The first fact that catches my attention about Wolfenstein: The New Order is that it features no multi-player mode whatsoever, which, in 2014, I actually see as a sign of confidence in storytelling. I think it would be unfair to say this allowed the solo adventure to be more robust, but damned if The New Order isn’t one of the more fun first-person experiences I have had in a long time.
I didn’t enter The New Order as a long-time fan of the series, with my previous experience being vague memories of Wolfenstein 3D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. I suppose its alternate, very mechanical 1960 setting appealed to me, set in an alternate post-World War II era in which the Nazis won, New York City is the site of an atomic bomb detonation, and London is seemingly the new Berlin.
Yet The New Order, by design, does not revolutionize the genre of first-person shooting, but I argue there is passion for it. The protagonist, U.S. Army Sergeant B.J. Blazkowicz, has a moderate arsenal at his disposal, from automatic pistols to automatic shotguns to hefty laser rifles that will pretty much disintegrate his enemies. I thought of the only other first-person series I’ve played in the last few years: Call of Duty. I found the last few entries of the Activision series hollow. Putting aside the frankly irrelevant “Who plays campaign mode?” question, I asked myself what was I getting out of the single-player story? What kind of story did the writer(s) and developers want to tell? I think where Call of Duty campaigns exist to be a series of set-pieces, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a hardcore pulp adventure, a violent narrative with the style of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino. Its purpose is clear, and a result, it is a much more satisfying experience.
The Third Reich has always been a historically and universally fair-game antagonist. If the Nazis show up in a medium, on any level, no one bats an eye when they are annihilated. Wolfenstein unapologetically plays their madness up (if that is even possible), with its main villain, General “Deathshead,” embodying the decaying mad scientist type. Frau Engel and her partner Bubi represent pure cruelty. Their introductory scene alone, in which they jokingly give Blazkowicz an Aryan “purity test,” is chilling. Even more so is how much the game gives insight into actual Nazi ideologies that make its universe feel all the more terrifying.
The player will encounter several sections of pure mayhem and carnage, especially if dual-wielding is in play, but the game is also encouraging of playing it tactical (in fact, its Call of Duty-like perks system is great at adapting to different styles of play). Rest assured, soldiers will be dismembered and turned into paste. There are also occasional moments of espionage, in which the player will sneak around areas, where getting seen naturally alerts the entire area until the alerting officer is killed. Enemy A.I. becomes a dim bulb during the stealth moments, for the player’s sake, though at times it can be downright hilarious how enemies can miss you. In contrast to the gunfighting, they can be slightly awkward changes of pace, but never detracting.
What’s kind of astonishing is that for the mayhem and zaniness The New Order guarantees, there is also a lot of emotion in its narrative, with transparent themes of liberation versus oppression, good versus evil. Through the few moments Blazkowicz and the player interact with the underground resistance, and though you may not learn every last detail about its members, their common goal makes the connection feel authentic, and refreshingly, although The New Order has plenty of dramatic moments, the sense that the characters are self-aware and aware of their hyperbolic world is real, and so there is no imbalance of tone. It works.
This new Wolfenstein never overreaches its goals. As a shooter, it is moderately satisfactory. Sometimes I didn’t always feel like I was packing a punch until the aftermath of a battle. I do like and appreciate that it encourages all types of strategy. Its developer, MachineGames, have evolved “old school,” in a way. The tropes are familiar, but they are embraced and pretty much played straight, which I argue makes the world easier to accept. As an insane post-World War II hyper-fantasy, it absolutely works, and is absolutely worth playing.
Best single player I've played this year, just proves that every game doesn't need to have online to be succesfull. Also probably the best word of mouth boost so far this year and well deserved, loved it.
Loved the review! I am actively playing through this right now and I am floored at how successful they are at telling this story. The "pure blood test" was super creepy as well.
I enjoyed this game quite a lot, and I would probably put it as my Game of the Year so far. The game starts fantastic and gets better and better. The characters are fleshed out, far better than you think they would. However as the narrative goes on, it fails to show the negative side effects of the character and their group. It paints the Nazi's as eniemes however as the group gains power and threatens innocent people, they are never shown to be wrong. Nazi's are bad, but so is killing innocents.
I played all the previous Wolfenstein games. This one fell off my radar, but I'm impressed they didn't tack on multiplayer. 2009's Wolfenstein left a bad taste in my mouth with it's multiplayer. I hope this gen they take example from this game, like anyone bought Tomb Raider (2013) for it's tacked on multi-player.
Thanks for the comments! The interesting thing is that Wolfenstein TNO is pretty much a success, yet from my knowledge, outside of the Doom beta access it barely got a preorder push. No excuses made about how multiplayer will sustain it. A well-reviewed quality product, admittedly a familiar brand name too, that just wants to be a good shooter with a good narrative is all it could take. I hope we get more of that in any future titles, though I also hope TNO gets a hefty DLC pack sooner or later.
I've been impressed by the word of mouth aspect of its success I have to admit. And as a result I'll definitely be having it soon. It's a great example of a developer knowing exactly what they want to do and having the confidence not to try and blind the customer with tacked on features just for the marketing people.
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Informative review. I appreciate that you praise without aggrandizing and that you seemingly came at the content from a median approach.
Starting this game up tonight. Heard great things.