- Editor's Rating
- Some great environments and missions
- While uneven, the storytelling is intriguing
- Enjoyable combat and weapon selection
- Very rough around the edges in spots
- Manually collecting all items is a chore
- Takes a while to get interesting
Quick TakeWolfenstein: The New Order revisits the classic id Software shooter series with a stronger focus on storytelling and character development, and while it lacks refinement and is tonally uneven, its results are largely entertaining.
It was just a year ago at the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) trade show that I found myself inside publisher Bethesda’s sprawling booth, amidst a mess of Wolfenstein: The New Order demo machines. Within five minutes, I was out of there, convinced that I needn’t waste my time on what felt like an old, tired first-person shooter dressed up with marginally improved graphics. I couldn’t have imagined at the time that what my momentary session needed was narrative framing and a few hours of character development.
After all, this is Wolfenstein—id Software’s legendary series that populated the first-person shooter genre with 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D. Back then it was all indiscriminate blasting, and while newer entries have advanced the tech and tended towards multiplayer components, the series has never bothered with much story beyond its supernatural Nazi-killing premise. The New Order isn’t fully like its predecessors, but then again, this isn’t the same team driving the action: developer MachineGames is an upstart studio formed primarily by former Starbreeze Studios leads.
In that light, the revised Wolfenstein makes a lot more sense; the single-player-only experience feels like a contemporary of Starbreeze favorites like The Darkness and The Chronicles of Riddick. Although rooted in familiar shooter design elements and focused on largely linear campaign stages, The New Order attempts to tell a surprisingly introspective story while delivering scads of Nazi guards and robotic beasts to slay. It doesn’t always hit the mark, and there are exhausting moments and routine shootouts along the way — but when it succeeds, it’s curiously fascinating and highly enjoyable.
Much of that has to do with its great setting. Most of the campaign takes place across Europe in an alternate history 1960 in which the Nazis have taken over the world. Such a fantastical twist allows not only for an entertaining backstory (the little newspaper clippings scattered throughout the world are especially worth reading), but also distinctive terrain and some really out-there scenarios; one section has you wandering a Nazi space exploration museum lined with saluting astronaut statues surrounding a large model Moon, for instance. Oh, and later you walk on the actual Moon and shoot your way through a lunar base. There’s a duality at play.
Even common FPS settings, like a submarine, have a bit more punch thanks to the slick visual design and unique firearms on tap. The standard dual-barrel shotgun delivers stellar stopping power — and makes up for the weapon being totally missing in 2009’s Activision-published Wolfenstein — but swap to the alternate fire option and you’ll find ricocheting pellets that work wonders in tight hallways, even from a distance. And that’s ignoring the more eccentric weapon offerings, like a manually rechargeable railgun that’s steadily upgraded throughout the adventure, and a rapid-fire laser rifle that’s a handy ally for a stretch.
By and large, Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s gunplay proves straightforward and satisfying as you blast fascist foes with extreme prejudice, but the game does feel sadly tethered to outdated genre building blocks at times. The separate health and armor meters are a bit antiquated at this point, and you’ll need to manually pick up every single item in the game, whether it’s ammo, armor, or health. Needing to grab a couple dozen items at a time adds an unnecessarily laborious element to the game, and The New Order drags things down further on occasion with overwhelming enemy barrages that test patience.
Generally speaking, the experience lacks refinement. Wild tonal shifts are evident across the game, character interactions are blunt and lack context — particularly jarring when a sex scene is suddenly underway — and the transitions between in-game action and cutscenes are very awkward. Missing audio in spots and other bugs don’t help, and The New Order doesn’t make much of new-gen console hardware thanks to rough textures and flickering issues. Even swapping between weapons feels oddly haphazard, which can be frustrating in a firefight. Much as it may aspire to attain the polish of a BioShock Infinite, MachineGames’ debut can’t quite get there.
But Wolfenstein is better than its haphazard parts might imply. Previously dull series hero B.J. Blazkowicz is now a conflicted soldier who longs for a family and flashes back to childhood memories amidst his hundreds of horrifying kills, which helps make him a surprisingly multifaceted lead. His Nazi-fighting contemporaries aren’t as well rounded, but they’re diverse enough to give the tale some humor and character along the way.
While The New Order begins slowly, it kicks into high gear around the halfway point and roars until its stellar conclusion — and its wide array of missions and alluring settings mean you’ll see much more than the brick walls of a castle. (That said, keep an eye out for an amazing bonus stage, Wolfenstein 3D fans.) Also, since an early player decision helps shape the game’s events ahead through the end, The New Order is an ideal candidate for a second playthrough.
At times, Wolfenstein: The New Order comes off as a constant tug-of-war between very different types of shooters — the straightforward, run-and-gun action of Doom and the rich world-building and storytelling of BioShock — which helps explain the uneven results. But when it coheres (especially on the back end) and shakes off the series’ simplistic origins in favor of well-built locales, lively storytelling, and satisfying blasting, the resulting concoction proves a welcome surprise.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is available now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.
Andrew Hayward is a Chicago-based games and gadgets writer whose work has appeared in more than 50 publications. Follow him on Twitter at @ahaywa.