I remember being very iffy when I heard the announcement for the latest iteration in the Wolfenstein series of games (an announcement which is now lost way back in the mists of time) but a lot of my fears were rather quickly assuaged by the fact that the game would NOT be set during World War 2, like every other Wolfenstein, and also by the trailers which showed an alternate timeline where the Nazi’s won World War 2 and now ruled the world (and indeed everything else as well basically). This alone seemed like a decent selling point as I am new enough to cyberpunk and steampunk that I am not worn out on them yet but it also was rather innovative, in a slightly cheating sort of way.
See in this day and age one tends to need to create some sort of motivation for your players so that they have a reason to cut a path of destruction through countless enemies. I mean, this isn’t really taking Spunkgargleweewee into account where the reason might be something like “they didn’t salute the American flag properly or whitely enough” but other than that it is definitely the case, and sometimes some games can fall a little short of the mark and one might wonder why exactly you are supposed to be doing the gruesome and brutal murderings you are. On the other hand if you say “oh you’re killing him because he’s a Nazi” then that pretty much solves it straight away. So that was one of my slight worries about the game, that it would be simply a murderous rampage through Nazi-town where everyone with a German accent gets pulverized. But, actually this was not the case either!
Another thing which surprised me somewhat was that The New Order actually uses the same protagonist as previous Wolfenstein games, which served to further confuse me because I thought it was actually an entirely alternate timeline but it is actually a sort-of continuation from previous Wolfenstein games (many of which I understand were utterly dreadful).
Whatever the case, The New Order features the return of William “B.J.” Blazkowicz on his mission to growl through war-zones while taking out so many Nazis while everyone else compliments him on his Nazi-killing abilities that it ought not to be a surprise that he is often thrown against literal armies of them. The game starts with a desperate last mission by the Allies to halt the Nazi advance during which BJ suffers a bad case of shrapnel to the noggin and is placed into a catatonic state for 14 years. Waking up just in time to see another group of Nazis start murdering the other patients of the mental hospital and indeed the staff too.
It’s actually a note worth making that despite the ease with MachineGames COULD have just slapped a Nazi label on everything needing killed, they also went out of their way to give the player personal motivations as well, and then constantly reinforcing them with reminders of just how bad life is under the Nazi regime. In fact perhaps what is most surprising about Wolfenstein, a game infamous for being about murdermudermuder all day long, is how much it seems to be able to actually permeate your thoughts and provide a more lasting memory of its story and characters.
Indeed, every single one of the primary characters are either wounded and desperate souls who are down to their last straw and nerve in fighting against a brutal oppressor they seem to have no hope of winning against, or they go the complete opposite way for the antagonists, every single one of whom MachineGames went out of their way to make you hate. Even in the lead up to the last boss fight you are constantly hammered with flashbacks of exactly why this Nazi needs to die so much that it gets to the point where you are saying “alright then, bloody let me at him then!”
It’s also worth pointing out that those who were behind the real atrocities of World War 2 actually are mentioned only incredibly rarely in the game. I think the only time someone actually mentioned Hitler was a brief moment when a Nazi soldier gave the salute of “Heil Hitler”. Beyond that it felt like the game way trying to divert attention away from the real world, trying to both show the grim and horrific life under the Nazi regime whilst also at least attempting to be tactful about the reality of it.
Despair is a prevailing theme of the game. The Nazi’s have won and life is dreadful for everybody. Sure they appear to have somehow built a moon-base decades ahead of anyone in real life, but other than that it is simply oppression for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It really does a great job of just hammering home how pointless everything feels. The resistance are desperately struggling for their lives here and there appears to be absolutely no end in sight, no hope of victory, and as such every single one of the good guys are only just clinging to whatever resolve they have left. Even B.J. comes across the same way, just holding on to his one objective with grim determination (despite the fact that he seems capable of surviving just about everything from knives to fucking grenades).
So the characters are some of the best I’ve actually seen in many games full stop, not even just in an FPS which would not be the biggest compliment in the world. Meanwhile the plot itself is a bit arsey, one cannot deny that. The resistance appears to jump from one mission to the next with no clear long-term goals and one kind of gets the feeling that this was primarily to do with the writers making it up as they went along. Sure it does build up to a big final boss fight against Deathshead, the villain who when introduced at the start of the game beats you soundly, but it doesn’t feel like a battle that the game has been building towards. Instead it feels sort of like something they came up with at the last minute as a way to round things up.
