In 1981 Castle Wolfenstein was created for the Apple II computer system. It was simple game that had you escaping from the titular Castle Wolfenstein in World War II. Sneaking past Nazi guards and SS troops, engaging them if you were discovered, and collecting gold and secret plans. It was a well received game and would later provide inspiration for Wolfenstein 3D in 1992, which in turn would create a whole new video gaming genre, the first-person shooter (FPS). In the years since the original, new Wolfenstein games have been released with varying levels of success. Developer, MachineGames, created Wolfenstein: The New Order. Did they do the franchise justice or go down in flames? Grab all the gold you can find and let's go.
Wolfenstein: The New Order opens with the series hero, B.J. Blazkowski, as part of a group assaulting the fortress headquarters of Nazi General Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse. From the outset of the mission things go horribly wrong with their planes taking heavy damage. Eventually B.J. and his co-pilot have to abandon their own plane to help save another. A bit of luck and a few miracles later, they manage to land the other plane and continue the assault. Eventually they fight their way into the fortress to discover the atrocities Deathshead has done to his own people to create better and deadlier soldiers. Just when they think something is going to go their way, they are trapped and captured by Deathshead's soldiers. B.J. is knocked unconscious.
When B.J. comes to Deathshead forces him to choose which member of his team Deathshead will dissect first (depending on the player's choice small parts of the story will be changed). Eventually B.J. and surviving members of the team escape, well almost escape. B.J. takes some shrapnel to his head putting him in a vegetative state. Lucky for him he is not found by Deathshead forces. He is found by regular soldiers and put into an asylum in Poland.
Fourteen years later the Nazis, who had won the war, decide to close the asylum and eliminate all the patients. B.J. still in his vegetative state, but subconsciously aware of things happening around him, sees what is going on and knows he must act. He snaps out of his vegetative state just in time to save the nurse and capture a Nazi officer. The nurse, Anya Oliwa, takes him to her grandparent's home where they interrogate the officer to find out where other resistance prisoners are being held. After getting the information B. J. and Anya head to Berlin to break out the head resistance fighters from the prison where they are being held.
I will leave it there so you can discover the rest of the story and fun on your own, including a trip to the moon.
Controls and Gameplay
MachineGames wanted to take the intense combat and adventure of past Wolfenstein games and build what they would later call a "first-person action adventure" game. To their credit that is what they have built. Many games claim to be built to let players play the game the way they want to, MachineGames really followed through on this idea with their perk system. As you play through the game your way, whether it be stealthy, guns blazing, or somewhere in between, you are rewarded with perks tailored to your style of play. Since I play first-person shooters more cautious and stealthy I was rewarded with perks like having commander locations show up on my map and the bullets I fired would be "quieter". The system really tailors the game to you.
Along with the tailored style of game play, Wolfenstein: The New Order really feels like an old school FPS where you get to carry around a ton of weapons and ammo. Even here MachineGames have improved the fun factor by letting you fire almost all of the guns akimbo style. I have to be honest it was a bit weird to dual wield sniper rifles, but hey whatever.
The controls were not too loose or too tight. There was enough natural drift and weapon rise while firing that you would notice, but not so much that you fought against the control to keep it in check.
Graphics and Audio
Praise be to MachineGames that they realize that shooter games come in more than one color pallet. Unlike some developers in recent years who chose either shooter grays or shooter browns MachineGames gives players a bit of color. While the overall look is an oppressive Nazi war color scheme they do inject enough of the rest of the color spectrum that it looks like the real world.
Color aside the realistic graphics are very impressive on both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
In the audio side of the house MachineGames rounded up some great voice talent with veteran Hollywood actors Brian Bloom, Gideon Emery, Bonita Friedericy, and Dwight Schultz. The soundtrack music was interesting too. They took the essential sound of the 1960's and warped it into what it would sound like if the Germans had won WWII. This gave the game an intense feel that really suited the action or lack of action on screen.
I've been a fan of the Wolfenstein series from the beginning. I remember sneaking the original Castle Wolfenstein onto computers in high school. There was a sense of excitement in discovering Wolfenstein 3D and the silly smile I get when I hear about a new version coming. The last iterations have been good but they have lacked a certain something. MachineGames seems to have found that certain something, a touch of old school FPS's run and gun, a pinch of new school perks and a competent cover system, married to a story that give B.J. Blazkowski a personality. In past games B.J. was just kind of the guy you played; here you hear his internal monolog which gives him feeling and depth as a person. Little insights that show he is human.
While the story does have a couple plot holes that are big enough to drive a Mack truck through (I mean really, B.J. is in a vegetative state for fourteen years and is able to suddenly snap out of it and still be in full combat fitness?), yet the story stays grounded enough to be somewhat believable. Along with the cast that perform admirably this makes for an excellent take on an alternate history.
An interesting decision by MachineGames was to solely concentrate on making a single player game. There is no multiplayer shoehorned onto Wolfenstein, which along with the extra development time they took added, let MachineGames give us possibly one of the best Wolfenstein games in a while. When I finished Wolfenstein: The New Order it felt complete from start to finish; good story, character development, a steady challenge, and just downright fun. I really can only fault one thing, an update that was pushed through while I was in the middle of a firefight. I was dropped all the way to the Xbox One's menu screen and had to wait while the game was updated. I don't know who was at fault for that (Microsoft or MachineGames) but it was the ultimate "take me out of the moment." Still even with that small problem Wolfenstein: The New Order is an easy and solid 4.5 out of 5; it is something all FPS games should be and aspire to become.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Strong Sexual Content, and Use of Drugs by the Entertainmetn Sofeware Ratings Board (ESRB).
For more information see the official Wolfenstein: The New Order web site.