Once the game loads, the player is greeted by a pounding grunge-tinged soundtrack and the severe face of a hardened war-ready (not completely bald!) soldier. Then, before you start the campaign, the player picks their difficulty option which ranges from can I play, daddy? and I am death incarnate!, all accompanied with comic depictions of BJ’s face. This jarring juxtaposition between humour and horror is both Wolfenstein The New Order’s strength and weakness.
One minute BJ Blazkowicz is stabbing Nazi soldiers in the chin/cheek/head/neck/back/leg while muttering a superfluous phrase straight out of a teenager’s poetry collection – my favourite: Age 19. Dove down a well to salvage father’s watch. But it wasn’t as deep as this – the next, he is having sex in a closet, struggling to make coffee or having a nostalgia tinged nightmare.
Bethesda has poised this game perfectly on the fence – humour, grazing in one field while being shepherded by Nazi robot hounds, and the horror of the Nazi regime in the other field being tilled by General Wilhelm Deathshead Strasse. I feel I may have chuckled at things I should not have, and I wonder how other people found the godawful by hilariously awkward introspective dialogue that BJ utters amidst his murder spree.
The game succeeds with its odd humour by being everything Hitman Absolution was not. A game that works and is a joy to play. The cover system is simple but effective, the shooting walks a fine line between Killzone and Call of Duty, and the levels are a clever blend of linear and open design.
The game is quite hefty for a FPS single player, but it has to be to justify the price with no multiplayer options – and even though I applaud Bethesda for not forcing a multiplayer mode into the game, what they have created beg for a fun filled multiplayer and could have saved the humour they seemed to push in the campaign. There are plenty of collectibles, albeit none that made me want to find them all. The perk system has few enough options to make the player actually want to progress through each style of play – Stealth, Tactical, Assault and Demolition. I found this to be a problem in last year’s Batman Arkham Origins, where I simply did not care about the perks at all. Given, the perks are hardly interesting, mainly allowing BJ to have more ammo, but they act as small challenges as the game encourages you to kill X amount of Nazi soldiers with Y weapon etc.
One mechanic I did not use much was the option to overcharge BJ’s health. However, I can see this coming in hand for any speed runners out there who just want to progress as swiftly with as much health as possible.
The game took me about 15 hours, but I did find myself searching every inch of the map in some chapters. Mainly because the game is actually quite pretty and I preferred the small details of the alternate history more enticing than the main story. With that said, the art direction shines in cut scenes, reminding me of Max Payne 3 without the obtrusive lens flare and neon tinged effects.
Characters are surprisingly layered through extensive backstories and subtle hints to what their past held – Frau Engel and Bubi are scene stealers, while love interest Anya quickly became my favourite as her surprisingly dark history was revealed. In regards to the characters and how their actions pan out within the story, they are pretty much cardboard cut-outs of quite generic characters. The characters and storyline are just about enough to accompany a delightfully well-paced game, and with pace being the main thing COD and Battlefield lack, it is welcomed here.
The music is fantastic; however, it suffers from the same fate of the narrative’s jarring tone disparities; the music swiftly moves from lush acoustic guitars, to pounding grunge music followed by fast paced bass lines that make you feel like you are a con artist in a heist crew. One minor problem with the sound design is the lack of option to change the volume of dialogue, sound effects and music separately. With just one master volume, the dialogue could sometimes be drowned out by warring soldiers or the game’s aforementioned soundtrack.
So all in all a good but flawed game. It does not do anything new, but succeeds in entertaining the player with well implemented pacing and surprisingly fun mechanics. Definitely worth renting.
Oh, and it made me feel like James Bond.