Many authors ask themselves ‘What if Hitler had won?’. With The Man In The High Castle, Philip K. Dick imagined a brutalised globe ruled by the victorious Axis Powers. MachineGames posed the same question when developing Wolfenstein: The New Order, fashioning a bombastic arcade FPS with a historical twist. But, as this review will outline, it is also much more then that.
It’s 1960 and the maniacal Nazi vision for the globe has been realized. In this image, we see monolithic Berlin. The domed building is actually MachineGames’ vision of the Volkshalle (People’s Hall), which the real-life Nazis planned to build after subjugating Europe.
Europe, 1946. Nazi Germany has drastically turned the tide of World War II in its favour. The Allies wage a desperate and grim war, out-gunned by the Nazis’ spectacular arsenal of hulking war machines and cyborg monstrosities. The ‘source’ of Germany’s technological prowess is the genius researcher utterly devoid of any moral principles, Wilhelm Strasse – Deathshead. As the world’s fate hangs in the balance, American war hero William ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz and the brunt of the Allies launch a heroic assault on Deathshead’s fortress. After the onslaught goes amiss and Blazkowicz fails to assassinate Deathshead, Germany’s triumph in World War II is secured and the entire globe is plunged into unimaginable horror.
In 1960, the Nazis rule the world with an iron fist – an unfamiliar world ruled by a familiar enemy, backed by a thriving space program and nuclear weapons. The lingering, hapless resistance hides in the shadow of sprawling concrete metropolises erected across Europe, racial purity is paramount and The Beatles have to sing in German. Blazkowicz, suffering from a total loss of memory and rendered idle by of injuries sustained during the 1946 assault, is cared for at a mental institution in conquered Poland. When the SS arrives to liquidate the patients, Blazkowicz is reunited with his Nazi-slaughtering past and seeks to renew the struggle against the Nazis and ‘set things straight’.
With Fatherland, Robert Harris imagined an alternate 1964 with a Greater German Reich that stretched from romantic Alsace-Lorraine to muddy steppes of the Urals. The New Order scoffs at this, and features a Germany that uses seventy percent of the global landmass as Lebensraum.
The 1946 sequence perfectly captures the insanity of The New Order‘s warped World War II, setting the ludicrous tone for the rest of the game’s plot; the mechanised Nazi enemies are what a teenage boy draws on the back of his history workbook. It also makes no secret of the fact that The New Order is a stubbornly old-school shooter and, fundamentally, is a game about “shootin’, stabbin’ and stranglin’ Nazis” – it feels nigh an arcade shooter. And, more importantly, a very fun one. Also, there is an interesting choice in this level that makes a compelling argument for replaying the game.
As we venture into the horror of 1960, The New Order’s ferocious, bombastic carnage does not wane; in other words, expect to gleefully slaughter legions of Nazis with dual automatic-shotguns, all to excellent pacing. Despite this, the player is occasionally able to play The New Order as a stealth game: although the brutal take-downs are satisfying, but the gunplay is far more invigorating. If one was asked to approximately equate The New Order‘s gameplay to a combination of other titles, they may levy 2012’s Far Cry 3 and 1994’s Doom II. Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s inherent retro, gallery-shooter roots are fused with the fast-paced nature of modern shooters, yielding a synthesis between that has the best elements of both the old and the new. This, axiomatically, results in a fantastic FPS. Wolfenstein: The New Order has a perk system that awards players based on the playstyle they prefer. It is a welcome addition and it augments The New Order‘s exhilarating gunplay.
The New Order does not adhere to the two weapon rule that has persisted in modern shooters.
The enemy AI suffices, although it has evident shortcomings. Also, occasionally The New Order will present you with a section that eliminates the combat and embark you on a fetch-quest. These – admittedly short – sections are often tedious and break the typically superb pace so they were detrimental to the overall experience. They definitely could have been streamlined, but the engrossing story distracts you from that sufficiently.
Throughout The New Order‘s healthy 12 hour length, it takes the player to a grand assortment of outstanding and immersive environments. A spectacularly grim trip to occupied-London as well as an exciting raid on the Nazi Moon base are the stellar standouts. However, it was disappointing that we did not get to see Die Welt’s people, aside from two Polish grandparents, in any way other then behind the barrel of a gun; ostensibly, the people of 1960 are only soldiers of the SS or underground partisans. To make the dystopian world more fascinating, MachineGames could have introduced players to the ordinary people corralled by global Nazi empire and how they collaborate or submit to survive. This would have added another dimension to the urgency.
In human history, there has never been an ideology so deeply associated with evil and vehemently despised then National-Socialism. In the real-world, the racist and expansionist government of Adolf Hitler engulfed Europe in war and infamously attempted to exterminate ‘undesirables’ in The Holocaust. MachineGames are aware of this, and they make sure the player enjoys killing Nazis – in more ways than one.
At this point, the reader is forgiven for assuming that Wolfenstein: The New Order is frivolous. Despite the relentless violence and ferocity of the gameplay, Wolfenstein: The New Order has some genuinely human moments between the often exaggerated characters, the relationship between the resistance fighters Max and Klaus being a prime example, and reminds us precisely why we are slaughtering Nazis with a catalogue of atrocities and cruelty – including a, though far from harrowing, trip to a concentration camp in a fictionalised Croatia and an aforementioned massacre of defenceless mentally-ill patients in Poland. There is very little ‘tongue-in-cheek’ dialogue, despite what the launch trailer suggested, and the excellent writing reflects – with wonderful voice acting to boot – the desperate and harsh situation as well as introduces us to the complexities of the characters. It also ensures that the Nazi villains emit barbarity and malice which makes them more convincing characters.
Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s hyperbolic narrative is great at a surface level, but players are permitted to explore the world further. Collectibles allow the player to piece together precisely how Germany rose to subjugate the world’s nations – from the United States to China – and conquer the world, as well as describing 1960’s plight. This makes for compelling alternate history, and although the intriguing backdrop is secondary to the gameplay, it adds context to the immediate goals of Blazkowicz and the resistance. On a personal note, the author takes a particular interest in alternate realities and dystopias, so this, on an individual basis, was important to him; in fact, he was craving for the collectibles.
In conclusion, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fantastic twist on the retro shooter with a compelling, engrossing atmosphere and narrative. Because of minor issues with pacing and AI, as well as the fact that the player does not get to see society in any way other then behind the barrel of a gun and newspapers, it misses out of a ten, but gets a nein instead. You should play this game if you like first person shooters and great stories.
Nein out of ten.
– Rory Mullan. Hit me up on Twitter: @CynicalMarxist
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