Machine Games' "Wolfenstein: The New Order" is in stores now, marking the next-gen debut of a franchise that helped create the first-person shooter as we know it. Like its World War II-themed predecessors, "The New Order" arms you with an array of weapons and abilities as you wade through an alternate-history storyline as series protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz. Whether you're a "Wolfenstein" vet or are just jumping into the franchise for the first time, here's what you need to know about the game.
The Origins of Wolfenstein
While "Wolfenstein" is known best for being a high-octane first-person shooter, the franchise actually made its debut with Muse Software's "Castle Wolfenstein," a barebones 1981 2D stealth adventure game for the Apple II in which players were tasked with escaping a Nazi stronghold.
A sequel, "Beyond Castle Wolfenstein," released in 1984 with similar gameplay mechanics while introducing the ability to bribe guards and bypass them by finding the correct hall pass. Both games were light on action and heavy on patient strategy.
All of this changed in 1992. Developer id Software took over the franchise and released "Wolfenstein 3D" for PC, which brought the series into the first-person shooter realm with pseudo-3D graphics that were striking at the time. The fast-paced "Wolfenstein 3D" helped establish and popularize many of key facets of the first-person shooter genre, including the ability to switch between a full arsenal of weapons while taking down increasingly difficult waves of enemies.
"Wolfenstein 3D" (which you can play for free here) marked the debut of series hero William "B.J. Blazkowicz, an American spy captured by Adolf Hitler's SS forces. The title garnered some controversy due to its copious use of Nazi imagery (including swastikas), which lead to the Super Nintendo version of the game being heavily censored. However, many gamers didn't take the game too seriously, especially considering that one of the boss characters was a mechanized version of Hitler himself.
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A prequel titled "Spear of Destiny" was released in the same year, providing 21 new levels for Blazkowicz to blast his way through. Many of the mechanics from "Wolfenstein 3D" and its prequel were borrowed and refined in id Software's wildly popular 1993 sci-fi hit "Doom," which helped further bring first-person shooters into the mainstream.
The Next Wave
While "Wolfenstein" helped usher in a a wave of 90s shooters that included "Doom," "Quake" and "Unreal Tournament," the series itself laid dormant for close to a decade. The franchise was finally rebooted in 2001 with "Return to Castle Wolfenstein," which launched on PC before being ported to Xbox and PS2.
"Return" was the first game in the franchise to tout true 3D graphics, taking advantage of the improved tech available at the time. Once again, you followed Blazkowicz through his journey to escape Castle Wolfenstein, except this time he's up against an SS division that's been bringing soldiers back from the dead. This game introduced Wilhem "Deathshead" Strasse, a key franchise villain who played a major role in conducting the Nazis' monstrous experiments.
"Return" was also the first multiplayer game in the series, featuring competitive modes that split players between the Axis and Allies. These modes were expanded on in 2003's "Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory," which was a free, open source and multiplayer-only spin-off. This version of the game took players through various maps based in Europe and North Africa, and allowed gamers to specialize in classes like "Soldier," "Medic" and "Engineer."
In 2009, Activision released a sequel to "Return to Castle Wolfenstein" simply titled "Wolfenstein." Set in a fictional town called Isenstadt, players are tasked with stopping the Nazis from using the power of an alternate dimension called the Black Sun to destroy the town.
The game builds upon the supernatural themes established in its predecessor, and gives Blazkowicz access to mythical powers via an energy source called the Thule Medaillion. "Wolfenstein" stands out by utilizing a semi open-world hub that lets you explore Isenstadt before heading into a mission, though the game's somewhat barebones multiplayer offering never gained the same traction as the wildly popular "Enemy Territory."
While the Nazi's nefarious plans are foiled by Blazkowicz in a massive explosion, a post-credits scene reveals that Deathshead survived the blast.
What's 'The New Order' All About?
Available on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 and PC, "Wolfenstein: The New Order" is a semi-sequel to 2009's "Wolfenstein." The shooter blends history and fiction, telling a "What If" story in which the Allies lose World War II at the hands of Deathshead.
After the Allies' defeat in 1946, Blazkowicz failure leads to him being put in a mental asylum. By the time he's released in 1960, the Nazis have complete rule over the world, employing advanced military tech and brutal combat tactics to stay on top. Once again, the American super-soldier sets out to take out his greatest foe, this time with the fate of the world on his back.
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"The New Order" eschews the paranormal themes of its predecessor, with a more gritty presentation that pits you against deadly robots and juiced-up soldiers. The game is designed to be played multiple ways, so you can opt to quietly sneak through levels while pulling off stealthy knife kills or enter each corridor guns-blazing. The game's new perk system rewards you for sticking to a playstyle, giving you new abilities for accomplishing tasks in four categories: Stealth, Tactical, Assault and Demolition.
Machine Games has opted not to include multiplayer in "Wolfenstein: The New Order" in order to keep a tight focus on the game's single-player campaign. Bethesda has promised 15 to 20 hours of gameplay in "The New Order," and a key choice that you make early in the game is designed to warrant multiple playthroughs.
If you're ready to head to war, you can pick up "Wolfenstein: The New Order" now. If you're still on the fence, stay tuned for our full review.