I can give you an idea of what kind of game Wolfenstein: The New Order is in a few words: dual-wielded sniper rifles. Seriously. Now you might expect that to be a bad thing, but it isn’t. Silly, yes. Bad, no.
I’ve been a DOOM-head since the early nineties. I’ve played every Quake and Wolfenstein game that exists. Although I enjoyed DOOM 3 tremendously as a stand-alone title, it was still a disappointment when compared to its predecessors. And only the blindest of fans would claim Duke Nukem Forever was a great game. At the least, The New Order is the throwback game I wanted from DNF. At the most, it’s one of the best shooters in years.
Do you know what it reminded me of the most in terms of exhilaration? Bioshock Infinite. That’s how good it is. Hell, it’s easily the year’s best AAA title so far.
With a few tweaks, The New Order could be Inglourious Basterds: The Video Game. You play William B.J. Blazkowicz whose favorite pastime is killing Nazis. The game opens in 1946 and the first thirty minutes of the game aren’t very impressive. It feels like Return to Castle Wolfenstein Lite, to be honest. Then, after a laboratory explosion leaves a chunk of shrapnel in B.J.’s skull, the character spends the next fourteen years comatose in a mental hospital. He wakes up just in time to slay the Nazis who have orders to shut the hospital down. In this version of 1960, the Nazis have won the war. The Americans surrendered after the bomb was dropped on New York. Famous songs of the 60s now have Nazi counterparts (see above video for House of the Rising Sun).
Severely culture-shocked, B.J. interrogates a Nazi commander with a chainsaw in order to find out where the members of the resistance are being held. Naturally, he breaks them out and finds himself battling the baddies all over the world… and the moon. Yes. The moon.
Now, I wouldn’t say these are brilliantly written characters, but for a (former) id title, it’s got character in spades. B.J. is a surprisingly sympathetic killing machine and his love interest—the woman who took care of him while he was in a coma all those years—is quite believably rendered both in appearance and voice. Having played Rage, I’m completely surprised by how real these characters seem in id Tech 5, even if they are presented as little more than caricatures. I liked these characters. They weren’t just excuses to further the Nazi-slaughtering action. I have a feeling the writers fleshed these characters out a lot more behind the scenes because, while they appear simple, they don’t feel simple.
Take, for instance, the paraplegic Caroline Becker. When she and B.J. are reunited in 1960, they take turns listing their injuries and injustices in an attempt to one-up the other. The pissing contest is concluded with a hug, at which point Caroline says, “Good to see you, William.” For all the people complaining the game is short on character, I think they’re missing the point. That’s not what the game wants to be—it’s the equivalent of complaining about the character development in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. As for what the game wants to be, it rises well above the call of duty.
Which isn’t to say the game is flawless. You’ve no doubt heard a lot of reports the game isn’t as linear as the demo which journalists first saw a year or two ago. These reports are misleading. You’re constantly told what to do in great detail by another character(“B.J.! Get up to that ventilation shaft and try to ambush the bastards!” etc.). On top of that there’s almost always a little beacon pointing you towards an easy-to-miss objective. I understand younger gamers don’t have the patience for getting stuck the way those of us older gamers do, but I do miss not having my hand held through each and every turn. Even so, there are a lot more secrets and hidden power-ups than any other game in recent memory. Completists certainly have their work cut out for ’em.
As for the multiplayer? There isn’t any. I can’t say I had a lot of fun with DOOM 3’s multiplayer and what they tacked onto Rage wasn’t even worth the bandwidth. I can’t say I expected an id title to lack multiplayer, but I’m not missing it. They focused on what really counts: a kick-ass game with very little fat.
What makes the game really special is the way it feels, something that doesn’t translate well to trailers and Twitch streams. You’ve got to play it yourself to truly appreciate it. And whereas there are so many games I don’t even play to the end, I have a feeling I’ll start this one a second time. Maybe that’s the DOOM-head talking, but I have the feeling a lot of id-virgins will feel the same. This certainly ain’t Call of Duty and I can only hope “The New Order” refers to a new trend in first person video games.