When I was in high school, one of my best friends and I were enjoying our freshman year a little too much. When we had finals coming up we barely spent an hour studying for them. We devoted our attentions to Wolfenstein 3D, Halo, and Return To Castle Wolfenstein (2002). Return To Castle Wolfenstein cemented my love for the Wolfenstein series after Wolfenstein 3D (1992). Frankly, our grades were poor, but we were psyched for next semester and always the next level.
When Wolfenstein: The New Order (2014) was released, I had neither the hardware or the abilities to explore the excellent wonders of this re-boot of this incredible franchise. Now in 2016, I have the abilities too thanks to a custom PC that was crafted by my engineer-to-be of a brother: Grant Hovey. Grant artfully and masterly built me a graphical wonder to enable me to enjoy some of the best new titles from indie games to AAA.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a AAA game. Bethesda Softworks, famous for their Elder Scrolls titles and the recent installments of the Fallout series published the title. Machine Games, did a fabulous job developing this title along with ID software, the masters, godfathers, and creators of the FPS genre that was originally pioneered by two of their games: Wolfenstein 3D and Doom (1993). All of these names are respected in gaming despite a few hits and misses from either.
Despite the AAA names, I was shocked that this game was a quality one. As of late gaming in the FPS genre has considerably gone downhill. No longer are games in this genre providing immersive single-player experiences with choice and consequence, and non-linear pathways. Oh, and back then games had incredible stories: Jedi Knight, Outlaws, Dark Forces, Strife, and DeusEx. These days one has to go to games outside of FPS to be entertained by original gameplay and immersive stories. Indie games like: The Banner Saga and Oxenfree.
FPSs are forgetting story and single player campaigns. For example, Rainbow Six Vegas 2 is the last Rainbow Six game at the time of this writing to feature a single-player campaign. Multiplayer is becoming the ruin of good FPS and the formula of deathmatch shooters has long been replacing the FPS single-player experience since 2006. There is hope though, in games like Wolfenstein: The New Order. The lamentation ends here.
This re-boot of the series is quality. Let’s discuss the story first, the game begins in 1946, Wilhelm ‘Deathshead’ Strasse is spearheading technological advances in this dieselpunk tale. The Allies cannot keep up anymore. The D-Day Invasions failed in 1944. B.J. Blaskowicz, the Allies’ ‘Bad Boy of Espionage’ is tasked with the elimination of General Deathshead. Blaskowicz hardly succeeds with the task. Instead he finds himself captured in the den of that devil Deathshead. While captured by Deathshead the player must make a choice. This is the first choice of many that counts in this game. Will the player let the eager and fearful Private Wyatt of the U.S. Army live? Or will they let the battle-hardened and sardonic Sergeant Fergus Reid of the Parachute Regiment live? This dilemma plays a major part in the storytelling of the game and also influences the player’s gameplay. I have completed both the Wyatt and the Reid timelines and I can tell you beyond a shadow of a doubt that Wyatt’s story line is superior.
The game only gets better after the prologue in Deathshead’s old castle. B.J. finds himself in Poland where he has been in a vegetative state for fourteen years after being wounded in Deathshead’s castle. In 1960 he learns that the Third Reich’s plans of conquest have come to maturation. The lamps have gone out all over Europe. The United Kingdom and its Empire are no more. No mention is made of the Soviet Union or Mussolini’s Italy. No mention is made of Japan. An atomic weapon was dropped on New York City. It appears that the last bastion of the free world is in unoccupied Africa. This is the last place the Nazi war machine has designs on in this alternative history. B.J. with a love interest, the beautiful Anya, a Polish bombshell links up with the Kreisau Circle and takes on the Third Reich with their help. His adventures take him to Berlin, London, Gibraltar, under the Atlantic, and the Moon. This story helps furnish an excellent re-make of one of my favorite series of games in all time. The story is only one quarter of the masterpiece though. The weapons, gameplay, and atmosphere help ensure a pinnacle of an FPS.
