Developed by MachineGames. Published by Bethesda. Released May 20, 2014. Available on PC, PS3, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox 360, Xbox One.
Wolfenstein: The New Order begins with a turret sequence, as musclebound growler B.J. Blazkowicz mans the guns of a fighter plane to shoot Luftwaffe from the skies. In a world where turret sequences are seen as one of the many overwhelming cliches of modern action games, it says something that this latest Wolfenstein entry chooses such a dead horse as its opening gambit.
We live in a world where vast sectors of the game industry are self conscious about the industry's lack of innovation and depth. Strides made in independent development, not to mention pressure from critics who yearn for something more complex, has seemingly caused many developers to try and reinvent the wheel, reboot their property, or otherwise take a step away from the "old school" - or at least dress up old ideas in an attempt to mask how archaic they actually are.
All of this is to say that The New Order simply doesn't give a toss about any of it, comfortably and confidently digging itself into a trough of shameless, mindless, old fashioned shooting fun. While it brings a few enhancements from modern gaming into the mix, MachineGames' crack of the Wolfenstein whip is unapologetic in its embrace of the cliched and the simplistic.
Since this is Wolfenstein, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Guns, explosions, Nazis, and robots. Pretty much all you need, right?
Taking place mostly during the 1960s, The New Order sets itself in a world where the Germans won World War II using highly advanced technology. Having conquered the world, the Third Reich imposes its will over Europe, with series mainstay Blazkowicz joining the resistance after spending 14 years in a catatonic state. That absolute arsehole General Deathshead is up to his eugenic tricks again, and players will have to take him down with as much gravel-voiced gumption as they can muster.
Despite its intriguing premise (who doesn't love an alternate history story?) I have to say I felt rather unsatisfied with the amount of attention devoted to the Nazi-controlled 1960s. There are some nice touches - glimpses of a an oppressed London, German covers of classic 60s tunes passed off as originals - but the game consists mostly of formulaic interior levels that do very little with the potential-laden premise. Being a Wolfenstein game, one doesn't expect much in the way of philosophical narrative endeavors, but given how much story is actually packed into the game, the lack of atmosphere building is a little disappointing.
Yes, shallow it may be, but there's quite a bit of talking and storytelling in this one. Many levels are bookended with quieter moments in Resistance HQ, where Blazkowicz must undertake token fetch quests that tend to reveal a little more about supporting characters - characters who get a shocking amount of development considering how disposable the plot renders them. Despite the game's rather remedial storytelling, however, it is at least gifted some terrific direction. Explosive sequences are offset by more tense moments of creeping atmosphere, villains are deliciously over-the-top, and pre-rendered cutscenes transition to gameplay with animations that attempt to tie two disjointed piece of content together quite pleasantly.
It's always nice to have an excuse for all the killing, but The New Order is predominantly all about the killing, and do we need much more reason than "Here Be Nazis"? All of this exposition is just an excuse to get to the murder, after all.