To date, The New Order is the ninht game based in the Wolfenstein universe, but the first to feature the term “radgie gadgie” as an insult. I don’t know what it means, but it works perfectly in the context within which it is uttered. I mention it because it’s kind of indicative of The New Order as a whole. None of it makes very much sense, you’ll constantly scratch your head and raise eyebrows throughout, and yet within its own context, it all works rather well.
Captain William J. “BJ” Blazkowicz returns as protagonist, here referred to as Blazko and thus deftly avoiding the reflexive snigger every time someone says “BJ”. It begins in 1946, as Blazko and a squad of US soldiers attempt to infiltrate the headquarters of General Deathshead (who you will remember if you played the last game). Fighting alongside British pilot Fergus Reid and a greenhorn named Wyatt, Blazko succeeds in getting shot down and captured, and is then forced to make a sadistic choice before getting blown up and almost lobotomised.
The main events of The New Order take place 14 years later, when Blazko wakes up in an asylum and rescues his carer, Anya, from the Nazis, who he soon realises won the war and now control the entire world. What follows is a desperate fight to the death against the victorious war machine, led by Blazko, Anya and a surprising face from the series’ past. Quite unexpectedly, the story is actually pretty good. The writing is a tad macho and a little bit “ooh-rah” at times, but the script is above average and the voice work is always believable.
While Blazko represents America with all the snarling, drawling gusto you’d expect (while still being the most Aryan-looking non-Nazi ever born), it’s the rest of the cast that bring the personality. Fergus and his angst, Anya’s plot-convenient grief over her parents, and the troubles of the ragtag resistance combine to add colour to the decidedly black & white Evil Nazis vs. Good Everyone Else backdrop. A slightly out-of-place sex-scene and the sight of a cruel Nazi General dangling a crying baby by its ankle feel like steps too far in the wrong direction, but most of the time the brutal comedy has an Inglorious Basterds vibe that carries The New Order through.
The story is fairly hefty for a shooter, weighing in at 12-15 hours depending on difficulty and brimming with collectibles. It’s also replayable, as the aforementioned choice in the prologue decides which “timeline” you’re on, affecting Blazko’s skills, available routes through missions, certain characters and events, and the ending. Enigma codes scattered throughout levels must be deciphered to unlock four other modes, including Ironman and Hardcore mode. It’s a good thing MachineGames paid so much attention to the solo game, as The New Order features no multiplayer whatsoever. Relatively rare in an FPS these days, it’s actually quite refreshing to get such value and playability out of a campaign shooter.
The gameplay itself is also solid, but it’s worth getting the major gripe out of the way first: the AI. While I’ve yet to play a shooter with really good AI (Halo: Reach is probabaly top of the pile), The New Order is very hit and miss when it comes to enemy behaviour. Minute to minute it’s perfectly competent, as enemies use cover, flank you and gang up to take you down. If you’re seen by a Commander they will continuously radio for back-up until you kill them, meaning you need to take them out first, but the grunts make no effort to keep these tactically vital pieces alive; they even exhibit the same behaviour as their subordinates.
Worse, there are moments when the AI simply fails. On the odd occasion enemies will get stuck on walls or run out of cover for no reason. One level set inside a prison features melee-only enemies who will amicably attack you one at a time, very slowly, while you stick them with your combat knife. They are fairly tolerant of dead friends, too, wandering blithely past stealth-murdered comrades with barely a murmured curse. Strangely, though, it’s not game-breaking. The New Order remembers its roots, you see, and the bombastic, almost old-school shooting is so full of noise and flame and “die you Nazi scum!” moments that occasional AI blunders go almost unnoticed as you launch a one-man, dual-wielding assault on the entire Third Reich.
And what an assault it is. Mr. Blazkowicz is a borderline psychopath whose murderous rampages are only excused because he’s killing Nazis and Nazis deserve what they get. The alternate 1960 setting allows for pretty much whatever MachineGames feel like throwing at you at the time, from giant robot dogs to laser guns and tesla grenades. As a result, The New Order never gets boring, sharing similarities with under-appreciated last-gen blaster Singularity. New guns are introduced regularly, a favourite being the lazerkraftwerk rifle that doubles as a plasma cutter to carve your way through certain fences and alloy walls. It opens up a new way of thinking when you’re after the collectible treasures, records, character models, letters and enigma codes hidden around every level.
Guns have a satisfying impact as you leave your enemies as quivering piles of gooey appendages, though melee combat is less considered. A cool perk system rewards you passively as you play certain ways, unlocking upgrades based on Assault, Stealth, Demolition and Tactics. Getting ten headshots with a silenced pistol increases damage with said weapon, for example, while repeated grenade kills will increase your capacity to carry explosive ordnance.
Visually, the idTech 5 engine makes The New Order sing on PS4. Cutscenes are stunning, while the environments are beautifully grim throughout. The surroundings are highly detailed, and it skitters along at a rate of knots, suffering no slowdown or bothersome texture pop-in. Each mission has a different setting and style and, while some elements such as footlockers in barracks and furniture are re-used, environments aren’t overly similar.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is what it is and, more importantly, it knows that. Calling it big, dumb fun sounds a little condescending, but it fits a game that follows the Michael Bay formula of mixing explosions with explosions and filling in the cracks with reliable-but-cliched story beats and fast dialogue – which, in a quasi-Sci-Fi shooter like this, is absolutely appropriate. The lack of an online mode will harm sales, but the 30+ hours it will take you to see and find everything, along with the unlockable extra modes, does make up for it somewhat.
VERDICT: Though it falls foul to the old FPS bane of occasionally stupid AI, Wolfenstein delivers a story-driven campaign experience that manages to be less po-faced than Shadow Fall and more consistently enjoyable than either Ghosts or Battlefield 4. Killing Nazis never looked or felt so good and, let’s face it, what else really matters?
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.