By William Chandler
Reviewed on PC using an Xbox 360 Controller
I’m not sure whether this was addressed pre-release or not, but as someone that has played a great many of the previous titles in the Wolfenstein franchise, it certainly appeared as though The New Order was going to be a reboot. Pretty much every aspect of the 2009 Wolfenstein release by Raven Software has been shed, including the occult aspects, the trans-dimensional medallion, and especially the fact that Deathshead’s army appeared to be left in a state of crippling defeat at the end of that game. So, I went into Wolfenstein: The New Order expecting an absurd, alternate history reboot of an ancient and storied over-the-top action franchise. And I mostly got that. However, there is an overwhelming sense of strangeness and intrigue to the entire game that exists in the forefront of your mind long enough to mask many of the game’s issues for several hours into its surprisingly lengthy campaign.
Since I’ve already mentioned it, let’s go ahead and deal with this oddity up front. This game, while masquerading as one, is not actually a reboot. At least, not really. A vast majority of the events from the previous games go unmentioned aside from in the most vague sense. Deathshead returns, of course, and BJ mentions in a monologue that he should have killed him when he had the chance, no doubt a reference to the events of the last game, but it does not become wholly apparent until a character present in 2009’s Wolfenstein returns as a major character a few hours into The New Order. Of course, none of this is really a problem. Without having played the previous title, one would never even know about this fact, so it really doesn’t even matter. That said, throughout the campaign I was expecting a reveal that would tie the game to its occult roots, however, that never really happened. Instead, the game chose to stick to a more pseudo-scientific approach to all of its unnatural technological advancements, which is sort of preferable. It just makes no sense that the Nazis would abandon a cultural obsession that seemed to be quite ingrained in them in the past. You’d also think that they would want to use any and all advantages that they could in order to ensure total victory, but fuck it, man, I’m tired of nitpicking.
Wolfenstein: The New Order begins during a mission to assault Deathshead’s castle at the tail end of World War 2, but it goes horridly wrong when the allied forces discover that they are severely outclassed by new Nazi technology. BJ is severely injured and is trapped in a coma of sorts due to a decidedly problematic head injury. He is then transported to an asylum where he remains in a vegetative state for fifteen years, during which the Nazis successfully win the war thanks to their aforementioned OP as fuck technological advancements. BJ wakes up and is then required to kill a bunch of Nazis in order to reverse this horrific Nazi regime. The plot, while creatively told, is mostly unique in premise alone. The events that occur are entirely predictable as far as an action story goes, but this is clearly intentionally so. The New Order is so beautifully self aware that much of it successfully comes across as humorous, an aspect that rests entirely in the game’s favor. Its real strength, though, is in the beauty of its characters. Yes, many of them do fit in to traditional action tropes, but in a realistic sense where they all have these strange quirks that make them so human that you often forget about their assigned tropes over time. The remorseful former Nazi that has taken quite well to the role of surrogate father for a mentally challenged man-child, the strong willed and extremely capable love interest whose usefulness doesn’t fall into either standard category of beautiful damsel or sexy badass, and even BJ is presented with more dimension than would be expected.
I don’t want to really spoil anything in particular, so I’ll just say this about the story: regardless of its issues, it was certainly extremely entertaining, and the fascinating progression for many of the characters became reason enough for me to see the game through to its conclusion. That said, the final act felt to be of a lesser quality than the rest in terms of pacing and dialogue, and really just built up to an unsatisfying conclusion. The gameplay, however, took an apparent dip in quality long before the final act, leading to much of the latter half of the game feeling like an undesirable slog through encounter after encounter.
Don’t get me wrong. The shooting proves to be highly satisfying thanks to tight controls and weapons that feel like they truly pack a punch, not to mention the fact that the horrific dismemberment of enemies does wonders to ensure satisfying gunplay. There’s also some really clever level design that often allows for multiple pathways to be taken to reach the objective, and ensures that many enemy encounters feel painstakingly crafted with each environment in mind. Switching between dual wielding and standard is made easy with the tap of a single button, and a slight cover mechanic has been added to make peaking around corners mostly painless. The game also tries to take many aspects from old school shooters and implement them into more modern gameplay to mixed results. Obviously it would be absurd for them to lift these aspects wholesale, but in many cases it feels like the older components and newer ones are at odds with each other.
For instance, health and armor cannot be regenerated and therefore must be picked up to be replenished, however, you cannot simply walk over them. Rather, you must actively press a button in order to pick up everything from health to ammo, creating many situations where you are scrambling around during a firefight, staring at the floor like a moron and mashing the X button, hoping to vacuum up any nearby supplies. This also does absolute wonders for killing the pacing of the game when you have to spend several minutes between firefights in order to replenish your used up ammunition. And, because of the game’s insistence on severely limiting your supply of ammunition, this will happen far too often for comfort. Either force me to pick things up or severely limit my supplies; having both is simply frustration inducing. To further add to this pile of small problems, the game gradually introduces more and more bullet sponge enemies, another holdover from the previous FPS generation, but your aforementioned limitations once again create an unfortunate recipe for frustration, especially at later points of the game.
The New Order also presents a weapon wheel that can be accessed by holding down a button, however, you are also able to quick-swap between the previous two weapons you have used by the press of a different button. That said, I would have much preferred the ability to cycle through all of my weapons with the quick swap button, as using the weapon wheel is too slow during a firefight and I often found myself not having the proper weapon for the situation in one of my two quick swap slots, which really just leads to more unnecessary deaths.
While none of these issues are particularly major problems, they really do an excellent job of adding up to making this game annoying by the end. I certainly would not say that The New Order is a bad game, it’s just a misguided one. All of the reasons that you think you’ll be playing this game (the gunplay, the violence) actually take a backseat compared to the narrative intrigue and characterization throughout. Not only that, but its mostly unflattering attempts to blend the old school with the new are ruined by an almost disturbing compulsion to force the pace to grind to a halt every single time you need to cut through a chain link fence or actively scavenge for ammunition. That said, the game is a pretty and fun, if highly flawed, shooter that is certainly worth your time which could perhaps be further perfected with another entry.