In a gaming genre dominated by perennial reruns of Call of Duty, team deathmatch, and dudebros chugging Monster Energy drinks while shrieking during killstreaks, Wolfenstein: The New Order dares to be a bit different.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is set in 1960, fifteen years after the actual culmination of World War 2; the Nazis have overpowered the rest of the world, bringing even the United States under the thumb of the Third Reich.
You still play a lone, powerful American soldier though - BJ Blazcowicz, the usual frontman of the Wolfenstein franchise, is back as the leading man of The New Order. You still get big guns - plenty of them, in fact - and use them to destroy the Nazi Reich. But there’s no “season pass,” no yearly “hype train” to board.
Actually, there’s no multiplayer. At all.
Wolfenstein: The New Order instead focuses solely on the single-player experience, delivering a campaign that easily doubles (if not triples, assuming you’re slow) the play time of games like Call of Duty: Ghosts. That means that the man you play is actually given time to develop as a character (fancy that, FPS developers?) along a forked story path. Or, well, sort of.
One thing The New Order does well is storytelling, even if there’s a lot of squandered potential; at the end of Chapter One, you’re presented with a choice - you choose the fate of two fellow soldiers. This should affect the storyline in a major way, but it ultimately means very little. You get a few different scenes, but that’s about it. Most of the levels and the main story remain unchanged, which diminishes the impact your choice really has.
That’s telling of the entire game, though - someone dies, something explodes, and BJ just goes right on back to shooting Nazis. At least he’s true to his character - an elite soldier who exists to kill Nazis, after all - but it was a real chance to show a more human aspect of Blazcowicz. Instead, Blazcowicz keeps most of his thoughts to himself, spoken in short inner monologues that comment on what’s transpiring around him. Sometimes, he’s actually kind of funny (upon lifting a very light dumbbell: “Yeah, you still got it old man”).
What’s happening in the world of Nazi rule is far more interesting than the standard FPS fare of deserts and jungles; Wolfenstein: The New Order’s world sports an oppressive, brutalist architectural structure with possible art deco and neo-baroque hints. This is especially apparent in the game’s rendition of Berlin, designed to be an imposing fortress city with “concrete for miles.”
Berlin is not the only area where Nazi oppression is apparent; Wolfenstein: The New Order takes a semi-risky human angle with a chapter in a concentration camp nestled in the north of Croatia (likely a representation of Jasenovac). You enter as Blazcowicz and see some of the camp through a prisoner’s eyes, bearing witness to slain prisoners’ bodies piled unceremoniously in a corner. Unfortunately, most of the chapter revolves around Blazcowicz escaping, without much depth into the prisoners’ stories or life in the camp. Still, it’s good to see that developer MachineGames didn’t shy away from some of the realities of the Nazi regime.
Underneath all of this lies a solid, action-driven shooter that stacks up against anything in the genre. Blazcowicz isn’t limited by the two-gun arsenal (primary weapon and sidearm) that plagues most modern shooters - if you can pick it up, you usually get to keep it. What’s more, you can usually dual wield it as well, which leads to ridiculous runs where you can tear through a Nazi squad with two semi-automatic shotguns after loading up on health bonuses.
That doesn’t mean that our hero is unstoppable, nor does he have magic healing powers (looking at you, Call of Duty); Wolfenstein: The New Order returns to the original formula of health packs and armor power-ups. Health will regenerate slightly, but cowering in a corner for ten seconds won’t bring Blazcowicz to full health. It’s a welcome change of pace that brings health management to a genre otherwise filled with veritable Wolverines.
Stealth compounds this need for mostly-smart play; often, Blazcowicz will face a platoon on its own, with a commander or two in tow. You can either deal with it like a moron with a deathwish and shoot at the first man you see, alarming the other troops and bringing reinforcements to your location, or you can quietly creep behind the commanders and silence them without their troops knowing any better.
Bottom line: Are you looking for a first person shooter that explores some powerful themes and a bit of old-school ridiculousness? Do you want a long single-player experience? Wolfenstein: The New Order delivers everything reasonably expected from a modern FPS, with a few story variations and occasional snippets of comedy.
And there’s a character named “J,” a young left-handed, black American guitarist who is part of the resistance group - an obvious nod to Jimi Hendrix. How can you not like that?
The gameplay won’t shock or educate you, and there’s no multiplayer to keep you invested in the game after the campaign’s over. But what is there is worth a playthrough.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was provided as a review copy on Steam. The game is also available for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4.