“so many people forget that the first country the nazi’s invaded was their own”
– Dr. Abraham Erskine, Captain America: The First Avenger
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a game developed by MachineGames, and published by Bethesda in 2014. It is a sequel to Wolfenstein (2009), and follows the adventures of William Blazkowicz… though the word adventure may be too optimistic of a word; maybe it follows the “experiences” of Blazkowicz?
The Nazi’s are at it again: they’ve come up with another way to bolster their forces with seemingly supernatural means, though this time it’s with extremely advanced technology. Blazkowicz leads a last ditch attempt mission to try to stop the Nazis from steamrolling the world, but suffers a severe head injury, leaving him in a vegetative state for 14 years. When he regains the ability to move (with next to no muscular atrophy, apparently), he discovers that the Nazis won, and the rest of the world has surrendered to their might. Blazkowicz then joins a small rebellion and helps them harass the Nazi regime.
I really don’t have much to say about the gameplay. It’s a very well done typical first person shooter, which I say as a complement. You can dual-wield guns (and knives, for some reason), pick up health and armor (with very limited health regeneration), run and slide around the battlefield, etc. The only real interesting thing to mention is the welder tool: you use it to cut open special walls and cut chains and chain-link fences, but it can also be used as a weapon by changing it to firing mode. I say it’s worth mentioning because it has a surprisingly large amount of thought and care put into it, and it’s clear that the developers really like this gun. It has a bunch of upgrades for it, and you need to use it all the time to progress through the game. It feels like a shoe-in gimmick, but it becomes incredibly useful later in the game. You can get an upgrade for it that lets it discharge however much energy it takes to kill an enemy all at once, which essentially allows you to empty an entire magazine on one target in an instant, almost always instantly killing the extremely well armored human enemies.
There’s also a really weird stealth component to the game. You can put a silencer on your gun, and throw knives that silently kill targets, but it’s clear that the game was not made for this type of gameplay. You can’t tell how loud you’re being, or how far the enemy can see, or how slim or bulky your character actually is, so it’s not great. Fortunately, from my experience, the stealth isn’t forced or done long enough to get annoying; it’s a nice little trip away from the shooting. It’s also a valid approach if you’re unsure of enemy positions or low on ammo, so I appreciate that the option is available.
I played Doom (2016) before this game, and for whatever reason I thought that these two games were almost exactly the same before I played them. Maybe in Wolfenstein you have less futuristic weapons, and shoot Nazis instead of demons, so basically the same, right? Well, I should have know better, since they have different developers, but I was surprised to find how different they were. The two main differences are the combat and the plot.
The combat in Doom is much more fun. Playing that game is like a direct injection of adrenaline and dopamine right into your brain: you feel so fast and powerful, and it makes perfect sense that the demons are scared shitless of you, even when you’re in hell with them. But Wolfestein is much more like Call of Duty, in the sense that you have to take cover, you have to wait for your health to regenerate, you have to reload and crawl around to find ammo and armor, basically all things that slow down the pace. Unlike Doom, jumping blind into a room full of 30 enemies guns blazing will get you killed instantly, which was a rude awakening for me. So, basically, the combat in Doom is better.
However, I was amazed by the plot of Wolfenstein, which completely caught me off-guard. Doom relishes in how little care it has for it’s plot. Doom basically stomps its own plot into the ground and says “who cares just shoot demons or something.” I went into Wolfenstein expecting the same carefree attitude, only to be met with very human, caring and earnest characters trying to cope with the nightmare that is their life in Nazi ruled territory. It has a several emotional gut-punches that I totally did not expect, and really opened up my eyes to all the things I take for granted. I’ll talk about one of such experiences in the game (spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph): near the beginning of the game, during your suicide mission and before your vegetative state, you have to choose to save one of two characters. If you save Wyatt, then later on you will meet a character who goes by “J,” an African American musician that is part of the rebellion (and also apparently this reality’s Jimmy Hendrix). When the two of you first meet, J is openly hostile to Blazkowicz because J sees Blazkowicz as the embodiment of the USA. Blazkowicz, and I must admit I did too, assume that J hates the USA because of its subservience to the Nazi regime, and so points out how he, as well as many American soldiers, bravely fought the Nazis up to the suicide mission at the beginning of the game. Blazkowicz paints a picture of how America was free and proud, and valiantly fought against the Nazis and their ideals. J, upon hearing this, scoffs and points out how, when he was in America, he wasn’t allowed to drink from the same fountain as Caucasians. He goes on to point out how, really, America and the Nazis are quite similar, as both sides oppress and continue to oppress those that are considered “undesirable,” except that America has a much longer history of discrimination. Blazkowicz, enraged at the comparison, attacks J, but J forgives his outburst and asks to play music together. For me, this was when I realized that this game had a lot more depth than I initially gave it credit for.
Another part of the game that sticks out to me, and how it separates itself from other modern shooters, is the part where Blazkowicz goes to a forced labor camp. The resistance learns that one of the people responsible for the Nazi’s super technology is currently in a forced labor camp, and must send someone to get information out of this person. Blazkowicz eagerly volunteers to go undercover and contact this person, and the game jumps to following Blazkowicz as he first enters the camp. Blazkowicz, after being branded with a serial number and patch that tells him what part of the camp he’s in, has a monologue about how foolish he was for jumping into this mission. He reflects how arrogant he was for assuming he would be able to operate like he always had in a forced labor camp, despite the atrocities he would see every day. At this point, he does a breathing exercise that he does several times throughout the game: breathe, count to four, breathe, count to four. He first does this when he’s trying to get a panicking private to calm down, and does this exercise when he is under extreme psychological pressure. I really appreciate this inclusion, as it shows how Blazkowicz tries to cope with the never-ending barrage of tragedies and suffering that is his life. It really shows just how human all of these characters are, even the main character: he’s not above his feelings, or being human.
The tone in this game is kind of all over the place, but it’s done in a way that’s fitting for Wolfenstein. Deathshead is so insanely, comically evil, but at times gives impassioned speeches that show he truly believes he’s doing the right thing. The entire concept of super technology, like killer robots and a Nazi moon base, make the game seem lighthearted, but the game also does a good job of showing how absolutely horrific and miserable a Nazi ruled world would be. I think the most flagrant example of tonal shift would be the sex scenes, that come out of freaking nowhere and are incredibly awkward, but at the same time hilarious for the same reasons. Lastly, the game transitions very quickly: a character would mention that they need to get to the moon, and then the next scene you’re already on a space ship. They say you need to be in another country, and then you find yourself on a train going to that destination. The extremely quick and jarring transitions are quite endearing, in my opinion, because, like the tonal shifts, they’ve got a certain charm to them. I found it pretty easy to just roll with it.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a perfectly serviceable, high quality first person shooter with surprisingly strong world building. The characters are profoundly human, and the game does a good job of making you invest in this alternate world. The gameplay isn’t as high-octane as Doom (2016), but it makes up for it with it’s endearing characters and deep moments. I would definitely recommend it to both fans of shooters, as well as those who want a game with characters they can genuinely route for.