Wolfenstein: The New Order
Reboots are a tough thing to approach, especially when you're a new developer. The pressure on developers to meet the expectations of fans of a series can be overwhelming at times especially on a franchise like Wolfenstein which has helped shape the kind of gaming experiences we have today.
It's a really good job that MachineGames, despite being a new studio, has a wealth of experience in building unique and exciting FPS games. A large contingent of the good folks at MachineGames have come from Starbreeze and worked on both The Chronicles Of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay and The Darkness so they really do know how to build a cracking FPS.
With Wolfenstein: The New Order, MachineGames has taken a completely fresh approach that pays respect to the series heritage while offering up a new and very next-gen type of experience.
It was quite a risky proposition though. The bulk of the game is set in an alternative vision of the 1960s; one where the Nazis won World War II and proceeded to crush the whole world under their cruel jackboots. MachineGames also took the bold decision to make Wolfenstein a completely single-player experience as the ultimate nod to the original Wolfenstein 3D.
The series' hero BJ Blaskowizc wakes up from a 14-year coma to discover the Nazis violently closing down the mental institution where he has spent most of his time comatose.
During the assault BJ suffers the head injury that knocks him out for 14 years but not before MachineGames force players to make a tough choice between the lives of two comrades, Fergus Reid and Probst Wyatt. Fergus is grizzled veteran RAF man from Glasgow and Wyatt is a scared young private who Fergus and BJ take under their wing during the assault.
This choice is not cosmetic choice by any means. Whoever you choose to live will teach you a different skill (either hotwiring for Fergus or lockpicking for Wyatt) that will open up different paths through the levels ahead as well as differing interactions an characters throughout the story.
It's quite clever as it does add a bit of replayability to the game especially seeing there is no multiplayer.
There are lots more clever little details throughout the game from characters quoting lines from Wolfenstein 3D to the entire first episode of the original game available as playable dream sequence. Even the final boss battle is designed in a way similar to one of the most iconic boss battles from Wolfenstein 3D.
The story is crammed with references to other things too. The gentle giant Max Haas who is one of the members of the resistance is The New Orders version of Game Of Thrones' Hodor and the resistance is the future remnants of the Kreisau Circle who BJ works with during Raven's two games, the excellent Return To Castle Wolfenstein and the less enjoyable Wolfenstein. There's even a rather brutal incident with a chainsaw in reference to DOOM.
And speaking of references, BJ also gets his hands on a cutting torch inspired by Half-Life 2's Gravity Gun. This can cut through chain-link fences and, later on, metal gratings as well as morphing into a powerful weapon in its own right which can make short work of the Nazis' armoured and mechanised units like the Supersoldat.
References are all well and good but a decent storyline needs good gameplay mechanics to back it up and The New Order has it by the skip-load.
MachineGames has empowered players with multiple options on how to approach the game's missions. There's an entertaining stealth mechanic with silenced pistols and knives. There's the solid option to use single weapons and ironsight view like Call Of Duty aided by a nice free-look cover mechanic engaged by holding down L1 (on PS4) and peeking out using the right thumbsitck. The most ridiculous option is the ability to dual-wield almost every weapon in the game and go on an all-out run-and-gun assault.
Each works well and they are padded out by a perk-tree that unlocks additional skills for completing certain tasks. Throwing knives are unlocked by getting five stealth kills with the knife for instance. It's a nice little way of rewarding players for playing the game the way they want to.
Wolfenstein: The New Order, while having a very dark and grey look to it, is exquisitely rendered. The choice to use id Tech 5 was a very shrewd one as it is scaleable enough to offer a very sumptuous 1080p 60fps experience on next-gen machines and PC while skill affording the power to give Xbox 360 and PS3 gamers a good show too.
On the PS4 the game is a silky smooth experience and proves that cross-generational games can offer both generations of console an excellent experience without sacrificing the experience on the more powerful next-gen hardware.
There are more thoughtful moments that remind you that this isn't just a silly over-the top shooter and it is based on one of the darkest periods in recent history. The concentration camp mission, for example, serves as a stark reminder of the sheer barabarity of the Thrid Reich. The New Order is scattered with other moments that give a little bit of pause just to reflect on the slightly deeper implications of the Nazis willing WWII before plunging you back into the action.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is in places utterly ridiculous and yet manages to be so without being disrespectful to the historical matter on which the story is based or the legacy of the franchise. It also manages to prove wholeheartedly that there is room for a good old-fashioned single-player FPS romp in this brand new world of multiplayer-only shooters like Titanfall and Destiny. I just can't wait to see what MachineGames do next.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is out now on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox 360.