I remember playing Wolfenstein 3D back in 1993 on the PC my parents bought for me and my brother, as it was one of my first experiences with the first-person shooter genre. I thought it was so cool running around blasting Nazis, searching each level for those hidden passages that lead to riches and ammo. In a way, it felt like a far more violent and hardcore version of Indiana Jones, but without the character depth that was integral to those movies. I was a one-man killing machine without much of a backstory, and I was okay with that, because the game was a blast to play.
After numerous sequels, some of which gave in to the perceived demand of the modern gamer by adding in a multiplayer component, developer Machine Games’ Wolfenstein: The New Order has decided to abandon multiplayer altogether in favor of focusing more on the lengthy campaign and the depth of its characters. As a major advocate of online gameplay, I wasn’t sure if omitting multiplayer from a first-person shooter would be the best idea. Multiplayer is what gives a shooter its legs and longevity, as the single player campaign has become something of a forgotten relic for the modern first-person shooter. It’s often nothing more than a generic experience existing only to tick the box on the back of the game package that says “blockbuster campaign.” Thankfully, Wolfenstein: The New Order bucks this trend, delivering a white-knuckle, single-player only experience that is immensely satisfying without a multiplayer component. Not only has Machine Games succeeded in accomplishing this unlikely feat, but they’ve also put their hat in the ring as a dark horse contender for Game of the Year.
”Thankfully, Wolfenstein: The New Order bucks this trend, delivering a white-knuckle, single-player only experience that is immensely satisfying without a multiplayer component. "
The New Order begins with series’ protagonist and renowned badass, BJ Blazkowicz, leading an all-out allied assault on a fortress protecting General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse, who is conducting grotesque human experiments that words cannot describe. The initial raid results in heavy allied losses during their approach. Amidst the carnage, Blazkowicz teams up with grizzled pilot Fergus Reid and the young, ambitious Private Probst Wyatt. After a harrowing attempt to infiltrate the fortress and eliminate Strasse, Blazkowicz and company are eventually cornered and outnumber by Nazi forces. Strasse forces Blazkowicz to make a choice that will alter that game’s story, providing you the opportunity to play the game a second time. Blazkowicz manages to escape from the crumbling fortress, but sustains a traumatic head injury that leaves him in a vegetative state for the next 15 years.
So far, this may sound like another mindless shooter with a high body count by game’s end, but only the second part of that assumption would be true. (After one playthrough, I can confirm that there were over 1000 Nazis killed.) The most welcome change when it comes to The New Order, when compared to its FPS peers and past franchise entries, is how much heart this game has, and how BJ Blazkowicz is more three-dimensional than he has been in all the previous Wolfenstein games combined. This added depth helps raise the game from being mindless over-kill to sensible overkill featuring characters you like and care about.
While being treated at a psychiatric hospital during his incapacitation, Blazkowicz is cared for by the lovely Anya, whose parents run the facility. When the Nazis show up one day with orders to close down the facility, they begin to execute what patients remain, as well as kill Anya’s parents and take her as a prisoner. Just before Blazkowicz is executed, he snaps out of his slumber (it’s a miracle!) and rescues Anya before she’s taken away.
There’s a dynamic here that adds some much needed depth to Blazkowicz’s character, and it makes the game much more enjoyable. Sure, he’s still a brutal killer with a serious temper, but it’s the scenes in-between the killing and maiming that really flesh him out. The interactions with Anya and various members of the resistance (the faction Blazkowicz has joined) show that there is more to him than just a violent killing machine. It makes the character easier to like and relate with, and it adds substance to an already decent story. There are a few scenes in this game that raise the narrative bar far above your typical first-person shooter story, and I hope other developers consider spending more time on story and gameplay in the future, rather than dividing their time shoe-horning in multiplayer functionality.
”There’s a dynamic here that adds some much needed depth to Blazkowicz’s character, and it makes the game - and the character - much more enjoyable. "
One area where the game could’ve used some more polish is the controls. Specifically, the R1 button being used as both the weapon wheel and the grenade/knife toss could have been done better (You hold the button for the former, and tap the button for the latter.). Accessing the weapon wheel is rather finicky as well, as I often found myself selecting the wrong weapon while using the analog stick to choose. Despite that small complaint, everything else works just as you would expect in a shooter. You can do a sprinting slide to avoid enemy fire, duck into and out of cover, and wield dual weapons, bringing you back to the good old days of Wolfenstein.
Another highlight that needs to be commended is the voice acting, as it is top-notch for an action-oriented game. Brian Bloom — industry veteran who’s mainly done side characters in games like Mass Effect and Call of Duty — does a great job giving Blazkowicz some heart and soul in the scenes that require it, while Dwight Schultz is menacing as “Deathshead." Everyone else does a great job as well, helping to raise their characters above the usual cardboard cutouts found in shooters.
There is an action packed story here, spanning 10-12 hours (more if you hunt down the ridiculous amount of collectibles), with great level designs that cater to both stealthy players and Rambos all the same. The ability to upgrade different skill trees by completing challenges allows you to tailor Blazkowicz to your play style, giving The New Order a whiff of RPG elements. I played through on Uber difficulty, and while there were some difficulty spikes in a few select areas, the enemy AI puts up a good fight most of the time — not withstanding a few moments where some baddies got stuck on one another for an easy multi-kill.
Machine Games has done something that few developers have done before (with the exception of Irrational Games with BioShock among a select few others): eschewing multiplayer in a first-person shooter while delivering a full-priced retail game that’s worth every penny ($60). I look forward to going back and playing through a second time to see the differences in the story after making the “other” choice this time around. Kudos to Machine Games for their bold choice in deciding against multiplayer, because the time dedicated to the single player experience has paid off tremendously. To date, not only is this the best Wolfenstein game I've ever played, but it’s also a strong contender to make my "Top 10 Games of the Year" list!
- Engaging story that warrants a second play through
- Memorable characters brought to life by exceptional voice acting
- Excellent gun-play
- Tons of collectibles and secret paths to search for
- Minor enemy AI lapses in logic
- Clumsy control scheme take some getting use to
- Those who rely on multiplayer won't get their fix here