Wolfenstein The New Order

FBT tries to be disorderly in the new order.

This is what Hollywood calls a Soft Reboot, continuing story elements but resetting the world. Whatever it is, it’s a shame it’s called Wolfenstein. Had it just been ‘The New Order’, I might have liked it more.

The villainous Deathshead returns from ... whichever Wolf sequel he was in, as does Caroline and her rebellion, and while there’s some sci-fi and Wolf-like elements, including a final boss in a mech-suit like the original’s denouement this feels more similar to modern shooters instead of the throwback we need.

After an opening that sees BJ leaping between crashing planes, getting chased by huge mecha-dogs and taking down Nazis in intense trench fights, our hero takes shrapnel to the head and gets stuck in a locked-in state at a care home while around him, the Nazis win the war and take over the world. Eventually, BJ regains his considerable strength, links up with Anya, the hottie nurse who’s been sponge-bathing him and joins a rebellion.

W:TNO does look amazing, even now. It’s crisp and sharp, but also oppressive and bleak; classic buildings with harsh monolithic additions, razor wire, huge Swastika flags, imposing vehicles and troops make the whole place a study in Brutalism; it's a compelling and believable Nazi world; functional, soulless, utilitarian, yet there’s also a lot of elegance and richness to areas inhabited by the Nazis, enjoying the spoils of war. It’s all very real and unnerving, more so that other games that delve into oppression - its scarily believable.

The one thing I can’t believe is BJ’s internal monologue. It’s like listening to Max Payne’s Podcast. BJ never shuts up whispering to himself, contemplating the world, his place in it, what it all means. Obviously the original BJ was silent, but this one could do with less retrospection and more shooting. I figured BJ for the classic alpha male type, not this socially awkward gentle giant, an aww-shucks All-American farm boy kinda hero, gee-whizzing his way through a romance with Anya - except for a couple of surprisingly strong sex scenes where BJ goes at it with the kind of gusto he usually reserves for killing Nazis.

I just imagined BJ to be more like Duke, the two of them swapping stories over a bud while watching the game. You could make a great sitcom with 90s era Duke, BJ, Doomguy, Lo-wang and Caleb sharing a house. And Lara is the hot girl next door that none of them can pull. Like a good Big Bang Theory.

I just think they missed a trick with BJ; he should be Austin Powers or Demolition Man, a hero out of time but with a unique approach that this new world needs; having BJ on ice for a decade meant W:TNO had an opportunity to explore the differences between the original bad boys of FPS and the sensitive moral-choice leads of today. It could have been a great commentary on how shooters have evolved, but this is serious. Unsettlingly serious.

Some scenes feel like we’re playing Schindler’s List the video game. Infiltrating a concentration camp just feels off for a game that originally ended with us fighting Hitler in a mecha suit. People in infested bunks, emaciated and crying for food while we visit an experiment lab filled with bodies – we’ve seen this kind of thing loads of times in games, but not in the context of a legit concentration camp; a scene in a cattle-train with screaming people bound for the camp where an uber-bitch Nazi called Engel, known as Angel of Death - a less than subtle reference to Mengele - is glimpsed holding a baby by its ankles and brandishing a whip is a grave moment. Early on our hero takes a chainsaw to a tight-lipped Nazi and that’s fine, but when BJ falls asleep and dreams an original level I’m reminded of why I’m supposed to be here – fun.

Yet it’s not all realistic. There’s a weird Assassin's Creed style Precursor Isu subplot - or is that the Black Sun stuff from Wolfenstein? - where it’s revealed the Nazis discovered the “Da'at Yichud”, an ancient race that created many of the advancements they use to control the world. It’s barely explored, and just allows the game to throw in some futuristic laser weapons and a Crysis style Nanosuit - it feels at odds with the concentration camp scenes.

Still, the shootouts are absolutely top work, BJ's incessant droning aside. Shut up BJ, its great fun killing Nazis; they move and fight well, the weapons have a heft to them and they make a great noise and even more mess. But this isn’t Wolf remade, we’re not on a persistent charge through Nazis - we have a plot, characterization, impact, and we’re on exploration missions.

We even have a moral choice early on which seems so out of place for Wolfenstein, and it creates a gameplay impact that isn’t remotely impactful - the choice unlocks a skill but it’s redundant because if you come up against an obstacle that requires the skill you didn't take, there will be an option nearby for the skill you did chose.

You also have no investment in who dies - we just met them - and the survivor doesn’t really bring anything to the party other than make BJ feel guilty and give him more reasons to mutter to himself. It seems as if BJ has to choose between a father figure and a surrogate son but it has little impact on you or how you play, and it’s not something that would convince you to replay and see how saving the other one plays out.

There’s a completely weird middle section where we use a submarine to get one of the Yichud caches and uncover a ‘Spindly Torque’ bomb that lets us attack a train to get the ID of a scientist so we can visit a moon base and get nuclear codes. Not exactly corridor-room-corridor of Wolfenstein Castle. It is real top-notch shooter stuff though, especially the Torque bomb, which is an awesome moment that then sees us fighting through a collapsing bridge.

And that’s The New Order - a really solid, good game filled with interesting ideas and a stunning look, but it ain’t Wolf. It’s an action adventure game, not pure FPS, a genre Wolfenstein created.