How do you make a series like Wolfenstein relevant today? It’s a harder question than you might think, and one Bethesda and id Software have been struggling with for years. They might have finally cracked the answer with Wolfenstein: The New Order.
New School Storytelling
This game is worth buying just for the breathtaking, and sometimes uncomfortable, work that went into imagining what kind of hell the world would be if the Nazis won. If you know your WWII history, little hints of the grand plans found in Berlin are sprinkled throughout. It’s a triumph of storytelling, atmosphere and setting; you’ll want to look around in many areas and see what’s been built.
At points, it’s hilarious, like the game’s uproariously schlocky soundtrack. But most of the time, Wolfenstein: The New Order puts the brutal reality front and center: If Hitler really had taken over the world, it would have made the systematic mass murder of human beings a fact of life everywhere you went.
It’s a weird juxtaposition with the game itself, which is a old-school shooter with a few new tricks. Health only regenerates to the nearest percentile of twenty, so finding armor and medkits is key. More than once, you’ll know a setpiece is coming because you’ve hit on a major ammo dump. The boss fights are hard as nails; you’ll die a lot, and start getting annoyed about it, in fairly short order. And while stealth is a viable option and in fact often the best choice, the levels themselves are largely linear with only a handful of different approaches.
And there are unwelcome quirks, like having to press a button to pick up ammo and armor. Come on, nobody misses that mechanic. Similarly, the perks system is cool, a nice little lift from Borderlands 2, but also completely unnecessary.
It does adapt to your style, and each style has trade-offs. A decision you make early in the game gives you the ability to either pick open locks or rewire electronics. If you decide to run around guns blazing, you’ll have to give up reloading and precision aim, but if you go the more precise route, well, you’d better think ahead and be ready to improvise against tougher enemies. It’s to the game’s credit both styles work most of the time, although you will have to sometimes pull out both guns and kick some ass.
A Odd, But Effective, Juxtaposition
In the end, mechanically, this is another game where you kill Nazis. But it’s the storytelling that makes it work. Too many of these games dance around why we don’t feel bad about killing Nazis. By confronting it, Wolfenstein: The New Order actually makes an old idea far more compelling.