The same could be said of a number of the settings in the game, many of which seem to have been dreamed up first and only THEN did the writers come up with some excuse for you to go there. There doesn’t feel like there is much cohesion in the story and so it seems to jump around a lot.
A prime example of the frustration I feel with the plot is the romance which develops between B.J. and Anya. Anya is actually the nurse who looked after B.J. for his 14 years in a mental institution, because apparently nothing gets the girls hotter than spoon-feeding a bloke and wiping his bum for him. Then, as soon as B.J. regains his faculties (and, by the way, he’s lost NONE of his peak physical condition despite 14 years in a wheelchair) Anya is throwing herself at him. It felt a little forced, it seems clear that they felt they needed some romance in the game as a counter-point of light to highlight the despair but also had no way to introduce it gradually and so just decided that it would HAPPEN NOW. Boom. Job done. Admittedly as time went on, the two of them did feel fairly natural together, it was just a bit of a shock for them to get together the way they did.
The game also took a nose-dive from the being crazy and ridiculous in a charming and fun sort of way into the utterly unacceptable when they brought up a mystical society with technology far in advance of our own. They do try to explain it away by also saying that this is where the Nazi’s got their technological edge from, but it still smacks of Deus Ex Machina after the writers have realised that when they provided overwhelming odds against our intrepid heroes that the odds really WERE overwhelming and they needed to bullshit their way out of it. Even at the end of the game you still can’t help but think that for all the damage B.J. has done, the Nazi’s STILL own the world and there doesn’t really seem to be much chance of them giving it back. This might explain why the end on something of a cliffhanger because they now have to come up with another Deus Ex Machina so that the good-guys can win again, my bet is that they find a time-machine and return everything to the real-world timeline in some way.
Thankfully though the ridiculous plot isn’t particularly noticeable when you are having as much fun as I did in The New Order. It might have been a ludicrously contrived reason which sends you up to the Nazi Moon base BUT then you have to remember that you are killing Nazi’s on the fucking Moon! It might have been silly, but damned if it wasn’t fun. I have to admit that for all the serious and sombre mood which overlay every character and plot point, you also had incredible moments of rooty-tooty-point-and-shooty action which just reminded you that you were supposed to be having fun here and not just feeling depressed.
It’s full of running, jumping, climbing trees and meanwhile you’re wielding two assault rifles and blazing a trail of death and destruction which really cheered me up. Then, if you feel like taking it a bit more seriously you are also allowed to take cover and think strategically and flank your enemies, or even spend some time sneaking around back-stabbing cunts and using throwing knives which insta-kill anyone regardless of where they hit.
The game is at its best in the bigger battles, where there are several stories of platforms and walkways above a big central arena, with the soldiers and Supersoldaten all seeming to be part of one, larger, cohesive force, with the big guys holding your focus while the smaller ones try to dart around to flank you. Grenades, bullets and rockets flying as you are forced to make decisions about who to focus on, where to take cover and when to try and grab more health and ammo. Really, the game might well be one of the best shooters I’ve played in recent memory and I even compare it to the extreme high standard of Bioshock Infinite in terms of just how much I enjoyed playing it.
As well as this, the game also allowed several paths through many of the levels, with vents making a classic return as the “optional” route into the room instead of the main door. Nothing too major, but enough variation that it allowed for exploration and an element of choice in exactly how you wanted to get around and murder people. For the most part it is a fairly straight-forward and simple route throughout the game, but it does wonders for making it feel that you aren’t quite so attached to the rails as you are in other FPSes. The presence of the laser-gun which doubles as a cutting tool for opening vents and chain-link fences was also quite a nifty little mechanic to make the world at least FEEL bigger than it was (also I would say that even if the LaserKraftWerk wasn’t a reference to the band KraftWerk it still gave me a little chuckle each time).
The game is a loud and shouty and in-your-face sort of game. At times it is almost unnecessarily violent and gory (I mean, why the hell did they feel the need to have B.J. cut a tattoo out of his skin half-way through a mission) and the Nazi ideology is all very over-the-top and exaggerated. One has to love it for these things though as it makes the game just feel that much more fun. It doesn’t make apologies for being quite so ridiculous and instead it owns it, and so you can run through a Nazi Base on the Moon with a big old smile on your face as you gun down massive half-robot, half-human monstrosities.