Can you believe it's been 22 years since Wolfenstein 3D came out? Gaming has come a long way since. Truthfully, in some cases it's devolved into an uphill battle to see how far developers can push graphics. In most cases it's about bringing virtual worlds to life, beyond what a gamer in 1992 would have ever imagined possible. For Wolfenstein's Nazi-infested world, that's a horrifying thought.
Wolfenstein: The New Order's premise is simple: it's a game about you being an ultimate badass, a man who shrugs off bullet wounds, following up with an unloading of frustration on not-so-innocent Nazi soldiers. And boy is it fun.
In the beginning of your adventure Hitler's Third Reich conquers planet Earth in devastating fashion. They perform unspeakable things to those around you, and as a player you get to see some of it up close and personal. As you might imagine, it's easy to find desire within yourself to suffer through the struggle of being an underdog with impossible odds just to see if you have any chance at toppling the regime, or at least making a few officers pay for what they have done.
William "B.J" Blazkowicz is endlessly vengeful throughout the journey. To say that The New Order is brutal would be an understatement. Some of the material here will make you flinch, and maybe even close your eyes. The Nazis are sold as a group with no boundaries, and early on you meet one individual who clearly doesn't have any respect for human life. The narrative has a sluggish start, but after the prologue it feels like it keeps getting better as you progress through the journey. It presents clear objectives and makes your role in the world feel impactful. Yes, you'll spend some time doing small tasks including fetch quests, but for the most part it stays on-point with you operating as a highly adept killing machine.
Although you're in control of a lot of the action, the game's story is progressed through a plentiful share of pre-rendered cutscenes. These cutscenes are well made but have the unfortunate effect of taking big set pieces out of your hands, something most AAA games in the modern era try desperately to avoid. The New Order isn't necessarily trying to follow modern standards, though. It's a game that more than anything feels like an homage to classic FPS titles. The cutscenes are only one small example. Remember the days when you'd walk into a room full of health packs and ammunition? That's here in full force. Your health recharges but only ever so slightly.
As with the best of classic FPS games, the pacing is great. Wolfenstein might come across as an in-your-face shoot-em-up, but The New Order rewards you for being methodical. It's a challenging game when played on Medium or higher, and therefore you'd be best off leaning how to use B.J.'s stealth skills to knock out enemies when the opportunity arises. Equipped with throwing knives, takedowns, and a silenced handgun, you can get through most of the game's combat areas by being sneaky. Also, there are Commanders present in many of the enemy-infested areas which call in reinforcements when alerted. At the very least you should snipe or takedown these guys before they have a chance to make your job harder.
The weapon variety is good, not great. The game manages to present all of the basics, including an assault rifle, sniper rifle (which is underpowered), grenades, and even the ability to dual wield shotguns. A couple of these weapons evolve throughout the journey to be more potent. With no superpowers present and no weapon customization system, you're at the mercy of a fun to use but rather simple weapon arsenal to do the dirty work.
The weapon that quickly should become your favorite is the LKW, an item that begins as a wire cutter and soon becomes your go-to for taking out large enemies and navigating obstacles. In a way, it contributes to the game's flow which feels an awful lot like Half-Life and other classic shooters. Think of the LKW as the Gravity Gun (Half-Life 2) of Wolfenstein, although not quite that cool.
When it comes to challenging the game's ferocious enemies, you have options. The perk system lends itself to supporting a gameplay environment where you can approach objectives in different ways. Using stealth tactics will reward you with more knives you can carry, more damage with your silenced pistol, and several more upgrades. Meanwhile, playing the game as a cover shooter, which it's okay at, will reward you with tactical benefits. There are four trees including stealth, tactical, assault, and demolition, so you can change things up a bit if you get tired of doing the same thing repeatedly in combat. The system is simple and ever so slightly on the underdeveloped side, but it does enough to breed an environment that's dynamic and offers player choice.
This is a difficult game, so it'll actually be in your interest to expand your toolkit. Running in like a madman will let you knock out a few enemies in quick succession, but will leave you vulnerable to damage. As much of a beast as B.J. is, he can only take so many hits, especially in the case of the enemies equipped with rocket launchers and mini guns. If you die, you'll have to wait through some annoyingly long load times, so you'll be quick to learn that tactful play is the best approach.
Taking out Nazis is fluid and rewarding thanks to id Tech 5. Each weapon feels powerful, and more importantly feels cohesive when playing with either a controller or keyboard and mouse. Although, you might have some trouble with the assault rifle's limited vision thanks to its awful iron sight. You may find hip firing more reliable.
Unfortunately, The New Order's greatest weakness is one that unravels the experience in some cases. That weakness is the artificial intelligence. The A.I. isn't held to as high of a standard as the rest of the game. There are lightly armored Nazis, Nazis with tons of armor on, and Nazis commandeering mechanical armor. All of them look cool, and all of them are stupid and unpredictable. When stealthing, they'll sometimes ignore you when you're two feet in front of them. Other times they'll see you from across the room as if they have nightvision. During combat they disregard each other and behave erratically. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it ruins the immersion. It's a real shame.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a great demonstration of id Tech 5. The game's varied environments are rich with detail and supported by great lighting and effects. Playing on the Xbox One version, I didn't notice any times where the frame rate dropped, remaining at or near 60 at all times. The only sore spots are the texture resolution and facial animation, both of which are average at worst. If this is any indication of what Doom 4 will be like, gamers are in for a treat.
Without actively searching for extras you can get an easy 20 hours of entertainment from The New Order. If you decide you want to acquire collectibles and extras, which there are plenty of, that could increase into the realm of 23 or 25 hours. Some of these extras are particularly profound, although I'll avoid spoilers for your sake. Additionally, the game makes a conscious effort to give you a reason to play a second time. If you enjoy taking out Nazis, your stay may be a while.
As a result of Wolfenstein: The New Order's pacing and gameplay mechanics, it feels a lot more like a classic shooter than the games store shelves have been stuffed with for the past few years. It manages to remain interesting for most of the journey, presenting enough gameplay choice that the 20 hours don't feel like a grind. It's only when the A.I. falters that the game distances itself from you.
This isn't the second coming of Wolfenstein 3D, but it doesn't have to be. It's a simple and fun single-player shooter that has arrived to show that Wolfenstein is still relevant.
Jonathan Leack is the Gaming Editor for CraveOnline. You can follow him on Twitter @jleack.
Xbox One copy provided by publisher. Wolfenstein: The New Order is available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, PS3 and PS4.