Hailed as one of the pioneers of the FPS genre, the original Wolfenstein is an antiquated but charming piece of gaming history. With its narrow corridors, bevy of secrets, and big gun gameplay, it still manages to entertain some 20+ years later. However, while the game certainly elicits fond memories from older gamers, its brother title Doom holds higher court from a historical perspective. Nonetheless, both series have remained relevant, and both have managed to evolve uniquely from their simpler beginnings.
Wolfenstein The New Order marks the first entry in the series since the very underrated 2009 Raven title. Developer MachineGames (made up of ex-Starbreeze developers) are new to the party, but their foray blends an expertise in FPS storytelling alongside the strong gunplay associated with the namesake. While the omission of the series' formidable multiplayer is questionable, the single-player campaign here manages to meet the challenge of being worth the $60 investment.
Series regulars will be familiar with the name BJ Blazcowicz, who once again stars as the protagonist. He's much more fleshed out in this entry, and is given a compelling portrait across the post-WWII world that invests us in his trajectory and triumph. Notably, MachineGames has rewritten history, and the game's universe thrusts us into a world where the Nazis have not only emerged victorious from World War II, but they've completely decimated the world over. It's a frightening dystopia, but effectively and oppressively realized by the developers and it becomes a character itself as the story unfolds. As well, there's a large, and game-shaping decision made very early on that incentivizes players to replay the story, and it strongly alters the experience depending on the decision made.
Focusing on the gameplay, the title focuses itself on a mix of old-school gunplay and simple, but effective stealth mechanics. These are both managed by a meaningful and well-implemented skill system that demands players explore different methods of taking out enemies, while successfully making players feel more immersed. There's four separate ladders/trees to max out, and each one gives the players a sense of increasing power that makes them essential to furthering the experience.
The gunplay itself is impactful, and like Raven's 2009 venture, wholly satisfying. There's a distinctly old-school wallop packed into each one, and as ammo is made about pickups and can feel scarce on higher difficulties, the experience tinges towards the survival-horror genre. MachineGames has also nailed the stage design too; mixing corridors and open-areas effectively, and giving players set-pieces that integrate organically into the experience. Across the 12-hour campaign, I never felt like I was backtracking or experiencing the same fight, and as my skill set broadened I felt like my BJ Blazcowicz was becoming the consummate Nazi-killing badass. If there was any real complaint to make about the base gunplay, it would be unnecessary inclusion of dual-wielding. It feels more cumbersome than threat-improving, and it seems pointless given that it's less effective than using one weapon or perhaps employing stealth.
Speaking of stealth, players are given knives, a silenced pistol, and some melee attacks to artfully move through the environments. It's kept rudimentary but nonetheless rewards players that choose the more careful approach (with character improvements and fewer enemies to combat). It mixes exceptionally well within the level design too, and feels like a defining trait of the experience that will allow it to linger in gamers' memories longer.
On the whole, the strengths of Wolfenstein's gameplay, paired with high production values and a surprisingly effective story make it stand out. Even with the painful omission of multiplayer, The New Order is a $60 investment worth making and it offers gamers a highly-polished and satisfying FPS experience. While it might not have the longevity promise of some multiplayer-focused titles, its open skill system and decision-altering narrative make it worthy of multiple playthroughs. As it is, Wolfenstein The New Order is a game worthy of its namesake, and it stands out as a perfectly and uniquely old-school experience in a market full of iterative shooters.