I have never lived through a war, and I hope that I will never have to. I have learned about the horrors of war through my education, reading books like Night, and from watching documentaries that depict and discuss the horrors of war. Never before have I ever had a video game properly demonstrate how wars truly are to me on the level that I experienced playing the newest game in the Wolfenstein franchise.
Other game franchises like the Medal of Honor series and the Call of Duty series have had a tendency to glorify war in an effort to allow the player to engage in a power fantasy. They allow you to be the hero that will arrive in the end and set all things right. Recently some games have begun to question that fantasy and sometimes make the player feel uncomfortable with their actions. A great example of this would be Spec Ops: The Line and now another one to challenge assumptions would be Wolfenstein: The New Order
The continuity of Wolfenstein has gotten a bit muddy, originally the hero, BJ Blazkowicz, would eventually become the grandfather of Commander Keen. I am no longer sure if that is the case and I am no longer sure where in the “timeline” this game takes place as it is the sequel of the 2009 release of Wolfenstein. Taking place in an alternate version of history where the Nazi’s were victorious in the Second World War.
One of the greatest things about this game is the window that we are given into what life would be like under the rule of the Nazi regime. A portrait of a grim world is painted where science and technology are not bound by ethics or morals. Prisoners, who are physically able, are put to work making the materials needed for the lavish buildings and luxuries that the Nazis take for granted. Those who are not put to work are tortured for entertainment or subjected to horrible human experimentation, which is a part of the engine that fuels the Nazi War Machine. Citizens are turning on each other out of fear and reporting their friends and families to the SS; similar to what happened in Communist Russia. You are able to read newspaper clippings, scattered through the world, describing the events that led to the Nazis having complete control of the entire globe.
The sounds that fill the environments are sometimes quite frightening and disturbing. While walking through a prison you will be able to hear the screams of people who are being tortured or experimented on. While sneaking you will be able to hear people talking about their daily lives living in fear or plotting against their neighbours. Be prepared to hear a lot of German dialog being spoken, or at the very least English being spoken with a thick German accent. You will be able to hear the internal thoughts of the BJ Blazkowicz as he witnesses the world and his opinions on what he sees happening around him, sometimes they are what you would expect from a Wolfenstein game and sometimes can be quite insightful.
Wolfenstein has a visual style that I find extremely unique. The humans models are made with such a level of detail that I can only imagine that the intention was to try to make sure that all of the humans ended up on the realistic side of the uncanny valley. But the environments, and the majority of enemies, are so over the top that they almost seem comical. Some of the locations include an enormous prison, a lavish militarized castle with robot guards, and a lunar research base. These are all filled with normal looking people who showed up for work and nobody seems to be batting an eye. Keep in mind that this game takes place in the 1960s and such technology was out of our reach at the time.
The world building in this game is so magnificent that I could easily spend this entire post gushing over it. But I still need to touch on the other aspects of the game that make it an experience worth viewing. Like with every other Wolfenstein game (except for the ones on the Apple ii), this is a first person shooter, and I have to say that this game has some of the best shooting in a video game that I have ever experienced. Everything feels right, I was able to whip my mouse around and make sure that my shots all met their target.
A pleasant surprise was just how good the stealth is in this game. Having looked into this a little bit, some of the staff at MachineGames had previously worked on The Chronicles of Riddick when they were working at Starbreeze Studios. Riddick is probably one of the greatest first person stealth games ever made and some of that style has bled over into Wolfenstein. Frequently the player will enter a room that has many enemies inside of it, but only the commanders are able to set off the alarm to bring in reinforcements. If played correctly, the player has the ability to eliminate the commander of the room without being noticed, preventing any additional soldiers from coming to your enemies aid.
If the player is detected, it is still a Wolfenstein game, you will be able to shoot your way out of just about any situation the game puts you in. The game offers little else other than just running and gunning; no serious puzzles and no other mechanics to speak of, other than the occasional fetch quest for some of the supporting characters in the game. But the lack of variety with the mechanics does not diminish this game whatsoever.
I was shocked with the relatively small amount of available weapons to the player. Frequently when I play a shooter, such as this, one of the selling points is the number of creative weapons that are included. This game has less than a dozen weapons available to the player and they are, mostly, straightforward. Also shocking was the lack of “boss” encounters. Just about all of the boss encounters seem to be stacked right at the very end of the game; this isn’t necessary a bad thing. This decision builds tension all throughout the game making you think that you will be encountering something other than the normal fodder throughout the game. Keeping all of these events right at the end was another way to subvert my expectations.
The price of admission for this game is worth it if only to see the world that has been crafted for you, and to give you a glimpse of what life under a dictatorship is like. Keeping in mind that the themes covered in this game are a sensitive subject, I would like to reassure you that they are treated with the respect that they deserve. This is a game that has the ability to make you think, to see the world from a different point of view, and not take freedom for granted; but on the flip side of that argument you do get to shoot Nazis with lasers on the moon.