Wolfenstein is a very important franchise in PC gaming history; not only did it put ID Software on the map but it ushered in the FPS genre in a real and meaningful way. Over the years, the Wolfenstein games have been revisited both by ID and other developers, including Gray Matter and Raven Software, but they never had the same impact as the original titles.
Now Wolfenstein is coming back with a new title helmed by Bethesda-owned developer Machine Games. The developer, made up of former Starbreeze (The Darkness, Riddick) employees, offered me an extended play-through of Wolfenstein: The New Order at PAX East. I can report that the game offers the promise of a new and focused experience for the franchise.
The story of Wolfenstein: The New Order is a continuation of original hero BJ Blazkowicz’s single-minded battle against the Nazis. In this game he is determined to find and kill General Deathshead. Deathshead is the sadistic scientist responsible for most of the worst atrocities in the Wolfenstein universe, and killing him will start an end to the war. BJ and his elite team are en route to Deathshead’s compound for an all-out assault that ultimately fails. Severely injured BJ convalesces for years in a hospital and comes back to his senses in 1960 discovering that the Nazis have won the war and the world is ruled by a new Nazi order.
The story, of course, is pulpy and seems to push a wide number of clichés, but having played over two hours of the game I can safely say it works. Focusing on a strictly single-player experience with no forced multiplayer, Wolfenstein: The New Order is able to concentrate on a story-based progression that brought me into the world like no other entry in the series. As I played through the beginning hours of the game cutscenes were triggered as I interacted with people I met. They triggered instantly and were effective in advancing the story and fleshing out the characters. There is plenty of other story-focused action that happens as you play, with your companions always in motion, speaking and trading stories or reacting to events as they occur. It was nice to see this in an FPS game as it made me want to keep progressing; I actually cared about the story and wanted to see more.
This being an FPS with the name Wolfenstein the main focus has to be the action experience and this title delivers in spades. As I played through the game I was struck by how visceral and weighty the action is. Part of this is because of the spot-on physics and tight controls, but the audio design is one of the real stars of the game and adds physicality to the action that is hard to describe. Weapons sound just right, grunts and hits feel real and the bass thrums with heavy machinery and robotic sounds. Playing through the early campaign the action was dynamic and frantic but I was immediately engaged and enjoyed playing it immensely.
To add some depth to the game without having multiplayer to lean on, the developer added a large array of perqs, which are unlocked and applied as you complete challenges. The perqs fall under different categories, so if you are playing a stealthy approach you unlock different perqs: throwing knives, adding a silencer to your gun and so on. These were instantly interesting, and even though I was in a timed play-through I found myself looking at the challenges and working towards them to unlock additional perqs. The system promises to add an obsessive depth to the game that I could see myself getting lost in and to me that means it works.
I played the game (which honestly seemed to be a full build) on a PlayStation 4 and I was very impressed with the graphic fidelity. The textures are frankly amazing and the effects are impressive and further the action in a satisfying way. I experienced no slowdown when playing even with many enemies on screen and plenty of bullets flying around the screen. Wolfenstein: The New Order is an over-the-top action game and I can say that when you are firing two guns at the same time at a pile of electro-Nazis with a silky framerate the game is just plain fun.
Before this playthrough Wolfenstein: The New Order wasn’t really on my radar, but having played the prologue and a chunk of the early game, I am eagerly anticipating its release. The action is solid and immensely enjoyable and the perq/challenge system is something I really want to keep digging into. The story also surprised me; it is a very mature stab at the Wolfenstein universe that does not shy from violence, surprises and Inglorious Basterds levels of storytelling. Put this all together and Wolfenstein: The New Order will surprise a lot of fans of the series as well as FPS players in general when it launches May 20.