Weapons: Weapons range from old standards in shooters to sci-fi wonders. The first old standard is a variant of a P-08, in other words the Luger. This Luger can be equipped with a silencer as well. It has a more generous capacity than its real life counterpart though. The original Luger in its standard issue layout had a seven-round single stack magazine. This weapon has a ten-round single stack magazine. This weapon is replaced later in the game with its 1960 variant. It still for all intensive purposes is a Luger with its toggle lock system. The 1960 variant though is a fully automatic machine pistol, it is only a traditional semi-automatic when equipped with a silencer. This is another prop of a well-told alternative history and sci-fi story that this game tells. It is a world where the toggle lock handgun remained supreme rather than the designs of John Moses Browning and the striker-fired Glockalike successors that stemmed from it.
The assault rifle has a 1946 variant that is an improved version of the STG-44, the first practical assault rifle that Hitler himself hated. This weapon has a thirty round magazine and is a workhorse for the player in the early levels like its 1960 variant. The 1960 variant appears that it came out of the Heckler and Koch factories. It resembles Heckler and Koch’s G3 Assault rifle that was a long serving rifle for both West Germany and later on its successor state, the Federal Republic of Germany. The 1960 variant can also be equipped with a rocket launcher that is quite useful in later levels when engaging Panzerhunden or Ubersoldaten.
The Laserkraftwerk is a handy tool for dispatching Ubersoldaten with it’s ‘gun’ mode and also a useful device for breaching areas of levels that give the player a tactical advantage. Although in some levels this is a mandatory practice and not an advantage unfortunately. This weapon is analgous to Half Life 2’s gravity gun. The shotgun is an interesting weapon in the game as it fires traditional shells and the loathsome shrapnel rounds that are pretty to look at once fired but oftentimes deal no to little damage. Grenades in the game are better in 1946 as they are the traditional grenades of the Second and Third Reichs which rely on concussive force. The later grenades are termed ‘Tesla’ grenades and appear to do more electromagnetic pulse damage than actually behaving like grenades. It would have been excellent if American MKII hand grenades or British Mills Bombs could have made an appearance as they dealt in both blast damage and fragmentary damage instead of causing mere blasts. The weapons in Wolfenstein: The New Order help tell an amazing science fiction tale.
Gameplay: Earlier I mentioned that the prologue introduces the player to a dilemma. You must choose between Private Wyatt or Sergeant Reid. Chosing Wyatt better facilitiates a stealthy play style as his path grants B.J. the ability to pick locks. Whereas sparing Reid merely gives players an ability to play a frustrating mini-game with wiring. Wyatt’s timeline allows for the player to have an ability of out-flanking the enemy in a more efficient way rather than just old-fashioned fire and maneuver. The levels in this game never feel linear with the exception of the Moon and Deathshead’s stronghold levels. There are nooks and crannies to hide in and lie in wait to ambush foes and there are ducts and shafts players can guide B.J. through to engage the enemy with speed, aggression, and surprise. With the Laserkraftwerk and the lockpicks in the Wyatt timeline navigation of levels is definitely enhanced. When using a silenced handgun the commanding officers of the Third Reich’s forces can easily be dispatched to prevent them from calling in reinforcements which range from more infantry to occasionally ubersoldaten or commandos. Or you can just storm through the levels without a care for the officers equipped with radios. It is your choice. That is the beauty of the gameplay here. And there are no horrid quicktime events.
Atmosphere: In telling any kind of story atmosphere is important. The development team succeeded beyond a shadow of a doubt regarding this in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Hints of art deco combined with the brutalism of the Third Reich are the architectural aesthetics present in this game. Settings involve the cityscapes of a triumphant Berlin and an unrecognizable London where the only set piece symbolizing life before the war that stands is Big Ben. A death camp in Croatia is guarded by a cyborg where the Nuremberg Laws of 1934 are still being upheld. A central Nazi prison with it’s rough concrete cell houses, steel bars, and panopticon roundhouse realizes and enforces the totalitarianism of the Third Reich. The Nazi regime has come to maturation in Wolfenstein: The New Order and Nazi Germany wins a Space Race without contest. The Moon base was a lackluster level, but far better executed than the set designs of Moonraker. Deathshead’s compound and his London Nautica museum/research center were what I expected: Nazi strongholds to storm.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a magnificent FPS set in a sci-fi/ alternative history timeline. The 1960s of Wolfenstein: The New Order are not about the ‘day the music died. Rather they are about the survival of the free world, keeping the music of liberty alive, and about continuing the struggle for democracy and true human values rather than the pseudoscience, fascism, and tyranny of the Third Reich.
Never again Fascism.