It feels like it’s been forever since we’ve had a great retro-themed, adrenaline-fueled, single-player first-person shooter to sink our bayonets into, and it’s been much longer since we’ve had an attempt at an alternate-history Nazi dystopia (Turning Point: Fall of Liberty… oh God… *hurls in bucket*). This is why it’s delightful to know that Wolfenstein: The New Order is only a few months away. Because of its striking premise, off-the-wall action and clever implementation of old-school shooter mechanics, it’s no surprise that it has become one of OnlySP’s most anticipated games of 2014.
Whereas previous Wolfenstein games were set in World War II and featured sci-fi and paranormal themes that were merely complimentary, The New Order jumps full-on into absurd ‘what if’ territory. Set in an alternate-history 1960’s where the Nazis have won WWII thanks to incredible leaps in technology, the game once again casts the player as William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he fights the futuristic Nazi threat in an occupied and slightly redesigned Europe. It feels like a logical progression for the series, which always seemed like it was trying to break free of the chains that were its pseudo-realistic setting and descend, or in this case ascend, into passionate lunacy.
After Activison and Raven Software had a go at the franchise in 2009 with the economically named and not terribly successful Wolfenstein, the license was sold to Bethesda, who clearly had ambitious plans for it. A radical reimagining was in order, and the studio tasked with making one was MachineGames, a developer made up of many former employees from Starbreeze Studios.
You’ll recall Starbreeze have an excellent track record with narrative-driven games such as The Darkness, Chronicles of Riddick and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. They’re masters of creating games with personality and tone, and that philosophy is alive and well at MachineGames, who have promised to make a well-paced and tightly polished adventure that is single-player only and is driven by an engaging story and thrilling action. Expect the campaign to last a meaty 15-20 hours.
Much like FPS sleeper hits such as Resistance 3 and Singularity, Wolfenstein: The New Order attempts to deftly mix the conventions of both modern and retro shooters in order to create a pleasing mixture that contains the spectacle of the former as well as the depth and inventiveness of the latter. Health and armor meters are back to their old-school non-regenerating ways, but although there are medkits and vests laying about the environment, The New Order also hands you tiny slivers of health and armor for each enemy you kill, ensuring a frustration-free gameplay experience that never breaks its smooth Nazi-killing flow.
Still, exploration is most certainly rewarded, as you can find secret weapons and temporary health extensions by searching the large, intracately designed levels. Variety is set to be a high-point in The New Order, as you’ll do everything from arena-style gunfights to platforming to light puzzles to boss fights and more. Highlights from the footage already shown include manning the quad-barreled (that’s right, QUAD-barreled) turret of a plane, shooting Nazis while climbing elevator shafts, throwing down with robot canines and ripping turrets from the ground to use as mobile weapons. Set pieces like these are very prominent in the game, but they’re organically woven into the gameplay and don’t restrict interaction to the degree that so many shooters do these days.
The New Order’s arsenal of future weaponry is finely tuned to be satisfying to use, and almost any weapon in the game can be dual-wielded, adding a dose of strategy to gunplay. Stealth is also a viable way of playing certain sections, as B.J. has a handy knife for silent takedowns. A laser cutter will also be available, allowing B.J. to cut through various parts of the environment whenever puzzles or combat call for it. Finally, there will also be an upgrade system that affords the player perks depending on which playstyle they prefer; assault, tactician, stealth, or demolition.
Film critic Bob Chipman once said that “one of the most reliable formulas for making a memorable genre movie is to take a completely bizarre, bordering on ridiculous premise and play it totally serious. The only catch is, you don’t want to be so serious that you lose the inherent fun of the original premise.” If that formula can also be applied to games, then Wolfenstein: The New Order is certainly on the right track. The ludicrous premise here is the base for a straight-faced story, evoking the absurd nature of overly serious 80’s and 90’s action film plots while also thoughtfully commenting on the shooter genre’s place in the world of video games.
An example of the above would be near the beginning of the game, when Nazis raid the asylum that B.J. has been hospitalized in for 14 years. B.J.’s view is black and white in this scene, but with each person the Nazis kill, a brief splash of color is given to his viewpoint. One of Nazis then approaches B.J. and he retaliates by killing him and making his escape, permanently bringing color back to his eyesight. It’s a clever visual metaphor for the tragic role of the shooter protagonist; he needs violent conflict in order to justify his existence and bring purpose his life. Otherwise, he’s just a depressed vegetable with nothing to do. And so, inevitably, he’ll always go back to shooting stuff in the end.
Split-screen conversations are a device that will be used throughout the game in order to bring the player closer to the support characters of the resistance. William “B.J.” Blazkowicz now sports a stocky blonde-haired appearance and gruff attitude that more closely resembles his portrayal in the original Wolfenstein 3D, to which this game could be described as a spiritual sequel to.
Thanks to a confidently ridiculous premise, gameplay mechanics that intelligently mix modern and old-school shooter sensibilities, and what looks to be a masterful handling of variety and pacing, Wolfenstein: The New Order has caught our attention and could very well turn out to be one of the year’s finest single-player shooter experiences. Look for the full game on May 20 (22 AU, 23 EU), when it releases on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.