Wolfenstein got it's start as a stealth series on early computers before transitioning into it's most recognizable form in Wolfenstein 3D. After popularizing the first person shooter genre, the series releases became sporadic. Flash forward to 2014, and Machine Games soft reboot The New Order is released. With a greater emphasis on story and characters than the games before it, The New Order represents another shift in the philosophy of the franchise.
It turns out B.J. Blazkowicz is actually a character! From the very first moment you take control, you can tell something is different about TNO. Characters and set pieces take center stage, and this trend continues throughout the games 15 or so hours. While the gameplay is awesome on it's own, the story is really what drives the experience. B.J. himself frequently narrates his views, helping the player to understand his feelings as they embody his character. In TNO, Nazi's have won World War 2. The year is 1960, and B.J. joins the resistance to fight against the Nazi's once again. This time jump allows for a ton of interesting advancements to the world. Robots and laser weapons are common, and pop culture has taken a dark and sinister turn. Ton's of little details and easter eggs really flesh out the world as you play, such as finding a record that heavily implies the Beatles of our world would be great even in German! I was really taken by surprise at the sheer amount of character and world building TNO utilizes. I expected the game to be a shooter first and a story second, but it seems very much the other way around. That isn't to say the gameplay isn't something deserving of praise itself.
The core of the gameplay in TNO is of course blasting away Nazi's with big guns, but stealth is also a worthwhile option. The stealth gameplay is super satisfying. The death animations from knife take downs always feel satisfying to pull off, and sneaking your way through a Nazi base without being seen is a thrill. Of course, after a while you start to realize that the enemy AI is dumb as a bag of hammers, and you can practically stand in front of them and not be seen at some mighty short distances. If you do get caught though, you can always fall back on the solid shooting mechanics. Every weapon in the game feels good to shoot, and they can all be dual wielded in a ridiculous display of firepower. It's a lot of fun sliding around the battlefield with dual wielded shotguns, blowing Nazi's into pieces. Wolfenstein also nails something that I believe a lot of shooters fail at, and that's pacing. You gradually increase your arsenal in this game, and every gun gains secondary firing abilities at a set pace throughout the entire campaign. On top of this, you gain new perks through completing challenges like killing a certain amount of enemies with various guns or killing 5 enemies in 10 seconds. There's always something new to experiment with throughout the campaign.
The last piece of TNO that really makes it click is it's level design. The old school health pack and armor system along with the good old weapon wheel work hand in hand with the environments in TNO. Almost every level is chock full of nooks and crannies, as well as alternate paths, that make exploration a joy. Extra details like propaganda posters and readable newspaper clippings add to the atmosphere of a Nazi controlled world. Collectibles like gold items and enigma codes add to the urge to explore the environment and take in everything possible. While there are a lot of corridors and set pieces littered throughout the game, most of the bigger firefights take place in larger areas full of options for players to take advantage of. Picking your point of attack, scouring the area's for ammo and armor, and then running around these arena environments in a frantic display of carnage never gets old.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is an amazing game. It's one of the few games I've played in my life that I wanted to replay right away. A choice early in the game results in a split timeline, and I couldn't move on without seeing what was different. I haven't been this enthralled by a first person shooter in recent memory. The combination of old school design and modern storytelling results in a game that's hard to put down.