The New Order is reinventing Wolfenstein, yet remains a punishingly old school

Shrouded in chaos in an alternate 1960s following the Nazi’s victory in World War II, Wolfenstein: The New Order is more than a mere reimagining of a franchise best known for a game more than two decades old.

Having played through the opening few hours, there are some minor spoilers below — but no major surprises will be ruined.

Sergeant Blazkowicz reporting for duty!

Like any explosive war-time blockbuster, The New Order opens amidst the thick of the action, as protagonist William “BJ” Blazkowicz finds himself stranded on a World War II cargo plane destined for an episode of Air Crash Investigation. Before that, there are enemy fighters to shoot down and a death-defying leap of faith ahead of the inevitable wreckage in Nazi territory.

Confronted by a myriad of enemy soldiers and killer mechanical hounds, in the 1940s mind you, BJ is forced to make the best of a bad situation with his few surviving comrades, as they search to find and kill returning baddie General Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse.

Several minutes into storming the compound, Blazkowicz and his team stumble upon a sadistic torture chamber, and fall into Deathshead’s incarceration. Having only fought vigilantly beside these virtual allies for 30 minutes, The New Order forces you, from BJ’s first person captive point-of-view on the floor, to look at which of your two mates is going to be executed.

It’s a good thing Australia has an R18+ rating to accommodate The New Order’s brutality.

The humane option is to relinquish the controller and do nothing, hoping it’ll all go away when a knight in shining armour breaches the stronghold at the last minute. It doesn’t. Deathshead and his men will taunt your lack of confidence for a peculiarly long time given the circumstances, before eventually punishing your noncompliance by snapping the necks of both men at nauseatingly backwards angles, then crushing your head into the ground and resetting the scenario from the last checkpoint.

That’s not gone well.

Knowing that a decision had to be made, I picked the younger of the two men, simply because he was whinging a lot during the opening stand and I don’t have time for such nonsense in the face of Nazi murderers — but perhaps he’d have ended up a hero, had he lived.

The Nazi regime

I won’t further spoil the shenanigans of the opening mission, but as you’d expect, it mostly goes horribly as Blazkowicz escapes by the skin of his teeth and lapses into a coma. Upon his awakening, BJ is shocked to learn he’s been absent for 14 years and walked into a very different world, under Nazi control.

Reunited with his lover, and former nurse, Anya, BJ’s road to redemption begins as he joins the rebellion against the Third Reach, but only once he kidnaps and tortures a high-ranking Nazi officer with a massive chainsaw — it’s a good thing Australia has an R18+ rating to accommodate The New Order’s brutality.

Futuristic ’60s firepower

Out in the field, BJ has access to a range of high powered weapons almost immediately, including a pistol, machine and shotguns. I say guns, plural, because dual-wielding identical classes is controlled using the left and right triggers to fire from each hand. However, I felt more comfortable using one firearm and aiming down the sights — especially when I was trying to destroy two manic mechs hellbent on killing me simultaneously. Whereas modern games tend to ease you in, The New Order is brutal. It demands immediate attention, as you’re constantly moving between cover, peaking to the side to cap headshots.

Though BJ’s health does regenerate when he’s out of direct combat, it only refills to the nearest multiple of 20. If it dwindles down to 54, it will claw its way back to 60, but no higher until you find a scarce health pack. Health is monetarily boasted by a shield, and can temporarily be supercharged beyond 100%, but will slowly retreat back to the maximum, which is expanded permanently by competing challenges on a skill tree.

Stealth and combat skills are enhanced similarly through progression. There are no perk points; instead, skills are unlocked by completing challenges. If you want BJ’s stealth skills to improve, you’ll need to adopt a silence-first mindset and approach each linear, yet expansive, level accordingly.

It’s not all murdering Nazis

No, sometimes you need only assassinate their leaders.

While I enjoyed combat last time I played, stealth seems to have been given a more prominent role. Alerted guides will sound an alarm, sending for reinforcements until the General is killed. However, the time-consuming bloodshed can be avoided by finding the commanding officer and covertly putting him to rest, leaving just a handheld of isolated minions standing in the way of progress.

I was pleasantly surprised by the stealth mechanics in a game I had pegged as a violent melee of relentless firepower. That still happens — there’s an abundance of shrapnel, lasers and explosives — but there’s often an equally effective incognito path.

The good, the mixed and the cross-gen

FIRST IMPRESSIONS

The New Order is the reemergence of an iconic franchise that deserves a position escorting the next-generation. It’s packed with relentless action, hilarious one-liners and maniacal antagonists in an alternate history with just the right amount of exaggeration.

– Ben Salter, May 2013.

You’ve already skimmed your way through the good; Wolfenstein: The New Order is an emotional action-packed alternate universe for BJ Blazkowicz. It’s a blend of mystery, intrigue, fantasy and dark humour, powered by a modernised yet old school punishing shooter.

However, nothing’s perfect. It’s always hard to make harsh judgements on an unfinished game’s opening two hours, but with a May release date, The New Order’s AI is noticeably inconsistent. While the stealth mechanics work a treat, far too many Nazi soldiers ran around aimlessly or got stuck on the wrong side of a door amidst a heavy firefight — that doesn’t exactly speak of next-generation intelligence. Don’t get me wrong; they’ll kill you. The imbeciles stuck behind crates are in total contrast to the killer mechs, attack dogs and highly trained Aryans that won’t give you a second chance. The divide between the AI’s best and worse is akin to launch PS3 or Xbox 360 games and those of today.

Speaking of which, like so many 2014 releases, Wolfenstein: The New Order is cross-gen, and inherently cannot flourish on the new consoles, but it does look very pretty on the new machines. It’s the side effect of the generation shift. We’re not going to see many next-gen exclusives until more consumers upgrade, which pretty much leaves 2014 as a write-off as far as technological innovation goes. Wolfenstein, like everything else, has been developed to be exactly the same gameplay wise, and look a little better on the PS4 and Xbox One. If you’ve already got a new console, you’ll definitely want to pick that version, but aside from some prettier faces, you’re not missing much on PS3 or Xbox 360.

Wolfenstein: The New Order will be released in Australia and New Zealand on May 22, 2014. Pre-orders will include access to the beta of the next DOOM game.

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