Wolfenstein The New Order Review: Killing Nazis On The Moon And Loving Every Story-Driven Minute Of It

By Alex Riviello , Updated May 20, 2014 12:02 AM EDT

As you may have heard, Wolfenstein: The New Order sees you fighting through an alternate past where the Nazis have won World War II. You awaken to a terrifying version of 1960 where the Germans have taken over the world with technology far superior to our own, and you join the resistance, fighting against giant Nazi robots, hulking mutant brutes, and playing with laser weapons as you bounce your way around a Nazi moon base. The game also features incredibly well-developed characters, a thrilling story and a powerful, compelling narrative.

Wait… what?

But it’s true- the one thing that will stun you while playing this game is how well it drags you into the story. This world is remarkable well-realized and the characters that populate it are too, and seeing the way these two seemingly disparate themes mesh together is even more stunning because it’s so unexpected. Unlike Return to Castle Wolfenstein, which was based on the Nazis playing with the supernatural and creating all manner of unearthly beings to help them in their quest for world domination, The New Order is remarkably science-based. Ridiculous, sure, but still based in a reality… albeit one decades ahead of our own. You’ll learn to ignore the scifi aspects because the characters themselves treat it so matter-of-factly. Who would have thought they would ever play Wolfenstein straight?

The main praise goes to well-directed cutscenes involving Captainid B.J. Blazcowicz, who is portrayed as more of a real person than almost any other videogame protagonist in recent memory. His whispered narrative brings you deep into his head and feels reminiscent of the main characters from Jacob’s Ladder or Combat Shock, the words of a man who’s seen too much and knows there’s no going back. He offers contemplative ruminations on the essence of man, of war, of life and its meaning.

And then you’ll blow Nazis the fuck in half with laser weapons.

This game uses id Tech 5 so you know it looks great, and the shooting parts are excellent. Even id Software's last game Rage (which was a hideous misfire), treated its weaponry like the rightful star of the game, and here you’ll get plenty to play with.

Weapons have delightfully chunky sounds to them, and the sounds of your bullets decimating Nazis, well, it’s almost poetry. A wise man once said that with the possible exception of zombies, Nazis are the perfect videogame protagonist, because you feel absolutely no remorse in killing them. It’s certainly true here, which is a good thing because the damage you inflict to these people would be horrifying otherwise. The damage modeling is unparalleled, allowing you to blow off limbs and shoot through torsos and see everything that should be on the inside of a person rendered in perfect bloody clarity.

The game throws lots of fun enemies at you but is never cheap with them, although switching weapons on the fly with the weapon wheel is a bit of a pain since the game doesn’t pause when you try to do so. The AI isn’t the sharpest around but blowing people into small chunks never gets old, even when you fight armored enemies that require some better aim and flanking. The game does get bogged down near the end, however, when your strong weapons have to be charged at battery stations and you find yourself running from combat in order to sit and recharge your guns. The combat slows to a crawl here and the last few big battles are more annoying than they should be, but fortunately on the way to them there’s no shortage of thrilling sections to play through, each new one seemingly trying to top the previous one.

Lots of games try to offer you choices of how you play it but here you really can do it however you like. I played through most of my first run-through being stealthy, stabbing Nazi commanders in the back and slitting the throats of Nazi robot dogs in their sleep. If you want to sneak, you can sneak, but if you’d prefer to go in guns a-blazing, you can do that too. It’s not even ten minutes into the game when you’re given two rifles to dual-wield and told to go to town, and while you can use a silenced pistol you can also use two automatic shotguns. (The deafening storm of holding down both triggers on the latter may or may not have elicited a cackle of glee from the author.) The choice is yours, and there are perks (and trophies/achievements) to earn depending on your playstyle.

While the whole game offers you an alternate timeline there are actually two different ones to pick. At the end of the prologue you are given a decision to make and depending on what you choose you’ll have different abilities and see a completely different story through the rest of the game. Fortunately everything you earn on one playthrough carries over to the others, even on different difficulty levels, so you certainly will want to go back. There’s plenty of collectibles to find as well, including some codes that can be decoded in order to unlock new game modes. You’ll even be able to find a throwback to the first Wolfenstein 3D, the entire first level rendered faithfully in a hidden mission, secret walls and all.

But what’s most remarkable about this title is how affecting it is. How can a game that lets you explore a London ruined by giant robots and that throws a villain at you called General Deathshead (who lives up to his name) make you care so deeply for its characters? Perhaps there is some sorcery in this game after all.

In any case, this is a triumphant return for the series, a second reboot that is as well-deserved as the first. Welcome back, Wolfenstein.

 Wolfenstein: The New Order is now available for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, and PC. This review was based on a PS4 retail copy provided by the publisher. Note that people lamenting the lack of a multiplayer component can find a beta code for the upcoming DOOM in it.

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