Wolfenstein 3D may not have been the first FPS game, but it was the breakthrough game that led to the classic Doom. As the series as progressed through the years, we’ve seen it go further and further into the realm of the occult. Wolfenstein: The New Order dispenses with the chaos, instead focusing on how by embracing unfamiliar technology the regime wins the Second World War.
Set in an alternative history, the Nazi’s have technology so advanced that the war is still continuing in 1946. William “B.J.” Blazkowicz escapes from certain death, only to have shrapnel embedded in his head. He winds up in an asylum in Poland up until the year 1960. The Nazis have won the war and the entire world is under Nazi control. When the Nazi’s forcefully shoot the residents and most of the staff, Blazkowicz wakes up from his idle state.
Es ist streng verboten.
To say that the concept is bizarre and frightening to think of is one thing, but for the game to manage to make this alternative history come to life in a convincing way is an incredible achievement. Missions as a resistance fighter infiltrating government facilities, labour camps, and even a U-Boat are presented in a serious fashion and deal with some highly controversial themes. The notion that German has become the universal language translates into the presentation, further isolating the player against this hostile world.
But even at its most powerful points, there is an air of silliness to the whole game that at times would make Quentin Tarrantino blush. That is because the Nazi’s are in fact techno-Nazis. They have drones, robots, and even laser turrets for you to fight against. Nods to the 1960s culture are everywhere, but with a concrete jungle Nazi twist to them. Each locale has an air of hopelessness to it, with Blazkowicz being outgunned by the regime.
Some may feel that the things you fight against have a severe disconnect with the theme of the narrative, others may notice the odd blurry textures in the varied level design that has lots of secrets to uncover. It might not be the most consistent experience, but there is a great level of immersion present thanks to what it got right.
Sie werden nicht widerstehen.
Gunplay features your standard arsenal, though most firearms get an upgrade or two as you progress. Perhaps the most important thing to note are the fact that it makes using cover an enjoyable experience. While you are behind a wall, you can aim to automatically peek over cover, or use the dedicated button to control it manually. You can also make holes on certain surfaces thanks to the laser cutter, which adds a whole new dynamic to the proceedings.
Health packs can boost your health to over your maximum for a counting down boost, which is a great throwback to shooters of old, while Armour shrapnel once collected can allow you to resist some enemy firepower. Shooting while sliding is also possible, while stealth sections actually feel great to play thanks to the addition of throwing knives and Commander units that if alerted with trigger an alarm to spawn more enemies.
As a single player only shooter, chances are you would assume that replayability is low. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Early on in the game, you are given a choice that leads you down one of two timelines. Each one has their own quirks, dedicated perk, and the choice between health/armour upgrade collectables, meaning that in order to experience the full game you need to go down both timelines. Perk challenges enable you to try out new moves, while Nazi Gold, Letters, Enigma Codes, and alternative history renditions of classic musical artists give you lots of reasons to explore levels. Even various Easter Eggs crop up in the most unlikely of places and are a joy to experience.
This isn’t to say that the gameplay is perfect however, as the AI can be as dumb as bricks. They can advance and throw grenades, but apart from the dogs and occasional trooper they won’t attempt to use the level to ambush you. A lot of the difficulty comes from the sheer firepower the enemies hold, with some sections requiring you to chip away at enemies until they’re all dead. At times, the difficulty can feel artificial, which is potentially detrimental to your enjoyment later in the campaign.
Who knows if Wolfenstein: The New Order will be regarded as a classic, but it is certainly adventurous enough to be interesting, silly, and fun at the same time. Far from perfect, it manages to succeed by being a polished shooter with great mechanics and an empowering arsenal, yet somehow providing a dark alternative history that shows us just what might have happened to the world if the Nazis had won. At times, the narrative seriousness conflicts with the gameplay silliness, but Blazkowitcz’s latest romp is a guilty pleasure.