Surprise. This was the raw emotion that grabbed me by the collar and slapped me in the face after my hands-on time with the upcoming Wolfenstein: The New Order. After being unveiled at E3 (with nifty Jimi Hendrix soundtrack in tow), it was evident that this was to be a new beginning for the revered, historic franchise, but just how much of a new beginning wasn’t quite clear until now.
The ostensibly unstoppable Nazis are back, so strap in as we attempt to put a stop to their heinous machinations once and for all.
Developed by ZeniMax-owned Swedish developers MachineGames, Wolfenstein: The New Order seemingly presents a new, fresh take on the long-running series that single-handedly kickstarted the first-person shooter. Simply put, venerable franchises such as Call of Duty, Battlefield and even Doom would never have come about were it not for the cold-blooded machismo of protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz and his Nazi-hating ways.
Set several years after the events of the 2009’s Raven Software’s Wolfenstein title, The New Order does away with many of the oft-used tropes associated with the franchise. MachineGames was formed from the backbone of Starbreeze Studios, and the results are immediately telling. Just as in Chronicles of Riddick and The Darkness, The New Order instantly captures an atmospheric and dystopian setting.
After waking up from a 14 year coma, B.J. finds that the Nazis are essentially ruling the globe, with no trace of the resistance in sight. It is up to the player to locate any remnants of the resistance and fight back against seemingly insurmountable odds to topple the Nazi war machine.
The opening story beats played out with far more depth than I had anticipated. Characters have as much, if not more, personality and nuance to them as you could expect from a run-and-gun title like this. The villains are despicable, the women are beautiful, the elderly are helpful (yes, helpful) and in the three hours that I played, I had already unwittingly formed an emotional attachment to several characters.
This became increasingly evident when, late in the first chapter, I was forced to make a tough, sudden decision and choose which of two of my squad mates I would allow to die: the young rookie or the tough veteran? I went with the older fellow, and I was assured by staff that these pivotal moments would, indeed, alter my experience in the game and dictate how the story plays out.
I was faced with a similar stressful situation late in Chapter 3 while undercover, playing a twisted ‘which-would-you-rather’ card game with one of the games other key antagonists, Frau Engel, hoping my cover wouldn’t be blown. These moments are delightfully tense, changing up the pace and, again, go against the grain of what you have come to expect from a standard first-person shooter such as this.
What also sets this outing apart from previous entries is a refreshingly open-plan level design, one with multiple paths, various choices, and more hidden collectibles than you could shake a Gatling Gun at. Along the way, players will come across hidden letters to expose a bit of backstory, concept art, Nazi gold and other valuables, gun accessories, pieces of ‘enigma code puzzles’, and much more.
While battling through the game’s first mission, I will admit to affording myself a goofy grin upon the discovery of a hidden room behind a movable painting of a Nazi general — something that harkens all the way back to Wolfenstein 3D. These little touches encourages players will take your time to unveil every concealed nook and cranny.
Level design throughout the opening segments were as varied as they were detailed, starting out in a 1946 battle in the skies before moving to a Nazi stronghold, an innocent-looking hospice and finally to a foreboding rail yard, all full of thrilling set pieces to keep you on your toes.
Other than the giant killer robots and armoured super soldier that I encountered along the way, the early enemies are, for the most part, your standard pack of shock-troops. These are often led into battle by commanders who try to stay behind the lines of battle, and have the ability to call in reinforcement troops. This, in turn, introduces an optional stealth mechanic: Players can avoid combat in order to perform a stealth execution on enemies and avoid alarms being rung…or they can simply go in guns blazing.
As for those all-important guns, they were your usual shooter selection from what I was able to discover, ranging from pistols to rifles to shotguns, though they all felt assuredly powerful and effective. Most weapons can also be wielded akimbo, doubling the fun at the cost of accuracy. The shotgun was particularly fun, with its devastating power able to eviscerate foes with ease. It’s this extreme level of gore and ‘shock value’, from graphic torture scenes to casual executions to blown off limbs, that unquestionably earned this title an R18+ rating.
Enemies are able to return the favour though. I found that playing through on the default difficulty level quite the challenge compared to other mainstream shooters. The tenacious enemy A.I. seemed on point, able to effectively surround and flank you while whittling away your health and armour with ease; I was forced to restart from a checkpoint several times. It’s this level of challenge which forces you to take advantage of the cover systems in place and make careful use of your ammunition and equipment.
Another pleasant addition to the series is the ‘perks’ you can unlock and apply to Herr Blazkowicz. Call of Duty players will be familiar the concept of these battle modifiers, which are unlocked by performing certain challenges; ‘Get 10 kills with a silenced pistol’, or ‘Eliminate 5 soldiers while sliding’. These perks are divided into four skill trees (stealth, tactical, assault, and demolition) and allow players to play through the campaign while being rewarded for their chosen play style.
It’s hard to believe Wolfenstein: The New Order’s id Tech 5 engine is already two and a half years old, and yet this is only the second title to take advantage of it after id’s own shooter Rage, back in 2011. The engine is as impressive as ever, with a great level of detail evident everywhere. I was running a PS4 build of the game, and everything ran at full 1080p resolution, with a mostly silky smooth 60 frames per second, dipping slightly only in the heat of battle. With a few months until launch, however, I have hope that these slight hiccups could be smoothed out and optimized for each platform.
It is also worth noting that there are no multiplayer or co-op features whatsoever. I am told that the focus was instead to focus all available resources on a comprehensive single player campaign, which depending on your preferences, will either be a godsend or a disappointment. With the Call of Duty and Battlefield behemoths dominating the online shooter scene, the decision is certainly an understandable one.
I had perhaps unfairly dismissed Wolfenstein: The New Order after first seeing it last year, thinking it wouldn’t have enough of a ‘wow’ factor to differentiate itself amongst its competitors, but I’m supremely happy to be proven wrong thus far. With a unique identity and a surprising amount of replay value, Wolfenstein should be firmly on the radar for any shooter fan craving both an entertaining and challenging experience this Autumn.
Wolfenstein: The New Order will be available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 22nd, 2014.