So then. Nazis. Nazis fascinate me, I must admit. They are a group that will almost inevitably be brought up by anyone discussing the concept of “Evil”- they’re remembered as a mighty yet diabolical, heinous war machine responsible for some of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history. So no matter how interesting I find them, I do so love seeing them get killed. As you can probably imagine, I was really rather looking forward to “Wolfenstein”. I must admit my experience with the previous installments is somewhat lacking. I’ve played “Wolfenstein 3D” a little bit and I played quite a lot of “Return to Castle Wolfenstein” but that’s all. As for “The New Order”, I loved the premise, I really like first person shooters, and I love killing Nazis, so this looked like one to pick up. This review will be focusing on the title as a game rather than as part of the franchise; is it any good? Does it do anything new for shooters? Just how many Nazis did I kill anyway?
Answer: I’ve lost count. The story starts in 1946 with long-time “Wolfenstein” protagonist William “B.J” Blazkowicz (Which other people seem to pronounce “Blaz-KO-Vitch” but he himself pronounces “Blaz-kuh-witz”) leading a small team on a desperate, last-ditch raid against the castle base of General Wilhelm Strasse, otherwise known as “Deathshead”, a monstrous Nazi scientist who is responsible for a whole lot of mechanised dogs, humans and robots that are greatly improving Germany’s chance of winning the war. Long story short B.J and friends are captured, he escapes with a couple of them, takes a big piece of shrapnel to the head and goes into a vegetative state; ending up in an Asylum run by a polish family. Losing his concept of time, he is doted on by the family’s daughter Anya until eventually a Nazi squad arrive to shut the place down with bullets. This spurs B.J back into action as he gets up, kills a whole load of Nazis and joins up with Anya to help out any resistance fighters. However, there’s one major twist to all this: B.J was in a vegetative state for fourteen years- the Nazis won the war and 1960 sees pretty much the entire planet run by Nazis. Also The Moon, but I’ll get to that. This was the premise that got me interested in the game, and it really doesn’t disappoint- not only have the Nazis got vastly improved technology in 1960 but you also see the non-military effects of a world run by the Nazi party. It ranges from big things like a bridge from Europe to Africa (which is apparently “The Front” but I don’t know how much resistance is going on there. Probably not a lot what with all the robot dogs and Supersoldaten) and a Nazi lunar base to smaller things like famous songs from the era recorded in German, like “Get Back” by The Beatles and “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas. The back story is largely found in newspaper clippings that are very interesting if you take the time to read them, and the fact that it isn’t out in the open adds to the idea that everyone’s so beaten down by the Nazis- as far as most people are concerned, they won. Early on B.J is told that the U.S was nuked, which is not even treated as anything shocking by those telling him. At one point Deathshead lambasts B.J for being an agent of chaos out to selfishly ruin the efficient, beautiful society the Nazis have created. They won. The smaller-scale story as told throughout the story missions is also good; B.J and what’s left of the resistance fight back against the Reich in whatever ways they can leading to some decent variety in missions, but the real focus here is on character. B.J himself gets some decent fleshing out through his interactions with his team, mainly Anya, and through his narration. Said narration is always a hushed, intense whisper that’s usually poetic but concise as he reflects on what’s happening to him and what’s happened in the past. It’s a nice contrast to his determined but approachable exterior- inside he’s a cold-hearted killer with a burning hatred for the Nazis that runs deep. Other stand-outs are Anya who fills the role of B.Js girlfriend while also being a key member of the resistance who comes across as an actual human being who’s intelligent, determined and warm despite all that’s happened to her, and B.J’s old friend and comrade Fergus- a battered, lethal Scotsman who provides a good amount of abrasive comic relief, and fills out the British part of the team a bit (The UK didn’t do too well in this timeline). Overall the story is really rather good, and definitely not just throw-away filler in between shooting sections.
Now many would argue that gameplay is most important in an FPS, and fortunately that doesn’t disappoint either. If the story is handling the more serious side of things, its the gameplay that handles the fun, cathartic side. Coming across as a mixture of classic FPS gameplay as seen in the likes of “Doom” and the better type of modern shooter like “Resistance 3”, it’s both smart and over-the-top. Almost every weapon in the game can be dual-wielded, including automatic shotguns and assault rifles. Hell, even knives. Most of the weapons feel satisfying and handle well, and well-implemented lean system makes cover a more intuitive option without going too far like “Killzone” 2 and 3. The game is split between shoot-outs and stealth sections, and both are handled well. The stealth works on line-of-sight and hiding behind physical objects rather than in shadow. Knives can be thrown, takedowns can be performed or if you’re in a rush pistols can be silenced. Commanders can be killed to prevent reinforcements from showing up, and the game feels fair in regards to the time between being seen and an alert being raised- basically it’s FPS stealth done right, feeling similar to “Metro: Last Light”. Health does regenerate, but only by twenty points (that was how high mine went, you might be able to upgrade it)- otherwise you’ve got to pick up health packs, just like old times. Health can continuously be picked up even if you’re at your maximum- causing you to “Overcharge” and have extra health that increasingly drops down to your limit. The game also handles “Perks” well, with unlocks being tied to tasks, mainly involving killing a certain number of Nazis in different ways.
I said it mixes the old with the new, and I feel it does it well- the health system, armour and mowing down hordes of enemies with massive firepower from the old days, tight level design and well-implemented stealth from newer games. In answer to the question I posed earlier in the review, it doesn’t really do much new for the genre, besides the health system, which is a pretty cool idea, all told. However, at no point in the game did I think “Oh they took this from (X)”. It feels like a natural step for shooters and not the sum of several parts from games that came before it.
Overall, “Wolfenstein” is great. The back story and premise are really interesting and well-told, the character drama is solid and its characters likable, and the gameplay mixes modern sensibilities with old school massacring rather well. This is definitely one to check out, particularly if you like first person shooters.
By James Lambert