The Smartest Nazis I’ve Ever Fought
The Wolfenstein name is synonymous with shooting; it is the franchise that pioneered the first-person shooter genre, after all. With a history like that behind it, Wolfenstein: The New Order is automatically paired with either an antiquated doom or the opportunity to reinvent—depending on whom you ask. A short two weeks ago, I would’ve sided with the former, saying that a new Wolfenstein game simply can’t work, and that it’s outdated. Thankfully, after spending some quality time with Wolfenstein: The New Order at Bethesda’s recent pre-E3 event, I can confidently say that The New Order is just that: new. The game does have an appropriately retro vibe to it, but it casts all shackles of old aside.
The series’ iconic protagonist William “B.J.” Blazkowicz returns to the spotlight, but he returns in a world new to both him and the player. Set in an alternate 1960, in which the Nazi regime has come to dominate the world with their superior weaponry after ending World War II with an unprecedented show of firepower, B.J. finds himself battling more than a horde of gun-toting Nazis, and with more than a gun at his side.
After an explosion left the entrance to a Nazi weapons vault decimated, I was thrown into a maze of concrete and metal, and with a mechanical predator which I can only liken to an enormous wolf lurking around. From minute one, I knew I was in for a challenge. Within thirty seconds, I’d witnessed a cataclysmic explosion, been given the task of infiltrating a top-secret and heavily guarded vault, handed a pistol, and told “Go.” Actually doing so, however, is a much less linear task. Although trapping the aforementioned mechanized hunter plays out like a puzzle—in which you bait and lure the beast with your own actions, not just preprogrammed event triggers—The New Order gives the player plenty of options, and expects them to be used effectively.
And what’s the best way to give the player plenty of options in an FPS? Give them plenty of weapons. You’ll never find yourself at a loss for bullets and all things destructive in The New Order. This is where the old-school vibe begins to shine through. Supplies and weapons are distributed in the most classic manner imaginable: Most enemies will relinquish their gun upon death, leaving plenty of health and ammunition behind, or even the weapon itself—granting access to dual wielding. SMGs, pistols, and even shotguns all come with dual-wield functionality. Even if your weapons take up half of the screen’s admirably minimal GUI, you’ll be meting out enough punishment to make it oh-so worth it. Luckily, the player can choose between single and dual-wielding options at any time, but retain both guns for future changes.
After dispatching some straggling Nazi soldiers and grabbing a sub-machine gun, I encountered my first Nazi robot. I actually had to replay this portion because what followed initially was a bit of a blur. Enemy confrontations in The New Order are fast-paced, dynamic, and crushing. After being sent soaring backward by some sort of electric cannon—a weapon that I only saw wielded by robots—I immediately began scrambling for two things: cover and supplies.
The game achieves a great balance between an old-school difficulty and modern accessibility. Challenges are constant but relatively straightforward; they avoid the antiquated stigma of difficulty through obscurity. The New Order is difficult in the purest sense of the word, in that the game simply expects you to play intelligently. There’s no tedious backtracking or needless vagueness, just tried and true trial and error.
The cover system doesn’t glue the player to a wall like in most third-person shooters. Instead, you simply hold the “cover” button while near an object and use the left analogue stick to peek in a given direction to fire at enemies. As soon as that button is released, B.J. will “detach” from that object and resume normal movements. This gives the player a means of defending themselves without robbing them of momentum or mobility. Virtually anything can be used for cover. Similarly, nearly all cover pieces can be destroyed if you throw enough bullets at it, preventing you from hunkering down behind an invincible wall until everything in the room is dead.
Of course, the same is true for the game’s extremely intelligent enemies. Pesky sniper ducking behind a pillar? Take away his pillar. Problem solved. This adds a welcomed level of strategy to confrontations, and helps the player plan their actions. Keep your run-and-gun tactics locked up tight when playing The New Order, because you’ll rarely need them. Of course, when you do need them, you’ll have a weapon in each hand to make the most of your berserker tactics.
The same sense of balance is reflected in the game’s health system, which I later clarified with a few of the game’s developers. Like most modern shooters, Wolfenstein has adopted regenerating health. However, you do so only in increments of 20 above your current 10-tier, out of a maximum 110. So, if you are damaged down to 48 health, you will regenerate up to a maximum of 60 naturally: 73 goes up to 90, 52 to 70, and so on. To recover further, you’ll need to find some good, old-fashioned pickups. You also have an “armor” meter that reduces the amount of damage taken per shot, but it decreases quite rapidly. The armor system is not an additional health bar. You will always be taking damage, and you can’t survive off of armor alone. And forget hiding in a corner and regenerating to full health.
