Whenever a new game comes out that is part of a good series, I always try and run through the previous game if possible. As we fast approach autumn, my sights are firmly fixed on the slew of titles coming out in these next three months. One of these games is Wolfenstein: The New Colossus from developers MachineGames. So this week I jumped back into The New Order and just for curiosity decided to check out my review: the problem with that is that I never wrote one. What the hell was I doing, being held captive in a cave? So please now join me as I correct this monumental faux pas and review Wolfenstein: The New Order.
William Joseph “B.J” Blazkowicz blasted onto our screens way back in 1992 in Wolfenstein 3D. This was id Softwares breakout game and preceded the classic shooters Doom and Quake. These titles involve killing Nazis and saving the world from a whole manner of their diabolical experiments. I’ve always loved a good romp through a Wolfenstein game but when I first played this latest Nazi killing simulator, it was clear there was something extra in the sauce.
We join this latest Wolfenstein in an alternate timeline where World War 2 is being won by the Nazis and BJ is making a last ditch assault on the Nazi Headquarters. This opening sequences is both explosive and sets the tone perfectly for what is to come. You run into the games main adversary (Deathshead) and ultimately things don’t go well. BJ suffers a catastrophic head wound and spends the next fourteen years in a Polish insane asylum being cared for by a young nurse called Anya.
As BJ sits watching the years ebb away we get our first indication that New Order is going for more than just another old school shooter. In the real World War 2, the Nazis did commit horrific experiments on the mentally ill and here we see that sub human practice. Make no mistake, this game has some very graphic scenes that some may find too much. Things eventually come to a head when the hospital is to be shut down and the Nazis start executing the patients and staff. This snaps BJ from his waking coma and the game starts proper.
Being the Grandad of shooters, Wolfenstein has changed in looks over the last two decades. However, unlike some of the critics, I don’t have a problem with a game knowing what it is. Like the modern day version of DOOM, Wolfenstein is first and foremost a high powered shooter that doesn't take prisoners.
The health bar is synonymous with these classics and I love the way the developers have played with this. In one scene BJ is captured and subjected to torture that would finish most of us off. Yet the fact BJ’s health bar doesn't bottom out means he is then given chance to recover when thrown into a pile of human corpses. To me, this is the developer acknowledging the conventions of old school shooters and running with it: I really like that. As you move forward through the game BJ must deal with various situations, most of which end with blazing through hundreds of Nazi troops. While this is true there is a surprising amount of diversity within each chapter. From scaling sheer castle walls, operating mechs or diving deep (in a mini sub) into the sunken depths of Berlin: there is always something new being thrown on the table. There is even one sequence where BJ must infiltrate a secret Nazi moon base.
Splinter Cell this isn’t, but there are some very fun stealth opportunities if you are that way inclined. When starting each level you will be made aware of officer locations; this is an invitation to go in quiet. If you manage to take the officers down with stealth kills no alarm will be raised and you will have less pissed off Nazis to deal with. Of course, you can always go in guns blazing and here you will see what the game does best. The gunplay here is off the chain: each bullet rips through flesh, bone and concrete with devastating effect. Heads, arms, legs are blown off like trifle piñatas and after a hard days work there is no better way to blow off steam. You are given a fairly modest selection of weapons to play with but each does its job admirably, from the standard assault rifle, shotgun and marksman rifle. There are also some nifty experimental weapons such as laser rifles: the Moon level could almost have been Moonraker the game. As you might imagine, there are various secrets to be found within the levels and these can include weapon upgrades. The laser cutter is also an interesting addition to your tools. What starts off as a humble cutting device ends up as one of BJ’s most effective weapons.
The game isn't perfect and I came across a few wrinkles which must be mentioned. I was killed more than a few times while attempting to hop over fences or small obstacles: which was frustrating as hell. There is a ‘vault' animation but this movement was so inconsistent I often would take the long way around to avoid getting drilled by my enthusiastic pursuers. The cover system is something many of the reviews have criticised and while not very snappy: I found a way to make it work pretty well (by binding the lean lock function to my mouse thumb button). After a few gunfights, you should start to get the hint, this game is all about getting stuck in while dual-wielding automatic shotguns. Yes, cover is a thing, but often it is turned into Swiss cheese after a few seconds thanks to how wonderfully breakable everything is: so fast moment becomes a better way of staying alive.
Most games come with a skill tree of some description these days and Wolfenstein is no exception. These perks give you various bonuses: such as being able to move faster while crouched or becoming more deadly with certain weapon types. What I really like about this perk system is that you must unlock them by doing specific actions related to that perk. This creates a loose set of challenges to consider when the opportunity arises.
It's been emotional
The biggest surprise of this latest Wolfenstein by a country mile was the impressive story and emotional scenes that help develop the plot. In the opening sequence to the game, BJ is given a sadistic choice by Deathshead and that choice influences the plot from that point onward. All of the characters are well acted and while some are better than others, I didn't come across any duds. Once BJ has rescued his old friend from prison (whichever he saved), you must then join the underground resistance in order to launch a counter offensive against the Nazis. Given the Germans have pretty much taken over the world while BJ slept, this fight seems hopeless: but then BJ is the perfect Nazi killing machine.
The young woman who cared for BJ while he sat in a vegetative state becomes a love interest and while on a train to Berlin things get physical. Anya clearly cares for BJ and this relationship comes across well scripted and believable. While in between missions you have the option of helping various characters and what is interesting is that these can lead to alternative scenes further down the road. There is even a bed in the secret HQ that will lead to you having nightmares in the form of playing the original game.
Is it PC?
Wolfenstein New Order runs on the id Tech 5 game engine and this has also been used for games like Rage and The Evil Within. This engine hasn't always worked out for games built on it: like the problematic Dishonored 2 from Arkane. However, here we see Wolfenstein sing on all my performance tests using an i7 4.3GHZ, 16GB DDR3 Ram and a GTX 980.
The graphics and world design in Wolfenstein are great and even though it’s a few years old it stands up well to its competition. I especially enjoying rummaging around the various Nazi buildings and dungeons. The art team have done a fantastic job with posters and news paper clippings you can read. It feels especially poignant because that could have been a possible real world future if the war had gone the other way.
It’s always fun seeing the old war-beaten soldier teaching the new cocky kids a thing or two: no school like the old school they say. Wolfenstein does an amazing job of bringing the story of BJ Blazkowicz into the modern shooter arena. The gunplay is both exhilarating, explosive and visually pleasing. It’s great to see older game IP’s like DOOM and Wolfenstein still having a place in the current gaming scene. With a sequel due out in a few months I’m very much looking forward to continuing the story of BJ and surprisingly, I also feel emotionally invested in the characters we met in this adventure.
The bottom line is this: if you love playing well-made shooters this game should already be in your collection. Expect a review for the New Colossus in the coming months. In the mean time thank you for reading my review of Wolfenstein: The New Order and I hope you visit again soon. If you wish to support my work please follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic and tell other gamers about my site.