It seems to me that The New Order’s biggest point of inspiration is the final boss of Wolfenstein 3D. Though set during World War II, it featured the creation of an undead army and finished off with Blazkowicz facing off against an exoskeleton wearing, quad-chaingun wielding Mech-Hitler. In other words, it was fanciful and bombastic silliness of the highest order.
Though I’d already seen some parts of this game before at Gamescom, sitting down with it from the very beginning managed to demonstrate MachineGames’ mastery of the source material all over again.
What I played wrapped around my previous game time with more content, starting from the game’s opening. Though the plot soon skips forward to 1960, the game’s alternate universe picks up in 1946 with the Axis in the ascendancy and a final, last ditch counter-attack at Deathshead’s heavily defended fortress going ahead despite having next to no chance of success. They’re hopelessly outmatched in every regard by the Nazi forces, with jet-powered planes outclassing anything the Allies can make use of, robotic dogs and even the gigantic, three-legged Monitors with huge tesla-based weapons.
It’s against this that the unlikeliest of assaults very nearly succeeds. The aerial assault leads via several cinematic and hilariously ridiculous moments to trench fighting, as you battle your way to the castle walls. It’s here that you’re introduced to a rather more open and free-form style of combat than you might be expecting from the game, as it shifts regularly between different styles of encounter.
Quite often, you’ll be dropped into a small sandbox, given the option to proceed stealthily, go in guns blazing or a mixture between the two. Each area is cleverly designed with this in mind, and you can often find secret passages or hidden entry points to get the upper hand. A noise indicator gives you the difference but not the direction of nearby enemy units, while a 360° lean function lets you peak around corners, over cover and even under some doors. It’s a great tool in a gunfight, too.
The gunplay manages to stand apart from the crowd, with some clever twists and throwbacks to the roots of the genre. On the one hand, it’s exactly what you’d expect it to be, with the first time you get to dual wield guns a particular highlight, but the return to a finite health system means that you’ll often have to take a more considered approach than otherwise. Depending on how you play, you’ll accomplish objectives that unlock perks under Tactical, Assault and Demolition headings. Get 10 silent takedowns and you’ll unlock throwing knives, manage to get a double kill with a single grenade and you’ll be able to throw back grenades.
Whether you aim for stealth or not, you’ll ideally take out the enemy commanding officers quietly or early on in a gunfight. Doing so stops enemy reinforcements coming in, so there’s a big advantage to going through quietly and it means that the next time I gobbled down a plate of Bratwurst, slapped on my 6th helmet in a row or just found a one of the numerous health pack, it was overcharging my health and not just restoring it to 100.
Sometimes you will need everything you can get. As you just manage to escape the castle, a piece of shrapnel sends Blaskowicz into a vegetative state for the next 14 years. It’s only during some particularly traumatic events, as the asylum is being violently shut down, that Blazkowicz wakes up. Thankfully, he’s managed to keep in pretty great shape while being sat in a wheelchair for years on end, and after a minor moment of wobbliness and the occasional moment of blurred vision, it’s back to being as awesome as ever.
Rescuing the asylum doctor’s daughter is the order of the day at this point, but technology has moved on, with flying drones a much trickier opponent to take down than the average enemy soldier. The scale ramps up though, and later on I found a particularly challenging mini-boss fight, facing off against a pair of hulking robots. It took me several attempts to find the best way of hurting them, by using heavy weapon emplacements, but was indicative of the problem that MachineGames have in balancing the difficulty around a non-regenerative health system.
With these enemies, it felt like running to the heavy laser gun was the only option and one that I discovered on my third or fourth attempt, but I wasn’t able to back away and heal while out of sight. It was essentially a do or die encounter, and a potentially frustrating situation that I can see cropping up a few times through the game, very much at odds with the more obvious choices you face when you enter a combat area.
What delighted me at every turn was the plot, script and characterisation. The jump forward in time is a clever one, allowing MachineGames to shift the game away from the occult and supernatural elements of before to the retro sci-fi stylings of this alternate universe, with robots, mechs, lasers and more to hand.
However, it also features wild swings in tone, with some outstandingly creepy encounters juxtaposed against moments of humour, slower paced moments which give a welcome break from the action, and a cast of larger-than-life characters that just make sense in the context of this game. Alongside those returning from previous games, Fergus Reid is sure to become a fan favourite NPC, as the grizzled and audacious Scottish war veteran.
This is a game full of water-cooler moments, from the first time you meet the wonderfully unsettling caricature that is Frau Engel to the moment-to-moment sandbox gunplay, that could easily turn out to be one of the must-have games of the summer.