All heil has broken loose

The legacy of the Wolfenstein franchiseis almost as prodigious as gaming itself, having been around for more than 30 years, and is credited with introducing the concept of the modern shooter along the way. Even with large gaps between recent entries keeping it from remaining fresh in the minds of players, those of us old enough to remember those games look back fondly on most of them. Since ours is a “what have you done for me lately” kind of industry, though, Bethesda, the newest publisher for the franchise, and one of their youngest studios, MachineGames, have decided to remind us all once again that killing Nazis never gets old.

Wolfenstein: The New Order sees longtime series protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz return in what serves as somewhat of a spin-off for the franchise. This entry is set three years after the events of 2009’s Wolfenstein, and in that time, General Deathshead has constructed technology that allows the Nazis to take the advantage in the war and put the Allies on the brink of defeat.

In a last-ditch effort to turn the tide back in their favor, B.J. and a ragtag group of soldiers are sent deep behind enemy lines in an attempt to kill Deathshead once and for all. Soon, however, “Blazko” and his crew are captured, and B.J. takes shrapnel to the head as he tries to escape, putting him into a 14-year-long coma. When he wakes up, it’s 1960, and Blazkowicz is horrified to find the Nazis won the war and conquered the world.

On the surface, The New Order comes off as a fairly straightforward shooter, but there’s a surprising amount of depth if you look for it, most notably in regards to the story. Yeah, I know—when you think of most first-person shooters, you think of a collection of muscle-bound morons trying to blow everything up (don’t worry, The New Order has plenty of that, too). But the narrative features a lot layers with each character, starting with B.J.’s “man out of time” complex and trickling down to each member of the resistance group he soon joins.

Much like how B.J. feels out of place in this new world, however, some story elements just don’t seem to fit in with the rest. Sure, MachineGames sometimes asks you to suspend disbelief because this is a videogame, like how B.J.’s still a Nazi-killing machine even after sitting in a wheelchair for 14 years. For most of the game, though, The New Order tries its damnedest to be a stark war story, with levels that gave a real sense of guerilla warfare. Then, suddenly, you’re in a bad remake of Moonraker, shooting lasers in space. I love the fact that MachineGames gets as far away as possible from the supernatural storyline garbage of Return to Castle Wolfenstein and 2009’s Wolfenstein, but when it deviates from that gritty core, it breaks the immersion for me.

Another disconnect comes in the three levels where B.J. walks around the Resistance base and talks to people, suddenly making this hardcore shooter feel like an RPG. Normally, I wouldn’t mind the respite from being neck deep in shell casings after taking on an entire Nazi battalion, but the sudden shift to fetch quests, especially three times in the same area, breaks up the pacing in an unpleasant way, even if the story beats that follow are worth the wait. In fact, the realism of the cutscenes, the detail of the environments, and nary a glitch in sight all make The New Order one of the best-looking games on the new generation of consoles. Stellar voice acting from the entire cast, led by Brian Bloom (Varric from Dragon Age II and Kane in the Kane & Lynch series) as B.J., also helps lend credibility to the game’s narrative elements.

And even when the story’s at its campiest, strong level design and gameplay still shine through. In fact, The New Order’s level design is some of the best I’ve seen in a first-person shooter in quite some time. It’s got the perfect balance between allowing you to be stealthy, offering up plenty of secret paths, or letting you go in guns blazing. Oh, and almost every weapon in the game can be dual-wielded.

To further accentuate these playstyles, the game also offers four perk trees for B.J. to unlock. Stealth, Assault, Tactical, and Demolition options allow B.J. to increase the amount of knives and grenades he can carry and improve the effectiveness of certain weapons. My only issue with the perks? Instead of using a typical XP-based system, the game asks you to complete certain tasks to unlock not only the perk, but also the access to start working on the next perk. It’s frustrating to know that you could’ve been working on several perks at once, if only the game let you do things non-linearly.

The best part of the gameplay, however, may be how it encourages multiple playthroughs. Dozens of collectibles are littered throughout each of the game’s 16 chapters, and each level needs to be played at least twice due to a decision you make early on where you must choose between the lives of two of your friends. Along with this, the game also features four unlockable modes if you find all of the “Enigma Codes” and solve their respective puzzles, meaning you could run through the campaign a minimum half dozen times and still have it play out differently with each experience. And I never once was disappointed by the fact the game has no multiplayer component because of the multitude of single-player options.

The New Order’s greatest success, though, is the fact it rejuvenates this classic franchise more than any game that has tried before it. It looks absolutely stellar, and its surprisingly strong—if sometimes over the top—story highlights the experience. With its brilliant level design and copious replayability, The New Order more than lives up to the Wolfenstein name.

Developer: MachineGames • Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 05.20.14
Great level design, strong replayability, and beautiful graphics more than make up for a sometimes-disjointed plot. The New Order proudly exclaims that Wolfenstein is back, and this new entry should be played by all FPS fans.
The Good Top-notch action puts Wolfenstein back near the top of the shooter heap.
The Bad Some story-pacing issues, perk system could’ve been more open.
The Ugly Next-gen torture scenes and burn victims. Brutal.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is available on Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Bethesda Softworks for the benefit of this review.