In fact, keep dreaming, because the game will only cackle at and mock your cowardly tactics.
Only after finding a cache of ammo tucked away behind a slab of debris was I able to move forward. The next fight added set pieces into the mix with the addition of a laser turret to a chaotic battleground. Pivotal weapons and scenarios like these give the game a satisfying action-movie feel. Charging to a mounted turret and mowing down hordes of enemies, fighting flying robots as you climb up a flaming elevator shaft, sprinting between stationary helicopters to fire their weapons at a giant robot—all of these and more help distinguish each portion of The New Order and keep the game fresh and entertaining.
One of the few things more entertaining than the fast-paced gameplay is the in-game commentary straight from B.J. As you explore the levels, Blazkowicz will have plenty to say about the Nazi regime—all of it absolutely hilarious. B.J. is a kind of funny that Duke Nukem can only dream of being. The tongue-in-cheek, macho humor complements the game’s setting and ambiance perfectly, and adds a genuine incentive to hunt for Easter eggs. At one point, I spent nearly ten minutes looking at photographs on a wall simply to hear the slap-stick remarks. In a room of twenty demo stations, there was never a moment of silence with everyone cackling away at the game’s brilliantly off-color humor.
My personal favorite quote would have to be, upon seeing a timeline of the Nazi party’s space endeavors, B.J.’s comment: “Okay, you put a Nazi on the moon. [Expletive] you, moon.”
I was equally impressed with the game’s enthralling soundscape and visuals. The New Order is developed on the id Tech 5 engine, and the graphical fidelity reflects it. Weather and particle effects are spot on, and all the crazy Nazi tech is appropriately laser-y. Weapon detailing is precise and creative, and the same goes for the armies of robotic Nazis which all follow the series’ classic sci-fi aesthetic. Similarly, weapon sound effects and explosion reverberations are realistically executed. I was able to hear my cover degrade as bullets tore through it. And with so many robots in the game, each bullet needed to produce an appropriately sharp sound upon impact with metal—a task that The New Order completely nails.
My time with the game’s live demo concluded in the most Wolfenstein of ways: Fighting a bunch of Nazis and Nazi robots in a room filled with weapons. However, again, the combat isn’t that simple. Each level is designed to allow the player to fight each battle the way they wish. I initiated the final room with several stealth kills as I learned my environment and gathered supplies for a final push, but I could’ve just as easily charged in, guns blazing—again, dual-wielding in tow. That Wolfenstein can offer so many options simultaneously while preserving the core appeal of first-person shooters is impressive and immensely enjoyable.
Even something as basic as the health mechanic has been engineered to give the player as many options as possible. While your maximum permanent health is 110 (that’s without accounting for potential upgrades), there is an overflow function in place that allows players to beef themselves up before entering an intense conflict. By picking up health items when already at max health, the health bar will begin decreasing at a steady rate back to the standard cap. However, while the bar is decreasing, the player is given a grace period in which they may act as cavalier as they wish, simply because their current health is expendable.
This customizable combat is, in part, made possible by the intuitive control scheme. Keep in mind, I played The New Order using an Xbox 360 controller, a device which I haven’t touched in years, but still found myself feeling right at home with the controls in a matter of minutes. The cover system is fluid and never jarring, movement is paced appropriately, and the slide mechanic fits into the flow of combat perfectly. Being able to move from cover to cover, only to immediately “attach” to the next piece of cover makes executing strategies much simpler, but also avoids the annoying inhibitor of feeling stuck to a wall. You never feel like B.J. is on autopilot; you are in control of every action.
The New Order is a refreshing and unprecedented take on an old-school franchise, and shows that old names are perfectly relevant in modern times when handled correctly. The top brass over at MachineGames have demonstrated that they value the history of the franchise, but are unafraid to push forward with innovations in execution. By adding a unique emphasis to the state and story of the alternate 1960’s, the game has created a far more human—but still entirely badass—B.J. Blazkowicz, and paired him with an interesting cast of rebels. Having mastered every nuance of first-person shooters that its predecessors pioneered, Wolfenstein: The New Order looks to be a fantastic game with exactly the sort of challenge that our respawn-saturated market needs. Shooters have been too easy for too long, and The New Order is poised to change that.