Everyone loves Nazis right (well apart from your Nan, who was probably bombed by them, but I digress)? In videogames I mean. The go-to bad guys who instinctively raise the hackles of people, none more so than the average gamer who is almost trained to point a weapon at their heads. For a time they were ubiquitous in gaming, but most recently have been replaced by anyone vaguely Middle Eastern in appearance as the bad guy of recent times. But Machine Games looks to bring us back to blowing away vast swathes of the Third Reich with their latest title, Wolfenstein: The New Order.
A first person shooter, Wolfenstein: The New Order (W: TNO) takes place within a "what if..." scenario. The rise of Social Nationalism wasn't halted in 1945; instead a new wave of terrifying Nazi technological breakthroughs occurred, as massive quadrupedal robots scorch the trenches, while Cyborg dogs with deadly incisors rip to shreds any soldiers unfortunate to be left. In the face of this, the game's protagonist, William "BJ" Blazkowicz leads a rag-tag band of allied brothers to the headquarters of the Reich, in an attempt to finish the war once and for all. Unfortunately this proves to be a disastrous sortie which leaves our hero in a vegetative state in a hospice in enemy territory while the world buckles at the heel of an unstoppable force.
Awakening from a fourteen year coma (and apparently not suffering any kind of muscle atrophy in the process), BJ is pressed immediately into action as he begins his journey from recovery bed, to finding what remains of the resistance, to the inevitable endgame of exacting revenge against Deathshead and finishing the war for good.
It's just as well our hero is capable in a fight, and there's an abundance of ordinance to help BJ in his fight against the Nazis. The player is drip fed a steady diet of weaponry, and there's a great deal of familiarity to be found among the offerings. From pistols to shotguns and assault rifles onwards, Wolfenstein: The New Order has you covered in terms of what you need to thin those Nazis out.
In terms of "future" weaponry, this is also a good approximation of the Sniper Rifle in the AR Marksman, but without doubt the standout is the fabulously named LaserKraftWerk. Starting out as purely a method to cut metals and fences, this is soon upgraded to become a versatile weapon that can fire reflective shots off surfaces, disintegrate organic enemies and generally cause much mirth in how it offs its victims. The downside is a near constant need to be recharged as it doesn't use conventional ammunition, but there is no lack of charging stations dotted around levels.
There's a real sense of joy in wielding these weapons, tapping into what brings the biggest grin to a players face. A shotgun that packs a serious punch, let alone giving the player the chance to dual wield them is a joy unconfined. The borderline psychotic thrill of going toe-to-toe with the never-ending horde of retro-future Nazis never gets dull, ever. Find a more satisfying shooter just now and please, feel free to let this reviewer know, as he'd love to play it.
Augmenting the arsenal is a superb perk system that unlocks additions such as rocket launchers that sit underneath the assault rifle, or shotgun shells that ricochet in a deadly dance, ripping enemies to shreds and especially effective in narrow corridors. Larger ordinance is also available, and are dramatically unwieldy as expected. The player can almost feel the weight of lugging around a gigantic turret. Grenades are the only slight fly in the destruction ointment here; the explosive variant feels incredibly lightweight, but the Tesla grenade almost acts as a buffer in that it will stop the bigger enemies for a short period of time, allowing the player some breathing space as they plot the next spate of evisceration.
And while all this sounds distinctly meat-headed, stealth is also a viable option for tackling a lot of areas. The thrill of sneaking through a level, taking out guards and guard dogs is rewarding, and there's the satisfaction of creeping up on guards and taking them down silently. When the reverse situation presents itself, the animation can resemble a deadly version of The Chuckle Brothers' "To me, to you" game, which can be unintentionally hilarious to witness.
The comedy value also continues in that there's a moment in the first chapter that straddles the line between terror and laugh out loud hilarity. As the über (see what I did there?) bad guy Deathshead is pressed against the viewing portal of a door as BJ and his band are being crushed, he's sporting a malevolent grin that makes him look like the long lost relative of Ade Edmondson, and not just because he played the character of Eddie Hitler in the TV show Bottom. The game is straddling the line constantly, but crucially it always manages to pull it off, as it also manages to imbue its story with some quite profound moments as well.
While this might come as a surprise to veterans of the series, there is an affecting story to be found amongst all the giblets and exploding heads. BJ's weariness for battle contrasts with those around him who view him as the indestructible lunk who can take on whole platoons of enemies without seemingly a care - here he's portrayed as a man apparently suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and considering the lineage of the series, that's an amazingly subtle touch that they actually manage to tell a compelling story which is laden with reflection, and dare it be said, hope for an end to the madness and bloodshed.
This depth also extends to the other characters the player encounters - they are well fleshed-out and aren't rife with cliché or the typical blandness that might be expected. Women protagonists are just as important as their male counterparts. Having empowered female characters such as Caroline Becker, who is paralysed and not portrayed as a victim is welcome, and fits in with the other battle-scarred characters on a equal billing, sharing the same hopes and fears, so the player finds themselves invested in their struggles as the game progresses.
Equally welcome is that there's none of the usual bait and switch that has become so predictable in story telling of late. It never materialises here and even the ending doesn't automatically reek of the inevitable follow-up, instead it ties up the story in a sombre but entirely satisfying fashion. It feels like a breath of fresh air, albeit one covered in the blood and viscera of the bodies lying strewn across the battlefield.
The few times boss fights rear their head, they feel rather disappointingly limp. Maybe it's due to how engaged and in your face the player is with the game on a near consistent basis, but what the player confronts poorly serves the wider action, but not so much as to tear at the fabric of the game as a whole.
The alternate retro future envisioned by Machine Head Games feels spot on, especially for anyone who has visited the real life Berlin and has taken in some of the pre-war buildings that still exist to this day. Monolithic concrete structures tower above the streets of Berlin, and London also plays host to similarly imposing architecture, diametrically opposed to the grime and chaos at people level. The oppressive look and feel is a persistent feature throughout the game, as there's certainly not much in the way of greenery on display as the game progresses. Obviously the Nazis didn't think to employ the Teutonic equivalent of Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen to brighten things up a tad. There are no sky boxes or grand vistas teeming with gorgeous detail as most of the action is funnelled down corridors or confined spaces, but it fits with the grimy future hell that's been created and it works well in this context.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is an apt title for a game that takes the best aspects of the original, while paying its respects to its forefather. This is a game that has had any extraneous fat pared off, leaving a lean, athletic title that is brimming with confidence in what it does, making it stand out from the tedious crowd of modern day shooters. Highly recommended.