There are few games that have such a successful and established past as the Wolfenstein franchise. The games have been around since the early '80s, but didn't achieve mass popularity until id Software's 1992 imagining, Wolfenstein 3D. In total the series boasts an impressive 8 titles, including the newest release, Wolfenstein: The New Order. The New Order was developed by MachineGames and tells the story of an alternate universe in which the Nazis win the war and take over the world. Fans of the series will be happy to know that William "B.J." Blazkowicz once again makes his return and shares much of his likeness to that of his 8-bit counterpart. Aside from the game’s protagonist, The New Order holds true to its name and shares very little in common with its predecessors.
The story begins three years after the events of last entry in the series. We find our hero, along with several other Allied troops, launching an attack on a Nazi fortress that houses the laboratories of the infamous General Wilhelm, more affectionately known as "Deathshead". The Allied effort is an attempt to thwart the mounting technologies that are powering the German war machine, but the mission ultimately fails and is met with a gruesome outcome. Most of the crew is killed and B.J. suffers severe head trauma when he's struck with shrapnel during an explosion. B.J. and the bits of steel rattling around in his cranium are rescued and sent to a Polish mental hospital where he spends the next 14 years gazing out a window. After a visit from a Nazi commander with orders to close the institution, B.J. shakes off a decade and a half of atrophy, springs to his feet, and begins blasting his way to freedom. Aside from the fact that B.J. goes from a near comatose state to wielding two high-powered assault rifles within a matter of seconds, it's here that the game's compelling story begins to take hold.
The year is now 1960 and despite Allied efforts the Nazis have won the war and gone on to conquer the world. In a dramatic sequence we learn that the United States has surrendered after the Nazi's dropped an Atomic Bomb on American soil. All hope seems lost until B.J. and his chainsaw interrogate a German officer and discover that a small faction of resistance fighters still exists. Our protagonist then sets out to save what's left of the resistance in an effort to overthrow the Nazi regime and save the world. While the plot is somewhat theatrical in terms of presentation, it does offer an interesting perspective on what things might have been like had the war ended differently. The team at MachineGames has done a great job creating a detailed and believable alternate world run by the Nazis. Famous album covers are now adorned with Swastikas, Nazi flags hang from light poles, and armed militants walk the empty streets.
Each of the games' 16 chapters will take you through several amazing locales around the world, and even the solar system. Unlike most first person shooters, it's The New Order's story that makes it worthwhile. As far as the game play, there are a few concerns with some of the mechanics. The guns don't feel as weighty and realistic as in other titles and the pickup system can be quite cumbersome. Ammo is scarce and replenishing your supply often requires picking up what's dropped from fallen enemies, seemingly one round at a time. This grows increasingly frustrating over time and even worse when you find yourself scrambling from cover during a firefight in search of more bullets. Some of the button mapping isn't as intuitive as we've seen before either. For example, on the PS4, pushing the R3 button executes both a melee attack or knife throw, depending on how long you hold it down. This can be severely annoying when approaching a supply crate and instead of smashing it open with a quick stab you send one of your knives skidding across the floor.
On the PS4 the graphics are fairly impressive, but don't quite rank with the likes of Second Son or Shadows Fall. The game's visual approach seamlessly blends photorealism with a stylistic twist that keeps things fairly interesting. However, it would've been more interesting to see that exaggeration pushed a bit further to make the game standout more. That's not to say that the character designs are lackluster because most of them are quite polished. The same level of polish can be seen in the overall presentation of the game from its sleek UI to the elaborate set designs. The New Order does struggle with some gameplay issues but manages to hit some really high notes with its story and character development. Although Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn't offer much in the evolution of the FPS genre, the story does make it a fairly memorable experience. The game's powerful narrative not only draws players into the experience, but also adds another chapter to the already rich storyline of the franchise. Newcomers to the series will certainly find enough to draw them in and veterans will be happy to see that The New Order pays brilliant homage to its predecessors. Via a "nightmare" sequence players can even transport back in time to 1992 and once again navigate through the planar, pixelated hallways of Wolfenstein 3D. It's this kind of appreciation for the franchise that not only makes The New Order a solid shooter, but also the best entry in the series since Return to Castle Wolfenstein.