Creating a new game in a beloved series can be a two edged sword for developers. On one hand there is a established fan base and a well-known world and characters, but on the other hand, if the new game isn't true to the series or fails to make use of the latest gaming hardware, a lot of bad feeling can be generated. So have Machine Games been brave or foolhardy to take on one of the classic first person shooter series, Wolfenstein?
First appearing on the PC, Apple 2, Commodore 64 and Atari 400/800 back in 1981, Castle Wolfenstein was a top-down game which placed you in the boots of an Allied soldier trying to escape from a Nazi castle. In 1992, id Software, the studio behind Doom, brought out a version of the game which, for the first time was a first person, 3D shooter. The game also set the character as William "BJ" Blazkowicz, an Allied spy who, after escaping from Castle Wolfenstein, tries to single-handedly destroy the Nazi regime.
So, 23 years and eight games later we come to Wolfenstein: The New Order. As before you play Agent Blazkowicz but this time the game opens during an Allied assault on a Nazi research facility in 1946. World War II is going badly for the Allies and this assault could swing the balance of the war back in their favor but things go wrong and, badly hurt, Agent Blazkowicz gains full consciousness in 1960 where the Nazi regime has won the war and the world is a very different place. Cue Blazkowicz doing what he does best - causing mayhem.
The game is focused around a single player campaign, as there is no multi-player functionality, but as the story is well written and absorbing, the game almost feels stronger for this omission. Early in the story you are also made to make a choice which profoundly changes it which encourages you to play through the game again to see how your choice affected things thee first time around.
As with Wolfenstein 3D, you are armed with enough weaponry to take down a small army single handed but that is now only one option. The game now allows players a much more flexible way of playing through it's levels than in previous games with the option of using stealth and environmental hazards to dispatch or avoid the enemies. Although there are some sections where the games emphasizes one style of play over the other, usually to introduce one mode over the other or to add to the narrative of the story, the levels are well balanced and allow you to play through them using a mix of the two play styles. The levels themselves are large and feature multiple paths through them, secret routes, which allow you to get the drop on enemies if you prefer to play that way, as well as hidden items, such as gold artifacts, enigma codes, permanent health boosts and audio logs which really flesh out the story of what happened during the time that Blazkowicz was indisposed.
There is an impressive array of weaponry which can be found and used as you progress through the game and range from pistols through to heavier weapons such as assault riles, shot guns and marksman rifles. These weapons can be double wielded for additional firepower, at the cost of accuracy and, if you find the correct kit, modified to unlock an alternate fire mode (such as a grenade launcher on the assault rifle or silencer on the pistol). You are also equipped with Germanic-styled stick grenades which are suitable for heaver opponents or groups of soldiers and one or more knives which can be thrown, used to take enemies down silently or used for melee combat.
A new addition to the series is the introduction of a perk system which rewards players for achieving optional mini achievements such as killing a set number of enemies with a certain weapon or dispatching them in a certain way. Most of the perks will be unlocked during a casual play-through but others require a bit more skill and planning.
The game's visuals and sound are striking and run a rock-solid 1080p at 60fps on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4 making this one of the most attractive next-gen games so far. A great deal of thought has been put into the settings and graphical design of the levels which result in a dark, brooding landscape, reminiscent of City 17 from Half-Life 2 and the addition of newspaper cuttings, letters and audio logs scattered throughout the levels provide a rich background to the world.
Two issues which prevents this from being a perfect game. Firstly, it's not always clear what you are expected to do to progress through the level which is especially true in the levels which emphasis fleshing out the story over combat where you can find yourself as a glorified, and rather lost, delivery boy. Secondly, as the save system is based on checkpoints, you can end up playing the more challenging sections of a level multiple times until you work you way through which can be very frustrating although this is addressed to a certain extent by the perk system as you don't loose perk progression when you die.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is an excellent shooter which will please most players' style of play. The graphics are excellent (and make full use of the next gen consoles' or current gaming PCs' hardware) and the story well thought out, absorbing and long enough to keep you entertained for hours. If you're a fan of shooters, enjoy a well told story or simply can't wait any longer for Half-life 3 then this is a game to add to your collection.