A new take on the long-running WW2 series has some great ideas and fantastic action sequences, although the tone varies wildly
The Wolfenstein games have always played fast and loose with history, but The New Order takes the series to a logical conclusion: what if the Nazis had won World War II? After an explosive opening level set in 1945, protagonist BJ Blazcowicz ends up with a traumatic head injury in a polish asylum, as the Nazis use advanced technology and robotics to take over the world. Waking from a vegetive state 16 years later, Blazcowicz returns to a world where machines created by sadistic General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse help the Axis rule the world with an iron fist – but that isn’t going to stop a one man army with a serious beef with the Nazi forces.
Both a continuation and a reboot of the series, The New Order ditches the paranormal elements seen in previous games and focuses on a retro-futuristic alternate reality 1960. This has given developer MachineGames the flexibility to create plenty of unique locations, partly inspired by alternate history fiction, films and sci-fi as well as recurring themes from the Wolfenstein timeline. With plenty of scope for variety, expect to see a Nazi-transformed London, inside an Axis nuclear submarine and even a Nazi moon base.
Well you didn’t expect a Nazi-controlled 1960 to be sunshine and roses, did you?
BJ isn’t a one-man army, however, getting support from a fairly typical selection of resistance fighters including a familiar face from the previous games, a reformed ex-Nazi and a foul-mouthed Scot soldier who may as well be an 18-rated Soap from Call of Duty. His accent isn’t exactly strong, but somehow warrants subtitles anyway. The most questionable character, and indeed most contentious plot point is the wise old man who reveals where Deathshead’s advanced war machine came from; ancient technology hidden from the world by a small group of believers. Considering the subject matter, perpetuating Judeo-Masonic conspiracy theories with a stereotypical character such as this is questionable at best.
The main Nazi antagonists are all terrifying creations, frequently verging on psychotic and are in no way sympathetic to the darkest chapter in Germany’s history, but are occasionally played for laughs to ill effect. Never entirely sure whether to aim for black humour, kitsch or the downright horrific, The New Order has a wildly shifting tone that can be truly unsettling at times. Previous games in the series were dark, but the combination of next-generation visuals, a BBFC 18 rating and an unflinching cut-scene camera mean this absolutely isn’t a game for the faint of heart. These moments are few and far between, thankfully, letting players concentrate on the action.
What’s worse than an angry dog? An angry robo-Nazi dog, that’s what
Although there’s always a choice between stealth or full-frontal assault, there’s rarely enough ammunition to support an all-guns blazing approach. Even on the standard difficulty we were constantly struggling to keep our arsenal topped up. This is partly because you have to manually pick up weapons, ammunition and armour rather than simply walking over them, and because enemy weapons are never dropped fully loaded – even if you take the stealthy option and take them down before they can fire a shot. You can dual-wield almost every weapon in the game, but doing so will eat through your ammo reserves faster than you can blink.
This means frequently falling back to the silenced pistol in favour of the more exotic additions to BJ’s arsenal. It’s only in the final third of the game that you have enough reserves to start using the assault rifle’s rocket-launching alternate fire mode, shrapnel-firing shotgun which clears corridors with lethal efficiency, and Moonraker-style laser rifle.
The violence is absolutely unflinching, making some cut-scenes uncomfortable to watch
Access to better weapons coincides with the arrival of heavy soldiers, armoured robots and hulking supersoldaten which can make short work of your health bar, which in the traditional Wolfenstein style must be replenished with medkits and scavenged food rather than automatically regenerating. This makes the new cover system crucial in order to survive larger firefights, particularly when you’ve used up your most powerful weapons and have to rely on weaker guns to get the job done.
Thankfully the plasma cutter that lets you cut through chains and chicken wire fences in the opening levels becomes brutally overpowered in the final levels; it fires concentrated bursts of energy that are strong enough to vaporise weaker enemies and deal serious damage to the heavy soldiers that were causing you problems earlier.
Players are encouraged to try out different weapons and tactics by the perks system, which rewards bonuses like faster reload speeds, silent movement and larger ammunition reserves for completing optional objectives. Some will come naturally depending on your play style, but others feel like a bit of a grind.
This is not a nice man.
There’s no multiplayer mode, but MachineGames has made sure to add plenty of replay value. A moral choice made at the start of the game will change which routes are available through each mission, and with hundreds of collectibles to find there’s good reason to attempt a second play through – particularly to find the alternate german versions of 1960’s music classics like “House of the Rising Sun”. Taking around ten hours on the standard difficulty, The New Order is refreshingly lengthy compared to the flash-in-the-pan campaigns we’ve come to expect from the Call of Duty series.
The alternate reality setting adds a welcome breath of fresh air to the Wolfenstein series, which was struggling to stay relevant in a market saturated with modern warfare shooters. Moving the action only slightly into the future has helped keep the game rooted within the series, but expands the gameplay, gunplay and storyline enough to entertain anyone that’s tired of World War 2.