Wolfenstein 3D is credited by many as being one of the pioneers of the first person shooter genre. It was a game that revolutionised the genre by encouraging exploration and resource management while letting you blast through anything like a machine. Oh, how things have changed. A genre that was once enjoyed by many as simple fun has degenerated into a medium filled with quick time events, slow walking, and various mentions of Oscar Mike punctured throughout a mundane and laborious single player campaign.
Very rarely do gamers stumble across a compelling single player shooter experience that places fun above everything else. It's because of this that Wolfenstein: The New Order is a refreshing change of pace. A fun single player experience that doesn't rely on multiplayer to add value, Wolfenstein: The New Order is one of the most enjoyable single player shooters to release in years. Aside from a few glaring issues, it is a game that all shooter aficionados should play.
Wolfenstein: The New Order will likely intrigue anyone interested in World War II. Even though the story marks a huge departure from the events of the real war (unless I missed the history class on robot Nazi dogs), the world is filled with newspaper clippings that provide additional details for those with morbid curiosities. These little collectables are actually meaningful as they provide more insight into the overall narrative. The setting proposes a very interesting alternate reality that is well explored for the most part.
It's disappointing, then, that the overall narrative presented here is very inconsistent. When actually playing Wolfenstein, one gets the impression that the game isn't taking itself seriously, what with all the Nazi robots and cheesy dialogue. Yet in the very next cut scene, everything will begin moving slowly and the situation will become unnecessarily melodramatic as if the game were trying to convey a meaningful message; the main character will begin talking philosophically while he bashes a poor soldier's skull in with the butt of his rifle. Every single serious or emotional moment falls flat on its face as the plot is not in any way engaging or unique and the game can't be taken too seriously. Even though you're fighting Nazis, which motivates you as a player to succeed, it's hard to feel sympathy for a character who is basically a walking death machine that slaughters countless people and it's insincere for the story to attempt to illicit such a response.
The upside is that because Wolfenstein: The New Order is such a focused single player experience, every single mission, every firefight, and every moment of downtime is highly enjoyable. This is due to absolutely excellent pacing. Wolfenstein will never pause too long on an epic moment. One instant you'll be jumping into a giant Nazi mech for a short time to tear through waves of Nazis, the next you'll be exploring a safe, combat free environment and interacting with characters. After that you may try your hand at controlling an underwater craft before undertaking a stealthier mission, or not. The choice is yours. Nearly every combat scenario gives you the option to take the smart route or the crazy route. Both playstyles are well supported by tactically placed inventory items, different modes of fire for weapons and more, meaning either method of play will result in an equally rewarding experience depending on the player.
It's fortunate that the game is so well paced because you won't be playing for very long. I completed Wolfenstein: The New Order in under 8 hours, which seems like a long time compared to other shooters on the market, but as the game has no multiplayer component the length of the campaign may understandably concern some people. The campaign itself is highly enjoyable, but the overall value prospect of The New Order is lacking. A second playthrough is somewhat encouraged by a choice made towards the start of the game, but the actual impact this has on the gameplay and story is fairly limited - you'll still embark on the same overarching quest.
As a game releasing on the new generation of consoles, graphical fidelity and performance will always be important in the eyes of many. Unfortunately, Wolfenstein: The New Order is actually slightly dated on the visual front. Some of this is attributed to the art style, which consists almost entirely of grey, but even ignoring this artistic choice, Wolfenstein looks like a last generation port. Texture quality ranges from passable to dreadful, models are jagged, the explosions look horrendous, and the overall fidelity of the title is weak. At certain stages the game really shines and can even look great, especially when it comes to facial expressions, but these moments are overshadowed by the frequency of underwhelming visual crescendos that pepper the campaign.
This could be forgiven if the title ran smoothly, but it does not. At least not on PC. I played through Wolfenstein: The New Order on an Intel Core i7 3770 and an AMD R9 290. Most sections run at about 60 FPS, but the framerate will tank for no discernible reason in the most baffling areas. At one stage, the framerate dropped to 30 while I was inside a small, poorly textured room. It's been reported that Nvidia cards are performing well while AMD cards are struggling to handle the game nearly as efficiently. Some players on lower end AMD cards have actually been unable to play the title due to game breaking performance issues.
Ultimately, the core strength of Wolfenstein: The New Order is its solid, simple and fun gameplay. Wolfenstein feels like a mix of old school mechanics and new shooter design, allowing players the freedom to tear through enemies like butter without explanation or logic. Most levels are open battlefields with multiple options for players. Scattered around these environments are a multitude of different pick-ups, which range from health packs and armor, to ammo and even turret-based weapons that are a blast to use, just like the rest of the arsenal.
Virtually every weapon, from pistols to sniper rifles, can be dual wielded, which makes fighting Nazi's insanely fun. While there isn't really any ability to upgrade weapons through a non-linear mod tree, a great number of weapons have multiple modes: pistols can be silenced for those who prefer the subtle approach; sniper rifles can be swapped from semi-automatic to laser mode; and one weapon can even be used to cut through terrain, though its implementation is fairly linear. The guns also feel and sound suitably weighty and powerful. Giant mechs sound like they're actually giant mechs, and some of the music in the battles really stands out.
The level design and enemy AI is a mixed bag. Often times, levels are smartly designed, catering to multiple play styles, but during almost every mission you will eventually get lost and not be able to find the objective or the object you need to interact with. The game does a pretty poor job of actually directing you to where you need to go. I'm a fan of non-linear level design and it definitely benefits the game overall, but a more intuitive system of notifying players where they need to go would definitely make for a significant improvement. A map, or even just a little pop up on the HUD, would have spared a lot of time running around looking for a lever just to open a door*. The AI, meanwhile, doesn't put up much of a challenge; whenever you do die it never really feels like the AI legitimately got the better of you, rather you poked your head out and took seven rounds of buckshot to your face because literally every enemy on the screen opened fire on you at the same time with pinpoint accuracy.
When I came into Wolfenstein: The New Order I wasn't really expecting much. It was the latest entry in a series that had ultimately become a shadow of its former self. I was expecting a functional yet unremarkable shooter experience. What I got was a good single player shooter - something virtually unheard of in the modern gaming scene - and one of the most pleasant surprises of the year so far. It's in no way mind blowing, either on a visual or gameplay front, and it does very little to innovate or provide a compelling story, but Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fast-paced, action-packed, and fun first person shooter.
*Correction: an error was made by the reviewer with regards to the level design. The game actually features a full map that details the location of objectives or points of interest. There is also a small indicator on the HUD identifying objectives. However, this indicator is small and easily blends in with the environment, so is easily missed. We apologise for not spotting these mistakes prior to publication, but have left the relevant paragraph unaltered for the sake of transparency.
This review is based on a digital copy of Wolfenstein: The New Order for the PC, provided by the publisher.