“Wolfenstein: The New Order” is clunky, ludicrous, and chaotic—and I kind of love it. Reminiscent of “Metro: Last Light” or “Singularity,” two games that have made “best underrated games” lists on this very site, it is a game of the “shock and awe” genre. Don’t expect the philosophical underpinnings of “Bioshock Infinite” or the emotional connection of “The Last of Us.” Do expect shotgun blasts that rip SS heads from their spines, giant robots controlled by a futuristic Nazi regime, dual-wielding shotguns, and even a few levels of gameplay that could be called exploitative and in poor taste in the way they play off the history of the Holocaust if they weren’t a part of such a ridiculous B-movie experience. After a truly shaky first hour, “The New Order” clicks into gear and provides almost exactly what you want from it for the next several days of your gameplay life. Some might call it a guilty pleasure but I don’t believe in gamer shame. Be proud of how much you enjoy “Wolfenstein: The New Order.”
First, a little history for our younger readers: “Wolfenstein” is one of the most influential video game franchises of all time. Over two decades ago, the first game helped usher in the era of the first-person shooter, presenting gamers a “what-if” world in which the Nazis won World War II and you were the only one who could stop them. As with most franchises, the series had some notable ups and downs, most recently clunking like a lead balloon in an attempt at a reboot in 2009. Five years later, the reboot gets a second try courtesy of Machine Games and some of the team behind the excellent “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay.”
The game opens with a messy, slapdash prologue (don’t give up at LEAST until you see the opening credits, which are further into the actual gameplay than any recent game I can remember). It’s 1946 and your tough-guy (and perfectly-named) soldier, BJ Blazkowitz is trying to take down Nazi leader General Deathshead when he’s captured and nearly killed. He spends more than a decade in a hospital, recovering from mental and physical wounds as the world around him descends into Nazi Hell. As he sits in a vegetative state, he watches Nazis kidnap his fellow patients for nefarious experiments and slave labor. And then he snaps back to reality. Time to kill some Nazis.
Blazkowitz joins a rebel force and seeks to infiltrate the Nazi regime through a series of well-crafted, expertly-designed missions. The game is constantly throwing you back to a hub—an underground lair for the resistance—where you can plan your next assignment, have a few conversations, and just catch your breath.
“Wolfenstein: The New Order” is a game that is regularly topping itself like a B movie getting more and more ridiculous as it approaches its final act. From the relatively straightforward days of war that seem to open the game, you’re suddenly thrust into an experience of increasing firepower. Before you know it, you’re shooting lasers, controlling giant mechs, and even going to the damn moon. And yet the developers balance it out with the occasional, very well-designed stealth level. One mission will feature you expelling thousands of shell casings; the next will see you slicing Nazi throats from behind. And when the game blends the two, the fluidity can be thrilling. Sneak up on one guy, stab him in the neck, turn, pull out your shotgun, and watch a head explode. There are moments that are as straight-up fun as any I’ve played on the PS4 to date.
Is “The New Order” perfect? I wish my enemies weren’t always facing the wrong direction. I wish the graphics were a bit tighter; we’ve already come to expect visual greatness on the PS4 thanks to “Infamous: Second Son” and “Killzone: Shadow Fall.” Most of all, I wish a game with this much explosive action offered a multiplayer quotient. I wanted to get some of my tactical skills on to a battlefield with real players. And a lot of the gameplay does boil down to classic FPS trial-and-error. Go down this hall, get shot, know where the bad guy is next time you try it; although even that common aspect of the FPS feels refined here as a lot of the missions can be played with a variety of approaches. Many areas are wide open—like a hangar or a security station—allowing you to stealthily search for cover from which to eliminate your enemies or enter the middle and pull out your assault rifles.
I’ll admit that I had very low expectations for “Wolfenstein: The New Order.” Reboots are junk half of the time and this franchise has seen some serious lows in my days as a gamer. And, as I mentioned, you’ll need patience in the first hour as it looks and plays in a clunky fashion. Give it time. Let “Wolfenstein” get under your skin. You won’t regret it. We kind of new what to expect from "Second Son." And so this is the most surprisingly enjoyable PS4 game of 2014 to date.
A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher.