.
Blazkowicz's arsenal spans a familiar FPS gamut that includes handguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles and shotguns. However, these common tools become more interesting as you unlock their secondary functions, including scattering shrapnel for your shotgun and the aforementioned rocket launcher for the assault rifle.
If you're feeling indulgent, you can sacrifice accuracy and choose to dual-wield most of the game's weapons (yes, even the AR Marksman sniper rifle).
One of the game's cornerstones is the Lazerkraftwerk, which serves an important purpose for both navigation and combat. You'll use this gadget to cut through fences, open steel boxes and clear out certain obstacles in your path. You'll also use it to turn Nazis into piles of bloody goop.
"The New Order" would have been just fine if it focused on quality combat and storytelling alone, but it's made even more memorable by the times you get to simply hang around in the Resistance hideout tucked away in the center of Berlin.
These brief moments away from the chaos give the game a bit of an RPG feel, as you can navigate the hideout's war-torn walls, interact with your memorable cast of allies and perform important non-combat tasks.
The hideout reinforces the game's desperate story, as you'll pass by a massive candlelit shrine dedicated to fallen loved ones. Newspaper clippings lining the base's walls document a chilling alternate history line, one in which the Nazis have nuked New York and rule London using a hulking, tower-sized robot.
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We never thought we'd spend time in a "Wolfenstein" game searching for one of our allies' lost toys, but our attachment to the game's superbly written characters made accomplishing these menial tasks feel meaningful. Those who want constant action might find the hideout portions boring and unnecessary (Blazkowicz himself even jokes about becoming the "goddamn errand boy"), but we found them to be a nice way to break up the game's intense campaign.
Graphics and Sound
For a game rooted in alternate World War II history, "The New Order" has far more to offer than bleak battlefields. Once you fight your way out of the trenches of Deathshead's retro-futuristic compound, your adventure takes you from the inner workings of a high-tech prison all the way to outer space.
Plenty of stages made us stop to take in the scenery, including a crumbling Gibraltar Bridge and a mystical underwater cavern filled with ancient Nazi-killing tech. We were particularly moved by a mission set inside a forced labor camp, which exposed the horrors of discrimination and imprisonment through the prisoners we encountered.
Voice acting in "The New Order" is top-notch, with standout performances that include Bonita Friedericy as hardened war vet Caroline Becker and Ken Lally as Klaus Kreutz, the reformed Nazi with a heart of gold. Brian Bloom plays a fine American war hero as Blazkowicz, showcasing far more wit and personality than the character's portrayal in 2009's "Wolfenstein." The only character that fails to impress is Deathshead, who devolves into a cartoonishly comical mad scientist by the end of the game.
In an era dominated by multiplayer-minded shooters, New Order is proof that an FPS just needs a great story, strong characters and varied gameplay to stand out.
Don't get us wrong, the game's tight gunplay would make for great competitive action, and we'd love to see a co-op expansion that lets players team up as the colorful Resistance cast. Still, it's hard to get bored with this finely crafted Nazi killing simulation. If the multiple timelines don't give you enough reason to play through the story twice, the troves of unlockables, multiple play styles and varying difficulty levels just might.
"The New Order" couldn't be a more fitting title, as it refreshes one of the genre's oldest franchises with stories and characters we won't soon forget. Here's to rewriting history.