Watch out for FLUDD.
My expectations for Wolfenstein: The New Order were so low that I didn’t even plan on covering this game for the longest time. Hell, I forgot it was even coming out. So even a competent modern shooter would’ve been a surprise, but Wolfenstein’s überviolent sensibilities and great character writing transcend the level of quality you might expect from yet another retro revival.
Wolfenstein opens on the closest thing you can get to a Normandy landing without actually landing on Normandy. It’s World War II, and the Axis forces have been trouncing the Allies with an increasingly complex series of weapons. In a last-ditch effort to cut off the Nazi’s supply, Captain B.J. Blazkowicz and a scrappy team of Allied soldiers assault the Castle Wolfenstein-esque compound of General Deathshead; the monstrous scientist behind the recent technological leap.
From there, everything goes sideways and Blazkowicz wakes up in an asylum with a head wound fourteen years later. The Nazis have conquered the world in the meantime, and it’s up to Blazkowicz to find the resistance and topple the new regime by putting tons of bullets in as many Nazi soldiers as possible.
The actual plot isn’t up to much. It’s mostly you and your new pals going around Europe and stocking up for your underground blitzkrieg. Wolfenstein is a lot like Half-Life 2 in that you’ll remember the characters you encounter along the way, not anything you did in particular. I can’t remember exactly why I was in London at the beginning of the game, but I can tell you who drove me there. Even if you forget specific names and use nicknames like “the cranky british man” or “the Jewish Science Illuminati Guy,” you’ll still remember them. I would’ve appreciated a more interesting plot, though.
The game even tries to go into what happens after the stock “videogame sex scene.” It’s not entirely successful, but Blazkowicz and his girlfriend have some decent scenes together. The dreaded damsel in distress trope is only used once, and the game has a diverse cast of well-rounded characters. For example, in any other game the black hippie with the guitar would be the butt of many a joke, but he makes a couple really salient points about how African-Americans were treated for centuries in the USA. It takes both guts and a steady hand to successfully pull off a cast that includes multiple demographics. Wolfenstein did it all the same.
Of course, the game’s brains are thrown right out when it’s time to get down to the murdering. Wolfenstein does not forego its history in favor of making a Call of Duty-like. There are health and armor pickups scattered across the level, and it doesn’t take much to flatten Blazkowicz. You also move like a heavily armored Road Runner, and your “sprint plus crouch” move causes Blazkowicz to slide across the floor like his back was recently slathered with melted butter.
You can also dual wield every single weapon, including knives and sniper rifles. Need I mention that said sniper rifles double as rechargeable full-auto laser guns? So when you’re out of sniper bullets, switch to alt fire and blast your foes to bits. Dual wielding is a pretty heavy drain on resources, but it can also rapidly change the flow of a battle.
In addition to the sniper/laser rifles, each weapon feels immensely satisfying. The automatic shotguns spew shells like nobody’s business; even the silenced pistols have a weight to them. Since Blazkowicz can lug around every gun he finds, there’s ample room to experiment.
And you’ll need to experiment if you want to survive. On the normal difficulty setting, the game has a tendency to chuck random difficulty spikes at the player. It’s not quite to the level of a Halo combat puzzle, but you’ll need both your wits and an itchy trigger finger to get by. There were a few encounters that felt a little too difficult, however. I cheated my way through more encounters than I care to admit.
Perhaps the best part of the combat is the gore. Shoot a Nazi with a rocket or a few well-placed laser blasts, and they’ll explode into a giblet-filled red mist, similar to Fallout’s Bloody Mess perk. Some may take umbrage with the level of potential violence, but it’s so ridiculous that I can’t imagine anyone who actually sits down to play the game will be actually offended.
There are some optional stealth sections, where you have to find and eliminate Nazi commanders so they won’t call in reinforcements when the shooting starts, but if you want to take your chances and run into a room guns blazing, that’s a perfectly valid option. Wolfenstein’s combat is reminiscent of a very destructive, likely troubled youth playing with toys in a sandbox.
Sadly, the game’s boss fights can’t quite stand tall with the other encounters. Most games have been trying to do boss fights that aren’t just “shoot the weak point” for years. Wolfenstein: The New Order is not one of those games. Apart from a decent fight with an enormous robot, the boss fights were nothing more than a slightly more frustrating shoot-em-up. It’s a real shame; the game’s villains are quite memorable, yet most of them barely get a real fight.
The game also slows to a crawl when you’re not getting into fights. Poking around the Resistance’s headquarters, getting to know all the characters and piecing together what the world has become in your absence, that’s a lot of fun. But poking around sewers is nothing short of achingly dull, occasionally veering into exasperation once the flying drones turn up.
If nothing else, Nazi-controlled 1960s Europe certainly looks interesting. You spend a little too much time in corridors, but there’s certainly a definitive aesthetic that permeates the whole affair. The art direction shines in places like the Nazi science museum or the moon base, and I wish the game had spent more time in places like that.
On the PS4, the game runs quite well and thankfully relegates the touchpad to a mere button. There are no minigames of any sort. In fact, there aren’t even any quick time events. For all the complaints I have about the boss fights, at least you get to actually shoot them. Wolfenstein is more than happy to just let you play around with the mechanics of the world.
You might be skeptical about Wolfenstein: The New Order, and I don’t blame you. But know that you’re not walking into another Duke Nukem Forever situation. The folks at Machine Games knew exactly what a new Wolfenstein had to be, executing on a singular vision to great, ridiculously violent success.