Fancy a more refreshing take on the first person shooter genre, perhaps one that sacrifices negligible aspects of history such as the outcome of World War 2? Wolfenstein: The New Order revisits its over the top roots to rekindle the Red Alert of modern shooters, but is there a place amongst the modern military genre for one of a new breed? Bethesda and MachineGames certainly think so, do you?
If slaughtering countless waves of Nazis is your thing, and if we’re honest, that probably applies to a fair few gamers, then you’re in for quite the treat. It’s not long before you are placed behind the helm of a plane in imminent and inevitable danger; one tragic crash later we get a glimmer of the potential horror of which the Nazis have laid out for us. Hankering after the head of the stalwart series antagonist ‘Deathshead’, our early mission takes us on the assault of a castle, where due to an unfortunate series of events, we find ourselves comatose for the next decade and a half.
Not a great start for our resolute, and series veteran, hero B. J. Blazkowicz, whom I’ll refer to as B.J. providing there’s no sniggering at the back. Upon regaining consciousness and instead of a slap on the back, a medal on the chest and a family by his side, B.J. awakens to learn that not only has he lost the war, but that worryingly, it still rages on. The Nazis have developed superior technology and repressed the world with their tyrannical reign, meaning it’s time to band together with the local resistance, and slay the veritable armadas of the Nazi regime with glorious, bloodthirsty weapons.
In the past, B.J. hasn’t really been all that emotive, but times have changed and it’s not the early 90’s anymore; with it, the past experience from the developers in terms of storytelling has shone through. Whilst he’s still the rugged, square-jawed badass we all know and love, B.J. certainly has moments where emotion will overcome him and add a previously unseen depth to his character. Dramatic inner monologues often plague our protagonist; snippets from stories of the past are occasionally regaled during presumably reminiscent scenes. The supporting cast also share their demons too and after meeting up with the resistance fighters; you’ll quickly get a feel for their plight under such horrific times. A certain pair sticks out for obvious reasons, one lost his ‘clubfoot’ child to the non-Aryan purging of the Nazis, whereas the other, Max, is a simple gentle giant, a child trapped in a man’s body. Needless to say, the protective bonding between the two can often create a dark, grounding experience to witness.
It’s not all doom and gloom however, Wolfenstein can often be seen with its tongue in cheek. An early section sees you under peril from an enormous robotic dog before being saved via a friend throwing a grenade above its head and yelling catch. The virtually anthropomorphic gesture almost always elicits a smile; it’s not just dog jokes either (even though you can still chow down on some dog food, should you wish!) In the options, as per usual, there’s a subtitles setting for ‘foreign only’; for some hilarious reason, the game decides the Scottish accent to be as indecipherable as German. Easter eggs are fairly prominent too with the tricky to miss Wolfenstein 3D level to play through, along with unlockable records of famous 60’s music, but under a Nazi regime. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of hearing the Bavarian styled tunings of House of the Rising Sun!
Considering the unusually high levelled narrative content, it’s welcome to discover that the important things haven’t lagged behind either, namely the shooting of many a Nazi. The gunplay is incredibly satisfying with both mechanics from new and old takes on the genre. Whilst you can lean round corners, you can’t go prone (despite the enemies being able to) and whereas each gun feels different in terms of damage and recoil, you can dual-wield two of the same weapon at will. Fancy sliding around a corner whilst dismembering a Nazi due to two generous helpings of automatic buckshot? You’re sorted. How about equipping two marksman rifles and seeing how many heads you can pop without a scope? Again, be my guest! If the variation in weapons isn’t quite up to scratch for you, you’ll be pleased to know that most of them have a secondary mode, such as the assault rifles, under barrelled rocket launcher, or sacrificing the three round burst of the pistol for a single shot suppressor. Much like ammo, health and armour is scavenged by looting corpses, getting yourself off the beaten path and exploring. Health regeneration will only go so far too, so you’ll often have to keep an eye out for refills along the way.
Despite how entertaining ripping a mounted turret from its moorings and spraying down everything in sight can be, there’s always room for the quieter approach; in some cases, it can be satisfyingly preferable. Whilst the AI can be a little wonky, such as not being able to detect their stabbed comrade lying but 10 feet away from their patrol, it works in the games favour in terms of fun. Silent kills are truly silent too, meaning you can really clean up in some areas without even disturbing a mech-hound. If the contextual stealth kills aren’t quite your thing, you can also rely on the supressed pistol or the especially gratifying throwing knives, of which are only available upon completion of a perk requirement.
Another progressive move is the inclusion of persistent perks, whilst not game changers (save for the throwing knives) they can definitely make things a little easier for you. The requirements are by and large, not too punishing and most will come as the result of normal play, providing you’re mixing things up a little. But the rewards can range from larger magazine capacities to moving quicker whilst crouched. It’s an effective, easy and addictive way of making you try the different playstyles whilst also getting rewarded for it.
Mission designs generally favour large, open maps with various opportunities to play how you choose. Commanders are usually dotted around; whilst they are unarmoured and pose little direct threat, if you are spotted, they will incessantly call for reinforcements until they’re silenced. Making a beeline for the nearest commander and taking them out is often a good way to start a mission; with not only the threat of more enemies out of the way, they’ll eventually reveal the locations of all the secrets on the map once you’ve disposed of them too.
As a whole, Wolfenstein looks and sounds fantastic, the bleak yet dystopian neo Nazi setting complements the characters facial details, expressions and characteristics to create an over the top, but mesmerizing experience. Enemy designs are full of detail and appear suitably daunting due to their attire and armour. Later, more heavily armed enemies, clad in biomechanical suits will continue to impress with their sheer intimidation values, whilst your rag tag bunch of fighters try their best to oppose them. The soundtrack, with its thunderous modern rock styling’s will rousingly kick in when things kick off, yet also mellow down to a subtle, sombre tone when things become serious. Voice acting is believable, passionate and attention garnering, yet unfortunately for those without a 5.1 surround system, the voices can be a little on the quiet side.
It’s commendable, especially nowadays, to not include multiplayer and instead, focus on a strong narrative and it’s worked in their favour. With a strong first playthrough of around 12 hours, replay value for unlocking secrets and perks; not to mention a major decision to be made at the start, almost demanding another run through on its own. Some small niggles keep it from perfection however, the weapon wheel and its associated quick swap button requires an uncommon level of proficiency in cryptic crossword solving and the occasional switch to unnecessary cutscenes can jar a little too. All are overshadowed however, by the presentation, character relationships and most importantly, gratuitous fun.