The New Order is a near-perfect marrying of old school and modern shooter design
The Wolfenstein series has gone through a weird trajectory over it's lifetime. Despite existing in it's known form as the premier first-person shooter franchise for 22 years, it's only just now getting its fourth proper entry. Coming cold off the heels of Raven's 2009 Wolfenstein, Wolfenstein: The New Order marks not only MachineGames' debut title as a collective, but quickest sequel the series has ever gotten.
Because of Wolfenstein's sparse appearances and changes in developers, it's hard to really know what to expect at this point. MachineGames is made of industry veterans from Starbreeze, most known for the Chronicles of Riddick games and the original The Darkness, so one would assume it's in pretty good hands then, right? The answer is "DAMN STRAIGHT", because the end product of their work is one of the most fun and refreshing shooters in quite awhile. That's not to say it is a wholly original venture. In reality, it's anything but, however, it manages to pull the best parts of classic and modern shooters together while also remembering to include many of the smaller touches the series has become known for.
The New Order stars none other than series protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz, still trying to stop the evil and elusive Nazi general Deathshead. While Wolfenstein has always dealt with a fantastical sci-fi/horror approach to WWII, what with all the supersolider, mutant, and undead creature fighting going on, the twist is a bit more than that this time. The game opens with the war still going in 1946. BJ, along with other soldiers, are right on the cusp of finally getting General Deathshead by raiding his compound. Sure enough, things go horribly wrong and though BJ narrowly escapes, he's left in a semi-comatose state thanks to some serious head trauma. He awakens 14 years later in a mental hospital to find that not only did the Nazi's win WWII, but they've taken over the entire world and have continued to develop insane, diabolical technology that's way ahead of its time. This surely doesn't sit well with BJ, so it's not long before he's back on his feet for another Nazi slaughter-fest.
And the Nazi slaughtering is precisely where this game perhaps shines the most. The core action that makes up a majority of The New Order's gameplay is incredibly satisfying. Dual-wielding big guns in chaotic run 'n gun firefights with ludicrous gibs has undoubtedly fallen by the wayside over the years, but this is The New Order's bread and butter. The action can be real fast but the shooting has a lot of weight, thanks to some great physics. Limbs go flying, bodies blow back, contort, and sometimes explode into an ultraviolent shower of blood and meat, and it's wonderful. Clearly trying to invoke classic shooters with all this over-the-top craziness, this game nails this aspect without going all the way overboard. There is still a sense of weight to the action that we've come to expect from modern games, as well. But somehow, some way, MachineGames struck a perfect balance when it came to what kind of Nazi killing they wanted to give you. Just know that few things in life are as good as getting the drop on a room full of Nazis and obliterating them with dual auto-shotguns.
So it's unfortunate really, that with how good the shooting feels, that there aren't a greater variety of enemies to shoot and more guns to shoot them with. The occult elements of dealing with resurrected undead creatures has been completely done away with in favor of focusing squarely on crazy sci-fi Nazi tech, but this really could've been explored further. Most of the game, you're fighting "ordinary" Nazi soldiers adorned in various armors, with some dogs, robot dogs, bigger robot dogs, supersoldiers, and mechs thrown in every once in awhile, and that's basically it, aside from some neat bosses towards the end.
As for your arsenal, while the tools you're given are all certainly a blast to use, they don't reach too far outside of the standard fare, and there aren't too many of them to boot, though alternate fire options replace what would otherwise be more guns. For example, the assault rifles later gain rocket launcher attachments, and the sniper rifles eventually double as fully automatic laser guns. You also have an experimental laser cutter/railgun that ends up getting a fair amount of use, especially after finding all of its upgrades. Outside of this, there's sadly not much to speak of.
There's also the issue of the game's tone. It constantly straddles the line of being dead serious and being very tongue-in-cheek with its over-the-top attitude. It never quite settles into one or the other. It's not a huge deal since it shows some proficiency and confidence with both tones, and since the storytelling and characterizations end up being way better than anyone could reasonably assume, but it's hard to completely overlook. The voice acting is also solid, though audio issues tend to have it drowned out a bit behind all the gunfire and music, so utilizing subtitles is recommended.
The game does a fantastic job at varying both the ways and the rate at which you dispense justice. The multifarious levels keep things fresh, never asking you keep doing one task for too long. Many of the levels are big, ripe with exploration opportunities and brimming with collectables, including hidden Nazi gold, a trademark of the series. There are even some optional stealth sections with multiple routes. Stealth in the game is surprisingly fun, if not entirely simplistic. While the AI can more than hold their own in the heat of combat, displaying some impressive flanking and suppressing tactics, the AI in the stealth sections is a different story. Slitting throats and bashing heads in many brutal stealth takedown animations is great fun, but I actually preferred to alert everyone, have reinforcements called in and engage in some big, bloody gun fights.
Other levels are purely based on exploration and exposition, and it's these levels where you really start to see the developer's pedigree shine through. A mission in a prison a third of the way into the game is highly evocative of Escape From Butcher Bay, though on a much smaller scale. This level and the resistance base levels, which act as interludes between main missions, have you running around, talking to folks and figuring out how to acquire certain items or access areas. They're interesting on their own and break up the pace nicely, but aren't so intrusive to where they wear out their welcome.
The game should last you around 12 to 15 hours the first time through. There's some incentive for replayability, the biggest of which comes in the form of a choice you make in the first mission that splits the game into two separate timelines. I played through the game twice, experiencing both timelines, and to my disappointment, the differences are mostly negligible. There's a small mechanical change, and each timeline contains a different side character. The endings remain the same on both sides, sadly. That said, there are also higher difficulties, collectables, and secret modes to unlock that should get you to keep playing.
It's rare in this day to have a highly-polished, lengthy, single-player narrative-focused FPS, especially one with good shooting (I'm looking at you, BioShock Infinite!). Thankfully, Wolfenstein: The New Order came along to fill that void quite nicely. It's a near-perfect marrying of old-school and modern shooter design that hasn't really been managed until now. Where it falls short in narrative tone and crazy sci-fi weaponry, it makes up for with brash, white-knuckle, gory fun that fuels an unexpectedly thoughtful story, and I couldn't have been any happier to spend my time with it.