Wolfenstein: The New Order Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on Microsoft Xbox 360, PC, Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox One
Wolfenstein: The New Order is the sequel to 2009’s Wolfenstein. Before that we had the wonderful Return to Castle Wolfenstein in 2001 and that was the sequel to the Daddy of them all, Wolfenstein 3D, the original first-person shooter. This time around the Nazis have won World War II and they rule Earth. Their use of advanced tech tipped the battle in their favour. The player still sees this story through the eyes of the ever-brilliant William “B.J.” Blazkowicz but comes to it a little later than others, once the prologue’s ended. It’s 1960 and you’ve been catatonic for years. You learn about the end result and the way of the world today, and naturally seek to put things right.
On booting up the game you’ll be startled to see there is no multiplayer. In a console FPS. Make no doubts about it, this is a balls-out decision by MachineGames and Bethesda, and one which is applauded here. Sure, it’s perhaps odd to praise the lack of content but so often an FPS or third-person action-adventure has a tacked-on standard multiplayer mode in the belief it’s needed, rather than either developing something novel that can compete with the behemoths like Call of Duty or focusing more effort and resource on the single-player game mode. Here the benefit is clear to see. With everyone working towards the same singular goal of creating the best single-player game they can, the developers have produced a lengthy, varied and thoroughly entertaining shooter that will keep folk engrossed well past the end credits.
There’s humour throughout the game, and this is found in all aspects. The difficulty select screen for starters. As you go from the lowest of five difficulty settings up to the hardest - named ‘Can I play, Daddy?’ and ‘Uber’, respectively (continuing to remember the series’ roots), a headshot of the brick outhouse B.J. changes accordingly. He might be wearing a baby’s headdress and dummy or looking like an enraged animal covered in blood. Throughout the game you hear many of the characters making quips or just saying something funny in part of the natural chatter in-level or dialogue in cutscenes. B.J. himself often drops a one-liner, behaving very much like 1980’s Arnie just as he looks pretty much like a 1980’s Arnie. It’s wonderfully throwaway and entertaining and helps you to get involved with the storyline. The story itself is action blockbuster central and incredibly good fun. From the wide range of characters both good and bad - each of which are well drawn, especially if you take the time to talk with them when it’s an option - to the narrative and the utterly OTT set-pieces, there is something to like every step of the way during this fifteen-hour campaign.
There are sixteen chapters and each can take around an hour to complete dependent on how you are doing with each individual challenge. The level design is varied throughout in terms of location and map. You go from castles to lairs, trains to big underwater caverns. There are corridor sections and big open spaces. Sometimes we can take the high route or the low. Whilst the game is very much a linear one, there is often a choice of how to get from A to B and which random path to take. That might be by necessity as you find a way out when running from a Panzerhound or it might be because your playstyle naturally points you in that direction.
In the game you can try out the obvious all guns blazing approach or something more subtle, and stealthy. The game itself rewards you for trying to play in a certain way thanks to its perks system. You get perks for playing in one of four ways - stealth, tactical (headshots and use of cover plus small arms), assault (dual-wielding heavy machine guns!) or demolition (grenades and rocket launchers at your disposal). Yes, we did just say you can dual-wield machine guns (and more). Yes, it is as utterly amazing and as cool as you can imagine. Anyway, you get perks by, for example, taking down a Commander five times without alerting them, or by killing fifty enemies with grenades. These perks then provide a benefit such as increasing the speed of your machine gun movement or highlighting collectibles on your map once taking down the area Commander. It’s nice to get rewarded for how you play especially as the perks do enable performance in-game, something which is needed on higher difficulties. It really does make a difference to how you cope with different challenges and given perks are tied to many of the game’s trophies, you get something shiny for unlocking the perks too. There’s a perk tree in your journal allowing you to check what you need to do for the next unlock.
The playstyle you choose will be relevant too. As we mentioned, the maps are varied such that you can use corridors and hide behind small cover and lean around to shoot out at your foes and gain the headshots. You can run and gun into the open spaces launching all you’ve got at the Supersoldaten or use the tunnels and the like to approach things rather more quietly and carefully. There’ll be reasons why you choose one way or another aside from feeling it’s the best way to overcome any given challenge. If you take down an area Commander before he sees you, he is unable to sound the alarm and call for reinforcements. This means you’ll have just one wave of enemies to eliminate or avoid rather than two or more. There’s no infinite wave with invisible trigger points, thankfully, but there is always a lot of bad folk and each is surprisingly difficult to get rid of, even on the lower difficulty levels. Whilst enemy AI is non-existent until you start shooting at one, once spotted they do work together and try various things like chucking grenades at you to force you into the open or flank you so you can’t just hide and pick each one off. The AI whilst workable in this regard is very much unreactive. They have set routines and will do those well, but they will not react directly to your actions.
The game is built using the id Tech 5 engine, the last engine to come from John Carmack’s mighty work and the one which debuted with Rage. It was built for the last generation of consoles but holds its own here on the PlayStation 4. The cutscenes look lovely with everything in-game attractive enough though not touching what we’ve seen in Metal Gear Solid or Killzone. The use of the engine to build the locations is exemplary though. The use of colour and light to bring out the varied features from level to level make for a wonderfully fluid ride throughout different and exciting places. Basically, although the graphics might not be the most advanced, the graphic design execution is supreme. It’s not just the areas that look great. Each gunshot ripples through flesh in a very gory manner. Or it might just cause someone to explode depending on the weapon you’re using (brilliantly you carry all your weapons so you don’t need to choose). The game is incredibly violent, fabulously gory and contains all manner of swearing, and sex. It’s utterly wonderful fun. The audio too works very well with all kinds of noises from gunfire to voicework and beyond. You can have subtitles for all dialogue if wanted, or just the foreign dialogue (including English spoken in a Scottish accent. Obviously) if you want and it does help even though things onscreen are often too frantic to read them.
Throughout the game there are a lot of collectibles to gather. You can get gold treasures, letters from folk, and recordings. The most meaty collectibles are various Enigma codes scattered wildly in each level which when gathered can help you crack one of multiple codes accessible via the menu screen. Doing so will unlock extra game modes such as Ironman, where you have one life and get to play on Uber difficulty. As you ramp up the difficulty you’ll notice there is less ammo, less armour and less health but also that the inverse seems to happen to the baddies. It can make for an eminently more frustrating game, especially at some of the difficulty peaks littered throughout, but it’s always fair. There’s no cheating going on - it is just more challenging. There’s good reason to play through the game again, even if you don’t apply one of the new game modes or up the difficulty. You see, there are two timelines that split early on - you’re going to want to see both, even though the differences do not change the endgame result.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is the latest in a long line of historically relevant shooters. It doesn’t disappoint. Everything you would want from a Wolfenstein game is here, plus more. It’s a good looking, incredibly fun old-school shooter. The gameplay is furious, fun and responsive, with the characters full and engaging and B.J. himself being an absolute blast as much as he ever has been. The story is one you’ll want to see to the end and have reason to keep playing. Even when you know everything the game has to offer it’s nice making the Nazis go boom once more. This is the best single-player shooter on the current generation of consoles, and is more fun than much of what has come out in the past few years all told. It might not be technically the best, but it’s more enjoyable than anything since Modern Warfare, or perhaps even the first time we returned to Castle Wolfenstein.