If we were to hop into the Wayback Machine and visit my baptism in the world of game reviews we’d find Activision’s Wolfenstein as one of my earliest endeavors. Thus, it was with no small twinge of nostalgia that I dove into the latest reboot, Bethesda’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, a first-person shooter that asks the always interesting question: what if the Nazis won World War II?
Things are pretty straightforward with the setup as you can quickly switch between two weapons, while holding down the bumper brings up a radial menu with your full arsenal. The d-pad is used to alternate modes and attachments (such as equipping/detaching a silencer) or dual wield a weapon type as long as you’ve encountered at least two of them. The firepower of firing two guns at once comes at the expense of accuracy, but that’s a standard tradeoff in shooters.
There are a few brief moments of vehicular action as well. They don’t handle great, but they’re so brief that it turns out to be a non-issue. A few other options — like the ability to toss back grenades — don’t work as well they should, either, though again they’re just not prevalent enough to matter.
Played on the Xbox One, The New Order looks like a beefed up 360 game in the same vein as other multi-generation releases like The Amazing Spider-Man 2 or Call of Duty: Ghosts. It runs smoothly, features some cool destructible objects in the environment and has plenty of visceral action that even rivals the Gears of War sniper headshot. The game also takes you to a number of divergent locales, from England to the moon, and does a nice job mixing sci-fi elements with a historical baseline.
Voice acting is solid here, particularly for an FPS, and it certainly helps that there’s actually a reasonably interesting story that’s being brought to life. It’s easily the most depth the series’ long-running hero, B.J. Blazcowicz, has been given, and both the macro (fighting Nazis) and micro (a love story) elements are smartly handled with some actual subtlety. The soundtrack is good, and the effects of things like gunfire and explosions are satisfying.
After the opening mission to bring down General Deathshead goes awry, Blazcowicz is left in a coma for the next 14 years, coming around in 1960 to find a world in which the Nazis not only won WWII but also conquered the globe. Needless to say that doesn’t sit well with BJ, who makes it his mission to link up with the resistance and take the fight to their door.
While certainly not the first game to re-imagine the world had Hitler prevailed, Wolfenstein does a fine job of creating said world in multiple ways, from the desperation of the people to the cold, efficient structures that have been built by the Nazi’s futuristic technology. It’s a better fit than the previous game, which was more focused on the occult. Instead we find a world ruled with an iron fist by a technologically superior force.
Told over 16 chapters, The New Order checks in at more than 10 hours of gameplay, and although most of it is action packed there are some stealth elements involved. The most obvious example is that of the commander, which is a special unit capable of calling in reinforcements until killed. Assassinate him without detection, however, and no additional units will appear, reducing the level of opposition as you move through and clear areas.
A secondary benefit is that killing commanders unawares will mark the location of various collectables on your map. Enigma codes are the most important to find as once you’ve gathered them all up you can solve the puzzle from the main screen, unlocking things like new modes and difficulty levels for subsequent playthroughs.
Unfortunately, stealth sections reveal some problems with enemy A.I., as patrolling sentries often seem blissfully unaware of your presence (or of the dead bodies five feet away). Combat tactics were a little more reasonable, though there were times where larger foes would seemingly reach invisible walls in rooms, allowing me to pick them off at my leisure as they waited for me to come back into their line of sight to trigger their reactions.
Although I’m not sure if that would officially be considered a glitch, the game is rife with them. Some sections wouldn’t reload properly with missions-critical items like armor and weaponry not appearing, forcing me to restart the level since I was suddenly ill equipped to proceed. I also encountered several freezes, including one that prevented me from finishing the game until I deleted it from my hard drive and reinstalled it.
There is no multiplayer in Wolfenstein: The New Order, so the game looks to mitigate that with an early either/or decision that’s designed to encourage at least two trips through the game. There is also a skill progression system based on completing goals — i.e. stealth kill X number of commanders, score X number of headshots, toss back grenades, etc. — that is interesting in theory but less so in practice.
That’s because your progression stacks regardless of whether or not you reach a checkpoint, making it far too easy to unlock perks since you all you need to do is find a place where one can be done and then reload the checkpoint over and over again. As such, it’s eminently possible to have the vast majority of perks done fairly early on; a handful of them require a weapon or ammo type not acquired until later.
Despite a fair number of frustrations and technical hiccups, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fun game to play and a strong first-person shooter. Unless you’re a fan and absolutely can’t wait to play it, however, I’d suggest waiting for a price drop to get your fill of blasting Nazis.