You occasionally get a game which, though it won’t push the medium of video games to new heights, knows exactly what it wants to be and is all the more fun for it. Wolfenstein: The New Order is one such game.
I’m an absolute sucker for alternate history stories, and Wolfenstein gleefully plays this card, with the allies losing the Second World War, and mounting one final desperate assault on Deathshead’s fortress castle. I picked the game up a little of the way in, as we came to the close of this prologue, with series mainstay, B.J. Blaskowicz, as part of the team.
Right away I got to enjoy some of the over-the-top action as we scaled the wall, a motorised handle in one hand, a machine gun in the other, tearing down soldiers as they popped their heads to take shots at us. This is a game which knowingly calls back to the old school of thinking, and it’s something which is just rammed home as soon as you discover that you can dual wield machine guns. It’s ridiculous, and absolutely fantastic.
This doesn’t mean that it’s a game without intelligence, though, and there is a surprising level of nuance to the game. Yes, you can pick up a cumbersome mounted heavy machine gun and make your way down the halls gunning everything down in sight, but you could just as well sneak through the slightly maze-like levels, and stab bad guys in the neck.
I hadn’t expected this kind of level design, I must admit, and though some sections were linear and pushed you down a certain path through NPC interactions and level design, others were nice and open. In the castle, I actually got a little lost, because of a multi-levelled design and interconnected rooms and corridors in which I had to kill a handful of enemies.
If you do choose this stealthier option then, should you go undetected, there will be fewer reinforcements. It’s sure to be a necessary tactic on higher difficulty levels, but my elephant-like clomping around was spotted far too often for my liking on normal difficulty. I did observe other players getting their stealthy kills in, so I know that it’s a very viable option.
Similarly, there’s a nice tone to the plot and story-telling in the game. Crashing into Deathshead’s laboratory, the team pays witness to some of his gruesome experiments. There are further delightfully creepy and unnerving moments when you meet Deathshead himself, encounter your first real cyborg enemy and the climactic moments of this prologue, in which you must make a choice which will affect the story deeper into the game.
It’s upon escaping the fortress that a piece of shrapnel leaves Blaskowicz in a vegetative state; sent to a mental asylum and looked after by a Polish doctor and his daughter. The years fly past, before you finally break out of this state during a particularly climactic event, and the plot picks up in the 1960s. Combined with Kris’ experiences with the game at E3, it’s looking like this game will really deliver on the plot side of things.
Escaping from the asylum again exposed the game’s openness with some aspects of level design, with corridors and a more open design through the use of glass. Again, I utterly failed at stealth in this area, resorting to gunning enemies down, who would come at me from many directions – including from behind.
The only real element I disliked from the game, was the use of a strange hot-wiring mini-game, to open a safe or a gate. You control the two analogue sticks and have to connect two wires consistently enough to complete it, but I just found it a bit wishy-washy.
Elsewhere, there’s a pleasing mix of the new and old. Your health can be “overcharged” through finding bit of food, or picking up health from downed enemies, and this counts back down to 100 at a steady rate. It also harkens back to the old Wolfenstein games, by having a myriad of collectable items to find, particularly gold bars and ornamental chalices or goblets.
I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the music, which I found quite excellently suited the aesthetic of the game. After the week at Gamescom, I’d find it very difficult to describe it, but I know I liked it, that it had acoustic guitars and also mixed this with more modern music to drive you forwards.
Honestly, I was quite pleasantly surprised by Wolfenstein: The New Order’s showing, as I simply wasn’t expecting it to feel so… right! It’s not pushing the boundaries of gaming, but MachineGames have found a fantastic mixture of new elements and old, and merged them with a clever story. It holds onto that feeling that yes, this is a Wolfenstein game all the way through.