Remember learning about how the Axis powers were able to overcome their Allies opposition and win World War II? No? That wasn't in your high school history books?
Well, that's no surprise seeing as that never happened. However, in Bethesda's new first-person shooter title, Wolfenstein: The New Order that is exactly what happens.
Nazi Germany wins the "War to End All Wars." Propaganda is plastered everywhere, mechanized monstrosities and sturmabteilung (German stormtroopers) roam the streets, and those who would speak out against their Nazi overlords don't last long. This is the world in which William "BJ" Blazkowicz, an American soldier who went MIA in 1946, finds himself. And if that name sounds familiar, that's because it's the same Blazkowicz who infiltrated Wolfenstein Castle and defeated Mecha-Hitler in the 1992 original Wolfenstein 3D.
Once snapping back to reality after more than a decade recuperating from a vegetative state in a Polish hospital, Blazkowicz does what he does best: fight Nazis. He doesn't do it because he's fighting with the grief of losing the war. He doesn't do it because he's struggling with his identity as a soldier from a fallen nation. He simply does it because that's all he's good for. It's a very 1992 way to approach a FPS protagonist, but it's very true to the source material, and it provides players with a storyline motivation that feels new and different in today's crowded FPS field.
Those who, like me, are old enough to remember playing the old MS-DOS game should enjoy how Wolfenstein: The New Order plays. Just as he did 24 years ago, Blazkowicz requires health packs to adequately heal himself (self-regenerating health is slow) and armor to keep sustained damage down. Furthermore, he can carry his entire arsenal of weaponry around with him at all times.
Firearms are loud and satisfying to shoot. Most can also be dual-wielded without any adverse affects of not looking down the sights to line up your shot. Enemy A.I. isn't especially sophisticated, but it can pose a challenge when you're under fire from a number of enemy soldiers and robots. Implementing some modern game mechanics to this 1992-inspired video game is a perks system allowing players to somewhat customize Blazkowicz via subtle perks and useful weapon upgrades. Add to all this well designed levels that flow well from corridors to wide open spaces and back and you've got yourself the recipe for a very good FPS title.
That recipe gets turns into a full-fledged meal once you consider the game's visual and audio presentation. The game looks, in a word, amazing. Environments are well-designed and really give the player that sense of what it could very well look like being in a world oppressed by the ironclad grip of the Nazis. Somber shades of grey concrete and industrial metal is often complimented only by the crimson and white of a swastika-clad banner - a scene unwelcome by most to be sure. The quality of how the environments and the characters are created really show off just how powerful the graphical capabilities are for today's new generation of gaming consoles.
Audio in Wolfenstein: The New Order follows suit. Not only does the soundtrack do a very good job of complimenting the on-screen action and mood, but the voice acting is surprisingly good. Blazkowicz (Brian Bloom) and his supporting cast are all believably represented without going too far over the top a-la 90's action flick. The same goes for The New Order's interesting cast of named antagonists including the gifted (but twisted) research doctor Wilhelm "Deathshead" Strasse (Kaspar Eichel/Dwight Schultz) and the boy toy loving Frau Engel (Nina Franoszek).
One final thing of note - and it's one that is truly rare with modern video games - is that Wolfenstein: The New Order has no multiplayer component. Then again, neither did games in the days when DOS dominated the PC scene. Those who play FPS games to be competitive against other players (or just to holler "your mom" insults over in-game chat) will probably be blindly complaining about this. The omission of multiplayer, however, takes nothing away from the game itself. This is a game that's meant to be played as a single-player experience through and through. Multiplayer would only cheapen that experience. For those wanting more, thankfully, developer MachineGames did include unlockable modes to give the campaign a decent depth of replayability.
The New Order gives new life to the Wolfenstein franchise - one which hadn't seen an entry since the underwhelming (and all but forgotton) Activision-published 2009 reboot. Giving the reboot the boot was a wise choice by Bethesda, as MachineGames' new title provides FPS fans with a game that does not disappoint while, at the same time, staying true to its action-hero roots.
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360
Rating: "M for Mature"
Score: 3.5 out of 4