The theme of rewriting history – for the sheer fun of it – runs through Wolfenstein: The New Order like the words through a stick of rock. Even before you play it, there’s the awareness that it’s a reboot of the first-ever first-person shooter: 1992’s Wolfenstein 3D. And then there’s its deliciously naughty narrative premise: imagine what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War II? Blend the best elements of that overriding theme together, and what you get is a slab of mainstream entertainment that could teach Hollywood a thing or two.
The action starts in 1946, with the Allies losing the war. As ever in a Wolfenstein game, you play BJ Blaskowicz, a classic US jarhead who is involved on a last-ditch assault on the schloss-like headquarters of General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse. Things don’t go according to plan, saddling Blaskowicz with a huge moral dilemma along with near-terminal head-trauma, and he wakes up in 1960 to a world entirely subjugated by the Nazis. Which is when the fun really starts.
MachineGames hasn’t ignored the Wolfenstein legacy – for example, you still have to collect every unspent bullet and shred of armour from dead enemies to stand a chance of survival – but it has, wisely, chosen to make a game more in the image of those which its employees worked on in the past, namely The Chronicles Of Riddick and The Darkness. Thus, you get a hefty dose of weird and quirky narrative, underpinned by state-of-the-art first-person shooter gameplay, which refuses to become one-paced but works in elements of stealth (surprisingly prominently) and basic puzzle-solving, while keeping the main action thoroughly over-the-top.
Wolfenstein: The New Order certainly doesn’t exercise any restraint gameplay-wise. You can, for example, dual-wield pretty much any weapon, including giant automatic-fire shotguns loaded with shrapnel bullets. The Nazis-in-the-60s storyline supports all manner of genetically-enhanced, heavily armoured super-soldiers, robotic dogs and giant steampunk bosses, but also provides plenty of humour and, improbably, a love story. The action isn’t even confined to the surface of this planet.
The end result is a B-movie romp which actually feels an awful lot more believable, say, than Inglourious Basterds, and has the added advantage of putting you in control of all the action, which is agreeably varied, and has a real ebb and flow to it. There’s way more subtlety to the gameplay than you would anticipate – for example, there’s a “Perks” system, which gives you new abilities according to how you play – and the lack of an online side is cleverly mitigated by the presence of two alternative time-lines that completely change the game according to the decision you make in the moral dilemma presented to you in the prologue level.
You couldn’t say that Wolfenstein: The New Order is a full next-gen game; although it looks great, it’s obviously an upscaled Xbox 360/PS3 game in visual terms. But it’s so consistently enjoyable, and such a beautifully honed and well-thought-out modern take on what is essentially old-school first-person shooting, that it leaves you wondering whether we really need an ever more powerful arms-race of new consoles. If ever there was a gamer’s game, this is it.
Reviewed by Steve Boxer