'Wolfenstein: The New Order' is out on all major formats on 20 May 2014.
- 15-20 hours single-player campaign
- Five difficulty modes and unlockable extra modes
- Vehicle sections, lots of guns, trip to the Moon
- You get to shoot Nazis
Let's get one thing straight: 'Wolfenstein' is about shooting Nazis. And while any sane person can now regard World War Two with an awareness of the complexity of its historical and emotional context, and debate with meaning and insight about how the crimes and labels and ethics of war permeate across nations and time, and how any understanding of genocide is impossible without despair at its essential, unknowable horror, and how Nazi iconography has mutated across the decades into weird artefacts like, well, Wolfenstein, people still want to shoot Nazis. This game lets you shoot Nazis. That is why it exists.
That was true in 1992 with 'Wolfenstein 3D', a classic which prefigured Doom with its ground-breaking 3D maze graphics (only you had to kill Mecha-Hitler at the end). And it is still true 22 years and several reboots later. This is a game about killing people with Swastikas on their armbands, who also happen to be robots sometimes. (Except, thanks to the law, in certain parts of Europe, of course, where the Nazis are simply 'the Regime').
While 'Wolfenstein: The New Order' is in many ways a pretty conventional modern first-person shooter, if you approach it in this way - with a due sense of contextual hesitation - it works.
As ever in Wolfenstein you play William "BJ" Blazkowicz, a Polish-American meathead army captain toiling against Nazi Germany. This time, however, the story takes place in an alternate-history world, which is based on one of the least subtle 'what ifs' ever conceived. Namely: 'what if the Nazis won the war? Also the Nazis have robot dogs?'
In the story, BJ suffers amnesia during a last-ditch assault on a Nazi castle, and ends up in an asylum for 14 years. He awakes in 1960, only to find three quarters of the globe occupied by said Nazis, and Nazi robots. He (we) are then tasked with fighting through a range of prisons, labour camps, secret bases and eventually even the Moon, to try and restore the resistance as a going concern. Along the way he falls in love, makes life and death decisions, and engages in all the same melodrama that video games tend to employ when they want to tell and tell a sympathetic story from the perspective of a dead-eyed psychopath like Captain BJ.
All of which is a shame, frankly, because the game is at its worst when trying to inspire sympathy, or real horror, at either Blazkowicz's tale, or what the Nazis were and represent. The parts of the game which attempt to reflect, comment on or even reference the true crimes of the regime, or our own forces, fall flat (at best... the labour camp stuff is borderline offensive, in my view) because the rest of the game is so clearly ludicrous. With one exception, all of the Nazis in the game are either inhuman monsters or faceless automatons. The darkest lesson about the Nazis, one could argue, is that in most cases neither was true.
Anyway, that aside, the game is pretty good. Graphically it's nothing special, even on the next gen machines, but it's nice looking overall and the environments are varied. The action is non-stop, and the weapons are meaty -- especially since you can dual-wield almost anything. Most of the enemies fall pleasingly easily, and the tougher moments are rarely that frustrating. There are a couple of neat mechanics - a laser cutter which provides access to new areas, a subtle take on an old school health meter (which refills by degrees) and a 'kill the commander' stealth mechanic which rewards thoughtful play. When you allow yourself to forget the story and just storm into an area, fully armed, and slay Nazi scum like a lunatic, it's got a real sense of dumb momentum, and its enjoyable enough to play more than once (the presence of unlockable modes and collectibles help too). Shame there's no multiplayer.
In one sense, then, 'Wolfenstein: The New Order' is still a missed opportunity, because it fails to really have the strength of its convictions. It tries to be dumb and clever at the same time, and sort of misses being either.
But in another sense, this was only ever really going to be a game about shooting Nazis on the Moon. And it is, undeniably, a game about shooting Nazis on the Moon, and in a prison, and a death camp, and an asylum, and a train station for some reason. It is satisfying and hollow, and stylish and disgusting, and it clearly can't quite cope with how over-the-top idiotic it really is, but I finished it and I liked it, and it meant almost nothing and I shot a lot of Nazi robot dogs.