World War II has been fairly fertile ground for both film directors and game developers to ply their trade. Some of my favorite movies are set during WWII: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Inglourious Basterds, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List and 1941 are some of my favorites. In video games I have stormed Normandy beach in at least two different games, parachuted into France, defended Pearl Harbor, shot my way through Nazi U-boats, and chased diesel powered Panzers across every type of terrain.
Even some of the greatest comic book characters, like Magneto and Captain America, got their start in the Second World War. Modern pop culture exists only because the Nazis were stopped. A lot of games have put players in the war, but few games pursue the horrible alternate outcome of that war. What would have happened if the Nazis had won the war?
Wolfenstein veteran, B.J. Blazkowicz, and his group are on a desperate all or nothing assault on the island compound of Nazi General Deathshead near the end of 1946. The war has been extended due to the sudden, drastic improvement of Nazi technology, and the allies are losing the war. After their plane is taken down by flak, Blazkowicz, Captain Fergus Reid, and Private Wyatt silence the guns, crack the doors, and storm Deathshead’s castle with the intention of putting a bullet in that fucker’s head. Deathshead, however, is ready for them and he forces our hero to make a terrible choice that will affect the rest of the game.
The House of the Rising Sun
Blazkowicz was taken out of the war that day in 1946 by a 4 inch piece of shrapnel in his brain. The year is 1960, and Blazkowicz has spent the last fourteen years in a Polish sanitarium as a giant vegetable. Deathshead has been using this asylum as a farm for experimental subjects, but eventually orders the place shut down and the remaining patients executed. The husband and wife staff interferes with a soldier’s duty and are executed as well, leaving only the daughter, Anya, to answer to a Nazi officer named Keller. However, Blazkowicz snaps into action just as his turn for a bullet comes up. Armed with a steak knife and the soldier’s pistol, he fights his way outside to save the girl.
The duo find temporary refuge at the home of Anya’s grandparents. Blazkowicz learns the horrible truth of how much time he has lost and that the shadow of the Third Reich now covers the entire world. Even the Americans capitulated after atomic fire rained down on New York. Blazkowicz interrogates a stowaway senior Nazi officer, with a chainsaw, and discovers that the remnants of the Resistance are being held in a prison in Berlin. So it’s up to Blazkowicz to single handedly break into a super-prison, restart the resistance, beat the Reich into submission, and finish off Deathshead. You didn’t think it was going to be easy, did you?
I Rode a Tank, Held a General’s Rank
Swedish developer, MachineGames, has taken the reins from id Software for the ninth installment of Wolfenstein. The game is presented in the classic id FPS style that Quake, Doom, and Wolfenstein vets will immediately recognize. Although MachineGames has abandoned the supernatural in favor of the technological in this installment, The New Order is definitely a Wolfenstein game.
This is not an open world game. Like every other game in the series, Wolfenstein: The New Order features very linear levels but often rewards exploration of the levels with powerups and collectibles. Game environments include a London Museum, Berlin prison, Croatian labor camp, underground train depot, the Gibraltar Bridge, castles and underground headquarters....oh, and the moon. The environments are very well rendered and, quite often, visceral.
The graphics, overall, are very good: not quite Crysis 3 on the pc, but very close for a console. The character models are especially striking, detailed, and memorable. The facial detail is remarkable, even very close up, as well as the details on clothing, the Panzerhunds, mechanical devices...even the fucking water looks spot on.
Haben Sie Glück, Punk fühlen?
It ain’t a shooter without the guns and, for the most part, the armory is standard fare: pistols, shotguns, sniper rifles, grenades, etc. Minigun turrets are featured in the prologue, but once Blazkowicz hits the 60s, those miniguns become rapid-fire energy weapons. These energy guns can be removed from their turrets to get mobile with the death-dealing. Simply place the gun back on the turret to refill spent ammunition.
Once inside the labs in the London Nautica building, Blazkowicz can retrieve the Kraftwerk Laser. The laser serves two functions: cutting chains and turning Nazis into a mess of red goo. The Kraftwerk can be continually upgraded, all the way to the end of the game, and almost always occupied my second weapon slot. Most weapons have an unlockable secondary function: assault rifles get missiles, shotguns get ricochet ammo, etc. Punching right on the D-Pad, on the XB1, activates the secondary function.
Tell Me a Story, I Won’t Leave Till You Spill Your Guts, Old Man
Historically, id doesn’t get hung up on balancing the shooter experience with a quality narrative. I honestly can’t remember the storyline for Quake or Hexen, but I do remember that they were fun as hell to play. Even Wolfenstein’s publisher, Bethesda, has been hit and miss as a storyteller. The narrative does not take a backseat in this shooter, and MachineGames has provided plenty of contextual ammunition to propel our hero’s actions. The story is, by no means, a New York Times bestseller, but it’s better than most of the shit that Hollywood is shoveling in our direction these days. The narrative provides motivation, context, progression, immersion, and closure. It hits all the right chords and climaxes perfectly. MachineGames set me in an alternate timeline, in Europe, and made it feel natural. Not bad for a video game.
The antagonists in Wolfenstein are scene-stealers of the very best kind. Frau Engel comes off as entitled, sadistic, and in love with herself. Bubi is her sycophantic, bourgeois boyfriend who lives to validate Frau Engel’s every utterance. Several of the lesser baddies, like The Knife, had a good measure of enthusiasm poured into the voice performances, but the dude who played Deathshead knocked it out of the park. Part mad scientist, part sarcastic dick, Deathshead is one of those antagonists who has to be put down, but you almost hate to see him go.
You Knew It Was Coming
I like Wolfenstein: The New Order, but that doesn’t mean that it’s a perfect game. I’ve played enough id shooters and have had my fill of being funneled through linear environments that corral me into the place that the dev wants me to be. The different perks given to our protagonist, either lockpicking or hotwiring, depending on the player’s choice in the prologue, opened up an alternate option on some levels. It’s a big world that begs to be explored: perhaps it’s the mark of a good game that makes you want to see more of it....but I wanted to see more of it. Another point of contention is that the game would choose what weapons I started a new area with, often changing my weapons just by walking into a new room. I had run out of ammo for the sniper rifle on the Gibraltar bridge and it kept sticking that same empty fucking gun in my hand. Yeah, nice try.
The lack of any cooperative or multiplayer game types might be a dealbreaker for fans of games like Titanfall. If you’re looking for an online shooter to play with some friends, keep looking. Wolfenstein is a single player experience.The game also features multiple depictions of sex and the f-bomb is dropped quite frequently, so don''t pop Wolfenstein in for the kids thinking that it earned its M-Rating for a little bit of violence.
If you’re a fan of old school id shooters then picking up Wolfenstein: The New Order is a no-brainer. It looks good, the gameplay is tight, the story is compelling, and it entertains and immerses like a good game should. The game strikes a good balance between stealth and shooter combat . There are only two games on the XB1 that I have given a perfect score to, and this is one of them. I hope you pre-ordered this one, because reserved copies have a beta code for the new Doom game. Even without the beta, Wolfenstein is worth the sixty bucks. Now go kill some Nazis.