Wolfenstein: The New Order is the game equivalent of a B-movie where the script isn’t very polished, the acting is a little hammy and everything is so gloriously over the top that you can’t help but enjoy it. It’s arguably the most sincere throwback to 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D of the whole franchise to date: relentless foes, unflinching gore and ridiculously overpowered (but very fun) guns to shoot things with. Most importantly, there are Nazi robots.
Nope, this isn’t your father’s Wolfenstein.
That’s primarily because The New Order explores the idea of what would have happened had the Nazis won World War II, and as you can imagine it’s not pretty. The game takes place in alternate-history 1960 that’s full of jack-booted thugs, oppression and fascism, with the Nazis having had 14 years to make themselves comfortable, and it’s up to you, playing as longtime series protagonist BJ Blazkowicz, to set things right.
Not your usual WWII
The game kicks off in World War II, where you’re taken through some pretty cool set-pieces that quickly bring you up to speed on the game’s core mechanics of “get guns, shoot Nazis, occasionally duck behind cover”, but once the lengthy prologue gets going you will start to notice just how different this Wolfenstein is. That’s because you’ll occasionally come across cyborg dogs, robot tank dogs and enemies throwing electrified Tesla grenades at you. These definitely aren’t your average Hitler-loving schweinhunds.
Happily, gunning them all down is a blast. Wolfenstein puts a large arsenal of guns in your virtual hands that turn enemies into mince in the most graphic and satisfying ways imaginable. Enemies gush blood when shot, limbs fly in all directions, and the occasional up-close view of a melee takedown doesn’t shy away from graphic depictions of you sliding your knife under your hapless enemy’s chin or stabbing robot cyborg-dogs repeatedly in their sides as they snap at your face.
It’s a very, very violent game that embraces rather than shies away from over-the-top gore.
There’s also a very cool sliding mechanic that can be exploited to surprise enemies. On several occasions I sprinted up to enemies, slid on my knees Hollywood-style at the last second and blew them away in spectacular fashion with the two automatic shotguns I was wielding. Yes, two – this Wolfenstein lets you dual-wield every single one of your weapons, and it’s fantastic. While it chews through ammo at twice the normal rate, it makes you super-effective by also doubling your bullet output, handy for some of the bigger enemies you’ll face.
There’s no place like home base
In a clear break from previous ‘stein games, there’s also an attempt to attach a character onto your Nazi-murdering avatar. The game breaks up the action levels by introducing a home base of sorts, where BJ rests and gets to know his fellow resistance fighters between missions. The quiet of the home base is a welcome respite from the frenetic action of the missions, and provides a way to get to know BJ and his friends a little better.
The characters of The New Order are more than just one-dimensional caricatures, too. BJ is no longer the cigar chewing all-American analogue of the past: now he’s a haunted Jewish soldier which gives him a instant backstory around what the Nazis did to his people, and a Satrean-element of broodishness. His dark personality and gravelly monologues reflect upon the grittiness and ultimate hollow themes of war – a pointed counter to the taciturn chaingun-wielder of the past.
Don’t get us wrong: this is no Mailer-like insight into the futility of life itself and the Nobel panel for literature won’t likely to be too troubled by BJ’s newly-discovered internal dialogues. Still, it is something new for Wolfenstein, at least, and it adds a layer of depth that’s both surprising, and welcome.
Back to old-school
Wolfenstein’s health mechanic, meanwhile, is as cheerfully artificial as ever and relies on health packs scattered around levels and health that must be closely managed. You do regenerate on the go, but only when your health is really, really low, and only to a prescribed level.
There is also no automated cover mechanic either, so if you want to duck behind something for a bit of protection, you just have to position yourself in the right place and press the crouch key. You also can’t stay in one place too long, as most cover can be shot to pieces, which leaves levels looking very much the worse for wear after hectic firefights and you breathlessly running from wall to wall looking for protection.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Wolfenstein looks beautiful and horrific and brings some intriguing and welcome new developments to the series – assuming you wanted a bit of navel-gazing with your guns, of course.
But while Machine Games (the new developer) giveth in some aspects, it also taketh away in others: there are new depths to the game, but it’s also very short: the single player campaign can be finished in ten hours or so. Ten highly entertaining hours packed full of memorable moments, admittedly, but if you were hoping for the labyrinthian game of yore, look away now.
I was very happy to discover that the developers also cared enough about the game’s history to hide one of the best easter eggs I’ve ever seen in a game. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that if you ever see an option to have a nightmare in the game, you should totally do it.
The single player game’s shortness is all the more surprising because the developers didn’t include a multiplayer module – The New Order is single-player only. I like this because I hate tacked-on multiplayer modes that seem like they’re just there to check a box for marketing purposes, and Wolfenstein: The New Order is worth your cash without it. But as Return to Castle Wolfenstein was one of the best multiplayer FPSs ever, it does strike one as a little odd.
In the end, Wolfenstein is a really good shooter that fans of the original and its sequels should absolutely play. It’s old-school enough to scratch that old Nazi-blasting, health-hoarding itch, but modern enough that it looks, plays and sounds as good as you’d expect a modern game to be. It’s a little short for the price, though, but a hell of a ride while it lasts.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is out on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3 and Xbox 360 and has a recommended retail price of R599 (PC), R799 (consoles). It was reviewed on PS4.