Wolfenstein: The New Order

June 8, 2014

My love/hate relationship with the first person shooter genre will follow me to the grave. While some feel the market is saturated by such titles, I argue otherwise: it’s saturated by a specific type of shooter. To say all FPS are the same would be to argue the same for racing. We can have our Gran Turismo alongside Mario Kart and Wipeout. Such is the same for shooters. The issue isn’t market saturation, it’s that they all follow a similar design philosophy of stop-and-pop multi-player first single-player second.

It can get a little tiring, but then something like Wolfenstein: The New Order comes along to remind just what the genre is capable of.

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Headed by Machine Games, Wolfenstein: The New Order semi-reboots the iconic series while also acting as a canonical successor to Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Raven’s 2009 Wolfenstein. Playing the aforementioned titles will give you a little extra appreciation for the small connections and character reappearances (Wolf ’09 moreso than Return), but by and large you can jump fresh into this new story of a grizzled BJ Blazkowicz up against a Third Reich that won World War II and has proliferated their fascist terror across the world. It’s part Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, part Sin City‘s brooding monologues, and a whole lot of classic speed driven first person shooter carnage. If that mix sounds awesome, that’s because it is.

New Order finds an odd balance between pulp and sensitivity, shamelessly embracing ultra-violent set pieces, hammy yet brilliantly delivered dialogue, one liners, and cartoonish villains alongside empathetic character arcs, believable locations, and an honest, human driven tale of good struggling to endure amidst great evil. It’s an extension of what I feel is the series legacy: taking a very real and tragic moment in human history that naturally evokes an emotional reaction and padding with just the right amount of fantasy and silliness that it’s never too real or too stupid. Gunning down 1960’s Nazis and stabbing robo-dogs while crunchy buttrock guitar riffs hum alongside the bassy thump of automatic shotguns miraculously avoids conflicting with BJ’s internalised frustrating cycle of violence and the sacrifices good people makes to ensure a better world for all. It’s a hard balance, yet here struck borderline perfectly, resulting in one of the most compelling and emotionally resonate narratives of a gritty first person shooter in years.

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More impressive than the narrative is Machine Games’ commitment to delivering a comprehensive single player shooter campaign. I cannot overstate how long and fulfilling New Order‘s campaign arc is. In a sea of repetitive, wave-based campaigns over in as many hours as you have fingers on one hand, New Order not only lasts into the double digit hours but does so while routinely introducing new locations, enemies, artistic vision, and encounter diversity. Taking lessons from the same school of design that helped push the likes of Half-Life 2 to critically acclaimed heights, New Order rarely, if ever, resorts to locked arena and wave-based encounters or repetitive level progression in order to lead you through each chapter. Instead, each encounter zone carefully mixes enemy types, cover position, weapon availability, and horizontal/vertical gunfights to ensure each requires enough investment to engage interest without dragging the formula. No waves of mindless drones like other shooters. Much like Half-Life 2 every enemy in New Order feels like its own unique entanglement, even if the AI could overall be a little more aggressive and responsive.

Feedback of shooting is one of the most important aspects of a shooter. Like the weight and momentum behind a jump in a platformer, if a shooter cannot nail the shooting part then the entire package will fall apart. And boy does New Order nail it. Weapons are loud and chunky, bolts hammering against shells as you unload round after round into enemies that gib and spray gooey red guts over the environment. Sadistic as it sounds, it’s a satisfying feedback loop, the sensation of wielding tools of destruction and having that destruction reflected back via their use. Details such as sparks flying off impacts on enemy armour (like helmets) and stone pillars crumbling from excessive damage give each fire-fight a F.E.A.R.-like sense of chaos. I wouldn’t say no to more interactive prop physics and a wider spectrum of destruction on smaller goods, but what’s there is brutal and satisfying in its absolute.

And despite the shooting, New Order isn’t afraid to take a break from run-and-gun for a little bit of exploration, narrative exposition, and even a sideline of stealth. I could see how the narrative may be a wee bit intrusive to old school shooter purists, the game not without its scripted first person sequences and pre-rendered cut-scenes. And I can also empathise with those who’d prefer no forced stealth at all. But for me all of these components were expertly woven into the standard shoot-em-up and level progression that instead of acting as cheap gimmicks and mangled attempts at alternate gameplay, actually helped diversify the chapters without stomping an iron boot on the core design. The stealth is simple, and the punishment for failure minimal. The exploration is usually optional, and frequently mixed up with some light puzzle solving, treasure rewards, and maybe a surprise one off encounter. It’s all about pacing, and though I might be wearing the comparison a little thin at this point, New Order again draws parallels to Half-Life 2 in its combination of shoot-the-gun and explore-the-world.

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Hell, while I’m here, I might as well highlight the similarities in visual story telling too. New Order might not hold back in cut-scenes, but none of this is at the concession of world building simply through the stages you play and see via your own agency. id Tech 5 is a curious engine, megatextures contributing to some close-up eyesores and frustrating texture pop-in, but the overall visual presentation is sublime and dense with little details, notes, and props that ensure every location seems alive and believable. There’s an artistic consistency and visual intellectualism to each environment, mapped out logically for an otherwise fictional 1960s Nazis regime in its architecture, policies, military, and egotism. There’s a surrealism to the whole thing, believability upon fantasy, but it all works alarmingly well. Location variety is fantastic and memorable, all the while providing the player with clear distinction of enemies, items, and traversable paths atop the level backdrop as a whole. You’ll subconsciously make your way through stages while consciously soaking in and admiring the visual splendour, and that’s a very good thing.

My greatest criticism of New Order alongside such relentless praise is the audio mixing. No, not the audio design; that is sublime in all respects. A catchy score composed of cruchy riffs and meloncholic guitar. Booming gunfire. Disturbingly authentic voice work for each and ever Nazi. Haunting environment ambience. But it’s all mixed together quite terribly, possibly worse than any modern shooter that comes to mind. The erratic audio levels from all channels lead to overly quiet music, overly loud specific ambient effects, weird layering between rooms and floors, and so on. The audio mix isn’t game breaking, but it does do a tremendous disservice to the work put in. Hopefully a patch or two improves this in the near future.

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This review might be gushing to the point of embarrassment, but fact of the matter is that it’s indicative of the time I spent with Wolfenstein: The New Order and the way it resonated with my love for the genre, my expectations based on the franchise legacy and Machine Games’ developer calibre, and the overall delivery of what is really a magnificently well rounded and cohesive vision. How rare it is to find shooters like this, where at no point do I find myself groaning over repetition, disheartened due to length, frustrated at an invasive and uninteresting story, or pondering if the tied-in multiplayer is worth looking into. There is no multiplayer at all!

Simply put, Wolfenstein: The New Order delivers in spades. It promises a lengthy, satisfying, story driven campaign with no compromises to the simple, satisfying art of blowing away bad dudes with loud, violent weaponry. And that’s exactly what you get, with some surprising trimmings along the way. Not since Bulletstorm has a single player driven first person shooter on a blockbuster budget impressed and captivated me as much as Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s far and away the best solo shooter out on the market, and deserves your attention more than whatever alternative you’re thinking of it. Get it now and bring down The New Order.


Shooting, stabbing, killing Nazis.


Very weak audio mix.

Overall Score: