It’s 1960, and after a failed attempt to end World War 2 saw Wolfenstein series regular William “B.J” Blazcowicz down, defeated and stuck with some coma-inducing shrapnel in his skull, the world has changed. And not for the better.
Thanks to a Nazi war machine that utilised technology light years ahead of anything that the Allies could throw back at them, the Second World War is now over and bearing the familiar Swastika of the Uber-Race.
Waking up from his coma, Blazcowicz is once again called upon to kill some Nazis. Fortunately, there’s plenty of the jack-booted soldiers around to satisfy that bloodlust. Following on from the lukewarm 2009 reboot, Wolfenstein: The New Order is an old school sequel shooter with a touch of modern age trappings. And by dipping into the past for inspiration, what’s old is new again.
There’s no regenerative health ala Call of Duty, with BJ’s life presented to you in the standard 100 health points range from previous games. What has changed in this version of Wolenstein however, is the manner in which health is chipped away and regenerated. Working in increments of 20, whatever health is remaining in that multiplication table is topped up automatically after a fight.
For instance, take enough damage to drop down to 81 points of health, and it’ll shoot back up to a Hofftastic 100. Receive enough lead injections to drop your health to 78 points of vitality, and it’ll go back up to 80. It’s not a new system by any means, having been around in the Resistance games, but combined with old-school scavenging for health, armour and food on a frequent basis, results in a flow of combat that is unnecessarily broken.
It’s annoying, but hardly game-breaking. And when it comes to shooting, the game has plenty of the Reich stuff. Wolfenstein: The New Order is at its best when it tasks players with killing anyone in a snazzy Hugo Boss uniform that happens to be right in front of them.
When the odds aren’t in your favour and you’ve got an automatic shotgun in each hand, this is when the game truly shines. As a shooter, it’s remarkably polished and ready for action. Guns feel chunky and fire off various rounds with a satisfying force that rips through the Axis forces, spraying blood everywhere and increasing sales of wheelchairs by 300%.
There’s just the right amount of weapons available as well, while BJ brings back another classic staple of the FPS genre, in the form of invisible pockets that house an arsenal fit for a small platoon of howling commandos. Machine guns, pistols, sniper rifles and shotguns are tools of the trade, with all of those weapons also featuring a dual wield mode for an akimbo assault, driving home the one-man army power fantasy even further.
It’s a wonderfully fulfilling experience when you’re not on the dangerous side of twin automatic shotguns, and gunning your way through hordes of soldiers, cyborg dogs and robotic death machines never gets old.
On the other side of the Kraut control coin though, the game also features other options for play. You can take a stealth approach and take full advantage of a Nazi War Machine that was not trained to hear strange noises behind them, play the game like a cover shooter thanks to some solid lean mechanics and send a grenade back to Jerry with extreme love in the explosives category.
Each of those gameplay pillars come with their own perks, a system of buffs that are based on how you kill your way through the game. It’s a nice touch, and it could have been an even better feature if Machine Games had implemented a more dynamic method of keeping track of your progress in these gameplay pillars.
On the visual front of the game, it runs fantastically. There’s some sneaky texturing on the part of the ID Tech 5 engine on display here, with a surface here or there creating a muddier impression in order to maintain a decent frame-rate, but it works a treat.
Playing the game on PlayStation 4, pre-patch, not once did it drop a single frame. Wolfenstein: The New Order ran at a consistently smooth 60 frames per second, even in the more intense firefights that easily featured a dozen Nazis bearing down on me while war raged on outside. Characters looked great, clothing was detailed and although this game won’t be breaching the uncanny valley effect, it’s also a great example of what the upcoming Doom could be like when it eventually releases.
As for story, Wolfenstein: The New Order has your standard plot once BJ awakens, giving players a reason to administer bullets in enemies from point A to point B. It’s at times clichéd, and at other times ludicrous when you find yourself on the moon killing space-nazis.
But thanks to a talented cast of voice actors who carry their role with just the right amount of bravado and gravitas, the story manages to get you invested on an emotional level. BJ himself is now a more introspective chap, but the inner monologue serves him well, making him more than just your typical jarhead in a sea of Aryan derivatives.
When it comes to the running length, don’t expect a thousand year game. Wolfenstein: The New Order can easily be completed within ten hours, with a second playthrough available based on a choice that players need to make early on in the opening mission.
This decision doesn’t truly provide much of a difference, offering a new mini-game and a new face by your side at best. But for fans of distractions, the game offers plenty for you to hunt around and discover. Enigma codes, collectibles and a rich new world history told through various newspaper clippings keep the action rolling.
Stages themselves have a touch of linear design, but they’re designed in an open enough manner that makes it worthwhile replaying them and trying out new avenues of assault. Enemies come in your usual variants, such as grunts, elite soldiers and officers who can radio in for reinforcements, while the heavy class of cyborg and robot units serve the game well as metal-plated bullet sponges who have various laser rounds with your name on it.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game from an older age, and it’s not going to apologise for that back to basics approach. Despite having a few inconsistencies that prove why the genre has moved on in certain design departments, the good far outweighs the bad as this return to form for the franchise that started a genre is still immensely enjoyable.
Heil honey, I’m home.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was reviewed using a publisher-supplied copy of the game. Game played to completion on normal difficulty over both optional timelines.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was reviewed by Darryn Bonthuys on a PlayStation 4