This review was originally posted in May, 2014.
The Nazi soldier up ahead is oblivious. He has no idea that I, William J Blazkowicz - professional Nazi killer, at your service - am sneaking up behind him, throwing knife in hand and very bad thoughts in mind. I toss my blade at his head. Unfortunately, my aim sucks, so I stick him square in the calf. Doesn't matter; he instantly dies, and his chest explodes as though he swallowed a grenade. His buddies round the corner - I sprint at them full speed, an automatic shotgun in each hand, and slide across the floor, peppering their bodies with 12-gauge shells. They turn to mush. Wolfenstein: The New Order makes no pretense about what kind of game it is. This is an oldschool shooter with modern trappings, one that effectively combines B-movie cheesiness with some truly great set-piece moments. Most importantly, it's damn fun to play.
As William "B.J." Blazkowicz, you're humanity's last hope against the Nazi War Machine. In The New Order's timeline, the Nazis won World War 2 thanks to their uber-advanced technology (by which I mean robot dogs and mechs that shoot laser cannons), forcing the entire world to surrender to their might. Vast scores of people have been kidnapped to populate labor camps, where they're forced to create supplies and munitions for the Nazi cause. The few civilians that remain follow curfews and do as they're told, lest they face the wrath of Aryan brutality and experimentation. The plot is explored further in the standalone expansion - you can read our Wolfenstein: The Old Blood review (opens in new tab) here - but New Order succeeds in depicting a world consumed by fear, providing reason enough for Blazkowicz to join a group of resistance fighters, mount a counter-offensive, and do what he does best. Er, you know what that is, right?
New Order is a shooter that revels in the act of shooting and, for the most part, gunning down thousands of Nazis through the nine-hour campaign is great fun. Enemies explode in over-the-top gore. Heads disintegrate, limbs vaporize, and blood sprays in fountains from their bodies, making it quite clear that B.J.'s weapons aren't shooting blanks. I'm not a psychopath (I swear!), but I'd be lying if I didn't admit it all looks particularly spectacular on the PS4 and Xbox One.
B.J. has a diverse arsenal, and all of the guns are fun to shoot. Even though you have access to almost every weapon in the game by the halfway mark, gradual upgrades, like scopes and rocket launcher attachments, are teased out at a consistent pace to ensure you don't get bored of firing the same ones over and over. Of course, you can dual wield just about any weapon in the game, which comes with a tradeoff; yes, blasting a mech with two auto shotties at once means doling out more damage, but it also means you'll blow through precious ammo very quickly, and have to deal with significantly more recoil.
The gunplay is further enhanced by The New Order's perk system. These passive upgrades, such as increased reload speed or ammo capacity, are unlocked by meeting certain criteria. Want to carry an extra grenade? Kill two Nazi's with a single frag. Hoping to do more damage with your silenced pistols? Score a few stealth kills and you're good to go. The perk system does a great job of enticing you to try out each of the game's weapons and playstyles, as all of the unlockable upgrades are useful.
Once the bullets start flying, the well-implemented cover system gives some reprieve from the onslaught of enemy fire. There's no awkward snap-to mechanics at play here; simply stand behind a wall or crouch behind a barricade, press the dedicated cover button, and use the left thumbstick to peek up or down, or lean to the left or right. Though your cover will gradually be chipped away, this system is easy to use and prevents a lot of headache during the game's tougher encounters.
The great level design again adds to the enjoyment of each firefight. Whether you're carving through a Nazi labor camp, Nazi compound, or Nazi underground lair, most levels give you plenty of room to breathe. You'll rarely feel like you're running through a too-cramped corridor; instead, you usually fight in open arena-like zones packed with health packs, armor pick-ups, and usable turrets. What's more, levels typically have a few branching paths--ventilation systems or side corridors--that make it possible for you to go into a huge gunfight with some sort of plan.
That plan will go to shit, however, once you engage in The New Order's more tedious encounters. Powerful enemies that do a ton of damage make battle more intense when used sparingly, but when you face three or more minigun-wielding mech troopers at a time, the fun action gives way to cheap frustration. The bigger enemies take every ounce of ammo to destroy, and when you run out of bullets, you have to rely on your weapons that run on battery power. Once those run out of juice, you have to run around looking for a recharge station, and stand there for several seconds while you wait for your weapons to recharge, all while eating shots. As New Order progresses, more of your weapons rely on this recharging mechanic, which brings the action to a grinding halt.
As do some missions that are more mundane than enjoyable. Wading through tunnels in search of a lost welding torch is just plain boring, equalled only by the yawn-fest that is navigating sewers filled with obnoxious, flying drones. These feel out of place, especially when weighed against New Order's otherwise awesome set-piece moments. Plenty have action at their core, but some of the more tense, subtler scenarios are the ones that stand out. Stowing away on a train filled with Nazi officers while adopting an undercover identity is a harrowing event, especially when one of the game's more wicked characters sits across from you in a lunch car, testing the "purity" of your blood via a nerve-inducing mind game.
However, The New Order isn't just about the action. B.J. is a pretty interesting character, and delivers several internal monologues with just the right amount of drama. These provide some insight about his wants, needs, and fears, and though they're occasionally cheesy, the fantastic voicework makes them believable. Most members of the supporting cast also come into their own, making you feel more invested in their anti-Nazi cause, though a couple feel woefully underdeveloped. It's hard to care about some of the story's more dramatic moments when all you can think to yourself is, "Wait, who was that character again?"
That said, it often feels as though The New Order can't decide how serious or silly it wants to be. Deep, introspective monologues give way to cutscenes in which heavy rock music blasts up to full gear while B.J. engages in brief exchanges with his resistance comrades. These typically occur in some riveting variation of:
NPC: "Hey, B.J., go kill a bunch of Nazis for me, OK?"
B.J.: "Dude, I'm gonna kill every Nazi I can find lol"
NPC: "Cool man, good luck killing literally hundreds of Nazis!"
At times, the serious drama and B-movie comedy fuse really well, simultaneously pumping you up and making you laugh. Sometimes they'll just leave you scratching your head.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great example of oldschool design revitalized by modern concepts. Yes, it's cheesy, dumb, and over-the-top, but it manages to reign in these aspects by following them up with great action, memorable set-pieces, and characters that mostly evolve beyond your typical meathead grunts. This is a shooter that puts shooting first--and the second you dual-wield two laser guns and use them to destroy a dog made out of metal, you'll play the rest of Wolfenstein with a knowing grin.
This game was reviewed on PS4.