Even to this day, I’m still kind of stunned that Machine Games Wolfenstein: The New Order is quite this well written and designed as a game.
Wolfenstein is the literal grandaddy of shooting games. You are B.J Blascowicz. A man with a gun, shooting from the first person.You shoot Nazis. Till there are no more. Sometimes the Nazis have magic, sometimes super science, sometimes both. You shoot them till they fall over.
TNO is much the same. Except it’s all wrapped up in a slick package of sharp gameplay and arresting art style, while telling the story of how Resistance is a draining and dehumanising effort in the face of such awful organised hate.
The game has some excellent Narrative Storytelling and characterisation. There are a few hit or miss moments, especially concerning an end game power upgrade, but otherwise Wolfenstein does an excellent job of selling the tiny moments of humanity in an unending conflict.
In between missions BJ will return to the Resistance base. This gives the player a brief moment of respite between the endless (fun) shooting. Talking to the Resistance fighters, exploring the space they’ve carved out for themselves. Each character is unique, with their own foibles and quirks. Obviously there’s some stellar work in the voice acting here to credit that to.
It makes a marked difference to the concrete and propaganda of the rest of the world. Outside is cold and dark. Filled with faceless hordes of Nazis.
Yet even among the hordes, Wolfenstein manages to use some fantastic environmental and narrative techniques to present some of the most repellent villains in any game I’ve played.
Early on, BJ will get on a train. While getting Coffee late at night, he will be waylaid by the story’s villain. The player will be active for all of this. Literally trapped, the player can only play along and hope that their disguise doesn’t fall apart. It’s tense, and horrifying, as well as intensely uncomfortable.
As introductions to villains go, Wolfenstein The New Order has one of the best. There’s a truly chilling progression of hostilities as the game goes on too. That early encounter lends a personal effect to the whole thing.
The storytelling is the high point, but it’s hard to not emphasise just how enjoyable playing the game is.
Guns feel weighty and powerful. The differing types all feel useful in any given situation. Part of this is in the approach to encounter design, which will normally allow for a stealthy approach, or will provide the player with enough breathing space to actually plan.
On top of this, the different levels feel distinct, even in the uniform architecture of Nazi Europe, and each level has a thematic point that really helps in that regard.
The whole game is just an excellent gem, polished to a sheen. Available on PC, PS4 and Xbox One, the October 2017 follow-up Wolfenstein: The New Collosus will take the fight to a fascist occupied America.
What a quaint idea.