Considering it's been around in one form or another since 1981, it's fair to say that we leapt into this Nazi-murdering series reboot with a few pre-emptive expectations in place. There will be violence, intense shootouts and castles, we naturally assumed. Such is certainly the case. But The New Order does something we never expected.
With a single player focus not watered-down by online features and obtrusive social fetters, the first-person adventures of protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz play out through a powerfully implemented story. Yes, you will blaze through corridors machine-gunning down waves of foes. But equally you'll be gasping through well-paced, non action-based sequences, all while being emotionally torn apart like your heart was a woolly jumper and developer MachineGames was a German Shepherd with a grudge.
The tale begins in 1946. The Second World War is drawing to a close, but not as the history books would have it. In the world of The New Order, the Nazis are winning, propelled towards atom-bomb flavoured victory by an initially inexplicable jump forward in technological power. At the top of this straight-legged march into hellish Nazi dominion is General Deathshead, a disfigured villain familiar to series vets but who is reborn in instantly despicable fashion.
During an explosive assault on the general's compound, involving among other things, mechanised dog attacks, cunning stealthy bits and ramparts rife with ash-filled torture/incinerator chambers, Blazko gets knocked for six. Washed up and cared for in a polish mental asylum, B.J. remains in a catatonic state for 14 years before awakening in the full on alternate history of the 1960s. The Nazis have won. English is a dead language. The resistance is all but quashed.
Before we move on to the gunplay, take a moment to let the bleakness of this setting sink in. Before even a single bullet has been spent in this alternate timeline, MachineGames take the time to ensure you're starkly aware of how the cards lie. The gruesome opening of the game proper sees you 'extract' information from a Nazi officer with a chainsaw.
Rather than be a gore showcase or an attempt to reach for headlines, this is a powerfully emotive sequence, tailgating said officer's horrifically wanton homicide at the asylum that inadvertently caused Blazko to awaken. MachineGames knows that it takes character to sell you on a world. When it comes to constructing a cast of believable, often hateful individuals, we can think of few to have done it better.
Worry not, ye of cutscene skipping proclivity. There are guns. Lots of them. There's something of a Resistance vibe in how they've been re-jiggered with Nazi dominance in mind, too. The iconic Mauser style pistol that you play with in 1946 becomes a burst fire packing thicker barreled version of itself.
"Excellent level design means that while you're up against it when using stealth, you're gifted with options."
Shooting is tidy and efficient, if lacking heft. Cover can be leaned over easily while looking down iron sights and a little further into the game you'll find some more surprises that the Nazis have cooked up. We won't spoil them too much beyond saying they are delightfully destructive and almost always pour empowerment gravy over the rest of the shooty roast.
You'll need that power, too. The Nazis have hardly been sat on their bloodied hands for 14 years. Mech-infused super soldiers roam the corridors, while heavily-armoured rocket troopers join the fray alongside Commanders with a knack for calling in reinforcements. Surprisingly, stealth is not only a valid option at almost all times, it's one of the more rewarding ones.
There are no superfluous powers or skill wheels to distract you, just a pistol with a silencer and a knife for melee takedowns. Excellent level design, with secret entrances, eye-holes in the walls and ventilation shafts aplenty, means you'll always feel that while you're up against it when using stealth, you're gifted with options.
The boss fights are the stuff of legend. In fact, the exhausting finale, which drags you through huge emotive climaxes, devastatingly fire-ringed showdowns and one of the best final lines ever, is intensely memorable. Not since Metal Gear Solid slapped us atop Rex in a fisticuffs with Liquid have we been more inclined to beat the tar out of an enemy with such vigor.
"Everything is here for the betterment of the story and your breathless experience powering through it."
We keep coming back to that story. The characters you meet, whether good, bad or in-between, are threaded with narrative credence, given flesh through believable affectations and flaws to go with the brass and the balls. As you eventually meet up with a larger band of resistance members you'll root for some, hate others and connect with the rest. Not in a kooky videogame way, either. MachineGames use every cinematic trick in the book.
Expect 360 degree rotating camera pans, crash zooms and even at one point a split screen style 24-esque telephone conversation. With the exception of one B-movie style level in the latter half of the game (which we won't spoil) there is no such thing as wasted effort in Wolfenstein. Everything is here for the betterment of the story and your breathless experience powering through it.
Had our preconceptions been correct The New Order would have been a silly but fun game. With its near impeccable ability to deliver an impactful story, even to the point of including one of the most believable, least cliched love stories we can remember seeing in games, it has become so much more. Prepare for the feels.
Big and ballsy but with the brains to back it up.
- Narrative is intelligently written, brilliantly voiced and highly polished
- Incredibly adept at delivering memorable moments
- Maintains an exhausting level of tension, whether you're stealthy or guns up
- One level honks like a Bond movie set from the 80s