Celebrated Nazi-killing war hero William "B.J." Blazkowicz has PTSD, and he’s not alone. Still battling a Nazi regime that won World War II thanks to advanced tech and merciless use of atomic weapons, Blazkowicz nonetheless has a weariness about him shared by more than a few of his fellow resistance fighters. He’s a man nearing the end of his rope, whispering to himself running missions out of a safe house in 1960s Berlin amid an atmosphere heavy with despair. The neck of the world is well and truly under the Nazis' mechanical jackboot, but where there is auto-shotgun dual-wielding, there is hope.
Story is not generally the strong suit of first-person shooters, but MachineGames’ proclamations that The New Order is an adventure as well as a gibsfest aren’t far from the mark, although gunning down Nazis still dominates proceedings. Its inspirations appear to have been games like Half-Life, Metro, and Chronicles of Riddick – certainly good company to keep.
Most of the game’s character work is done via B.J.’s hushed internal monologue, and also during playable interstitials at the resistance homebase. Both are nicely restrained, and for the most part effectively convey the game’s gloomy-yet-hopeful mood and flesh out B.J.’s allies. There’s tough-as-nails Scotsman Fergus Reid, wheelchair-bound matriarch Caroline Becker, young Harvard-educated US recruit Probst Wyatt, Polish love interest Anya Oliwa, former Nazi Klaus Kruetz, and others.
Although these sections eventually become too fetch heavy and plot- rather than character-focussed, they provide a welcome break from Nazi-murdering, and do wonders for the player’s investment in the pleasingly non-stereotypical cast. As you’d expect in a game about Nazis, the rogue’s gallery are a little more out-and-out monstrous, but still a colourful bunch you’ll take great pleasure in knifing through the windpipe.
Mechanically, The New Order is a largely familiar FPS (ladders are problematic, audio logs and notes are everywhere - the usual), but for the most part it’s an extraordinarily well-crafted one.
For starters, the sound design is fantastic. Doors shut with a clunk, gun reports are bass-heavy, bullets smack into flesh with a meaty thwack, and even things like levers have a satisfying heft. The soundtrack is also outstanding, a mix of gentle atmospherics, grinding industrial, and melodic guitars that perfectly complement the game’s gothic mechanical setting while never wearing the player down.
The New Order is also a striking looking game, its castles, outposts, and futuristic bases all beautifully detailed and far from generic. One of several highlights is the clean lines and stark black and white scheme of a fortress which is painted only by splashes of Axis blood and the red of its Nazi banners. Of course, some superbly fluid enemy animations help sell the whole thing.
There is a lot of cover in the game, but most weapons tear large holes in it in impressive fashion. They also tear holes in men – The New Order is very splattery. Blood coats nearby walls, chunks of meat erupt from disintegrating bodies, and graphic body trauma is never far away.
Aesthetics aside, a few design decisions make Wolfenstein a real pleasure to play. The ability to dual-wield most weapons is always going to go down a treat, but doing so removes any scope options and affects B.J.’s speed and jumping ability, so there is at least some trade-off. The game’s door breach mechanic also nicely balances risk and convenience by requiring the player to keep one hand on the switch to prevent the door from closing. To dash in or hang back?
It’s also possible to take the stealth approach to combat. B.J.’s ability to slide while running and also peek above, around, or under cover allows the player to get a fair handle on what they are facing, and from there some excellent level design makes the knife and silenced pistol avenue tricky, but still completely viable. Both the full noise and softly-softly path are thrilling, and gameplay challenges completed across both stealth and assault play styles afford the player passive perks that carry over the rest of the game.
Unfortunately, there are problems with the game’s AI that can ruin the player’s immersion and make things all too easy just as the intensity is ramping up.
Essentially, the awareness of enemies in some sections of the game is comically poor, and strangely, one of these sections is its sole forced-stealth sequence. There, prison guards gaze nonchalantly at recently shanked colleagues before shuffling off to their probable doom, in such a reverie that even the urgent barking of a dog mid-combat six feet behind them cannot grab their attention.
Sometimes it’s even possible to standing directly – and I do mean directly – in front of guards and not be seen, even if you happen to be gutting their gurgling friend an arm’s length in front of their oblivious faces. It’s all very odd, because much of the time guard detection works well. For example, enemy commander units can call in up to a dozen reinforcements if they so much as hear a rumour that the player has booted up the game.
B.J. may be a fire hydrant of a man, but he has little on the more heavily armoured threats he must face – enemies whose arrival at firefights triggers a lot of drastic backpedalling and fumbling about for ways to slow their thunderous onslaught. The intense, protracted wars against these metal menaces are thrilling, except that it’s sometimes too easy to coax them into a position from which you cannot be hit, but from which their defences may be slowly chipped away.
This is especially true during the game’s climatic final level, where overwhelming odds quickly become a formality when the player realises they can kite brutal enemies to a supremely advantageous position. Of course, you can simply choose not to do this, but it’s a shame it’s possible in the first place.
Even so, The New Order is a fantastic play. It’s well-paced, surprisingly subdued in places, and does a great job of maintaining a dark tone without feeling oppressive. Throw in plenty of nods to Wolfenstein 3D, some appropriately grotesque imagery, a timeline split that adds replayability, and some great Easter eggs, and the result is a terrific game that offers even more than the thrill of visiting vicious death upon scores of quasi-robotic Nazi bastards.