Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Copy obtained via GameFly
It’s easy to look at a game like Wolfenstein: The New Order and assume it’s a standard first-person shooter, what with its large arsenal of weapons, massive explosions, and countless waves of Nazis to obliterate. However, what’s not immediately noticeable is a slew of gentle and thought provoking character moments which serve as a breath of fresh air in a genre normally choked by familiarity.
In The New Order, you play as B.J. Blazkowicz, an American soldier who finds himself dead center in the fight against the Nazi regime in 1946. When a mission leaves him with a critical head injury, he winds up in a psychiatric asylum in Poland where he enters a vegetative state for 14 years. Upon waking up in 1960, he finds that the world isn’t quite how he remembers it. The Nazis have won the war and established themselves as the new rulers of the world, using their superior might and numbers to subject humanity to their tyrannical reign. With the help of a newly formed resistance movement, B.J. picks up a rifle and once again joins the fight to save the world from the grasp of evil.
Unlike most games in the genre, The New Order is content with slowing things down to explore such themes as the emotional toll of war, the need for human contact, and the existence of God in the face of cruelty. Despite the constant bloodshed and dismemberment that makes up the majority of the gameplay, these small intellectual moments feel perfectly at home within The New Order. Sure, other games have tackled heavy subject matter within this genre (I’m looking at you, Spec Ops: The Line), but The New Order does so in a way that feels leagues above the rest.
This is largely due to the fact that the cast is comprised of fleshed out characters, not simple archetypes. They feel like real people grappling with the emotional and moral struggles of war, which makes the story feel more genuine and engaging. For example, B.J. wrestles with wanting to settle down and start a family, despite knowing that the current state of the world may never let that become a reality. Another character is tormented by his inner demons for surviving so long in a world that has taken his friends and family. Even the villains (despicable as they may be) are fleshed out with their own issues, dreams, and loved ones.
For the most part, the writing in The New Order is on point. The dialogue spewed on the battlefield is admittedly nothing special, but several of the lines spoken during the downtime between missions are powerful and highly memorable. Hearing one character tell the story of losing the functionality of her legs, or listening to others talk about misplaced faith or the loss of their loved ones serves as a stark reminder of what’s at stake. The resistance is comprised of broken people trying to find what little good is left in the world, even if that means risking their lives to do so. While the plot of The New Order is far from happy rainbows and sunshine, there’s still a glimmer of hope as the characters push past their ordeals and strive for a better tomorrow.
It’s also worth noting that a decision made in the first mission can branch the story into one of two timelines. While the core story remains the same regardless of which timeline you embark upon, each timeline introduces new characters and opens up new areas in certain missions. Some of these characters may not have a large impact on the overall plot, but their inclusion fleshes out the world of The New Order. Despite having a mostly identical story in each timeline, it’s worth playing through both of them to get the full experience.
Even though The New Order boasts incredible character moments and dialogue, the bulk of the game is a relentless bloody assault against the Nazi regime. As B.J. travels the world recruiting new people to the resistance and clearing out key outposts and fortresses, he’ll mow through every last Nazi that stands in his way.
Similar to something along the lines of Dishonored, the way in which you go about this is entirely up to you. With the exception of a few encounters that force you to engage in tense shootouts, it’s possible to tackle the majority of the game with stealth. Although using assault rifles and shotguns to blow your enemies away is messy and exciting, sneaking through an area and silently dispatching your foes is just as satisfying.
What makes this approach different from other games is that there’s no morality system that’s altered by your actions. This allows you to mix and match your approach to combat without worrying about which side of a moral coin it’ll shift you towards. If you want to sneak through one part of an area and then tear through the next with a grenade launcher, you can do so without any worry. This allows you to experiment with the entirety of your arsenal and not feel limited to a select amount of tools in your playthrough.
Speaking of, the arsenal of weapons in The New Order is a blast to explore. You have your typical pistol, assault rifle, and shotgun to shoot at Nazis with, but there’s also a handful of cool sci-fi weapons that add to the variety. Tesla grenades explode into electrical clouds, laser rifles eviscerate anyone unlucky enough to stand in their way, and a precision laser tool allows you to cut through fences and chains to traverse the environment. Every weapon can eventually be upgraded with a secondary fire mode (grenade launcher, multi-targeting, etc.) and can also be dual-wielded, but only with itself. Using ricochet rounds on a shotgun, or wielding two machineguns is incredibly fun and makes you feel like a badass in the process.
Thankfully, The New Order gives you a lot of different enemy types to pulverize. While you’ll most frequently encounter normal Nazi troops, there’s also armored attack dogs and myriad mechanical monstrosities to face off against. Killing each type of enemy never really expands beyond filling them up with lead and lasers, but the sheer fun of the combat more than makes up for it.
As you face the Nazi force throughout the game, you can progress through a skill tree to learn new abilities to aid you in combat. There’s no XP system in the game, so the skills are unlocked by performing special feats in combat. Some may require you to get a certain amount of kills with a particular weapon, others may require you to take out certain types of enemies, or score a bunch of headshots. They’re relatively easy to unlock, but they can be time consuming. However, the benefits gained from completing these challenges are well worth the effort. Whether it’s the ability to have quieter footsteps while sneaking, or gain armor from chaining kills together, there’s a ton of skills to unlock that give you an edge in the field.
From a technical standpoint, the game runs pretty smoothly despite the amount of enemies in an area or how many explosions you cause. The New Order ran at a nearly consistent 60fps, but did suffer from the occasional texture pop-in and audio hiccup. While technical issues by definition, none of them ever detracted from the experience and shouldn’t be considered a deterrent in playing the game.
Wolfenstein: The New Order takes the age old question of, “What if the Nazis won?” and makes it feel original and entertaining. From the engaging story full of strong characters and thought provoking discussion, to the open combat that allows you to play your own way, The New Order is a shooter that sets itself apart from the competition and shouldn’t be missed.
– Zack Burrows