Wolfenstein: The New Order Review – PC/Steam
Great action, good graphics even on a low-end system, amazing music and story.
Technical issues mar what would otherwise be a wonderful experience.
Wolfenstein: The New Order takes BJ Blazkowicz from a desperate, last battle in 1946 to a Nazi-ruled 1960. Like its protagonist, Wolfenstein is caught between two times, with old school and modern shooter mechanics mixing freely, and like its protagonist, Wolfenstein manages to be pretty awesome. Furious action and great level design mix with a pretty cool upgrade system and a story that manages to be way smarter and slicker than I initially expected it to be.
The great triumph of Wolfenstein: The New Order is how it manages to combine three different styles of combat, making it possible to flow seamlessly between them as situations demand. I found myself starting any given area by trying to sneak, stabbing Nazis and armored dogs that I encountered, dispatching enemies from across the room with lobbed knives. Once I was seen, I’d use a single gun, cover and iron sights to fight in wide open arenas, and a pair of guns in narrow corridors to lay down storms of ammunition. No matter how I fought, it felt great, and the sheer variety in how combat could go, from being a silent assassin, a careful sniper, or a maniac with a gun in each fist did a lot to keep the combat from being dull through the twelve or so hours that a playthrough could take.
To help encourage these play styles, the game has a perk system that tracks actions and rewards you based on them. Almost all of them are things you might normally do in play, whether it’s silently killing enemies that set off alarms when they see you, gunning down Nazis with mounted turrets, or going for headshots, but having the perk unlock pop up is a really nice hit of dopamine to reward you for mixing up how you fight. There’s also an interesting element in foreshadowing to the perk trees. The only thing keeping me from getting the capstone perk for dual wielding was having no LKW kills, and having no idea what the LKW even was. And when I got the LKW? Man, that was an exciting moment.
To go with the modern aspect of perks, the game has a good helping of old school flair. Health and armor go from 1 to 100, and though health partially regenerates, rounding up to the nearest 20, there’s still a need to scrounge for food and med kits, to stealing helmets off of dead Nazis for armor, to gorge yourself on health and go into overcharge. There’s also the weapon system. Though you lose your weapons after every chapter, you can still carry every gun you lay your hands on – two of them, in most cases. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison to the Call of Duty/Halo two gun model that’s spread across the genre.
That said, Wolfenstein: The New Order isn’t just gunplay. It’s also got a remarkably engaging story, far past what I expected from a game about killing thousands of Nazis. It manages to tie together the darkness of a world ruled by Nazis and the inherent absurdity of alternate history sci-fi into a coherent whole, making it a game where infiltrating a concentration camp to spark a riot and liberate the prisoners and a raid on a Nazi moon base both make sense and feel necessary. Every character has interesting moments that humanize them, and the cinematography in the cutscenes is some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. Even games that consciously ape movies pale in comparison to the slick editing and directing choices that someone at Machine Games made.
I found myself talking with friends as I played, picking apart the writing and directing, trying to find a core thesis of the game. I won’t bore you, readers, with literary criticism in a video game review, but the fact that that’s even an option in a run and gun shooter is kind of amazing, and it makes me want to see what else the developers can do with this franchise.
Aesthetically, the game is amazing. The music meshes perfectly with the action, save for a part at the end where the villain’s mocking speeches are drowned out by the awesome music as you raid his fortress. The game’s graphics were great on my low to middling laptop, though there was a huge amount of texture pop-in that I think can be pinned on the id Tech 5 engine, and a strange de-sync between voiceovers and subtitles during in-engine cutscenes, a significant problem when literally every antagonist speaks German.
A high point of the music are the Nazi pop songs, reinterpretations of major bands from the 60s. If you look carefully, you’ll find versions of The Beatles, the Monkees, Sonny and Cher, and more. It was a real delight to see these recognizable artifacts of a terrible world that you mostly interact with via guns.
In just about every way, Wolfenstein: The New Order is an excellent game. Great gunplay, aesthetics, and storytelling combine into what might be the must-play shooter of the summer, marred only by the technical problems that seem to plague every game made in this engine. Still, putting those aside, there’s a lot to love in The New Order, and if you’re in the market for a first person shooter, you can’t do a lot better.