For the second year in a row, I’ve played through Wolfenstein: The New Order twice, back to back. Last year it was on Playstation 3, and it was great. I don’t believe it suffered being a last-gen version of a multiplatform game. This time, I’ve played through it on Playstation 4, and while it looks better, I’d say I enjoyed both versions about equally. They both had their bugs and quirks, but the parity between them is about the same.
It’s a great game, no matter where you go to play it. It’s an engrossing story of an alternate history where the Nazis won World War II, featuring several memorable scenes and setpieces. It’s a game that is not afraid to get dark and stay there, while also imbuing the hope that things will get better soon, and the acceptance of the self and others. Rarely have I seen a game so focused on saying how it really doesn’t matter who you are; whether you’re disabled, non-white, a woman, or someone barely clinging to life (and more), you all can make a difference in fighting the Nazi regime. You all have purpose. You all can do great things.
I wondered why, when I got a PS4, that this was the game I wanted to play first. I think I found my answer – It is uniquely inspiring. Though, why is difficult to say. There’s a moment early on in the game where the player, playing as BJ Blaskowicz, has to make a huge choice. One of his comrades in arms will die, and another one will live, and depending on which person is chosen to die, an alternate timeline opens up. The game lets the player experience how life goes on in one way – with different people recruited in the resistance, and a different lockpicking minigame being part of what separates the two timelines. When the game is over, you can go and pick again, seeing how the other side lives.
It is an impactful, dark choice that cannot be backed out of, and yet this game is balanced tonally by BJ himself – he yearns for a quiet suburban life, and believes he can achieve it. He learns to accept the different members of the resistance on their own terms, putting their needs before his. Simply – he grows as a character. Backing away finally from the ooh-rah Jarhead simplicity of older Wolfenstein games, and focusing on developing BJ and letting him grow makes the player grow with him.
Even when he is sent to Camp Belica, and we see even more of the Nazi’s true intent and inhumanity, it feels different than games past. This setting is no longer just a context to shoot some Nazis. Being in a concentration camp has appropriate weight and heft to it, even if a game could never truly recreate how horrible it is. From what it does show us though, we do get to see much of the vileness. The incinerators. The prisoners dying from disease. The hopelessness those places are designed to make people feel. It stirs the will and the need to fight, to stop this atrocity, in a way that a game that drops you in and lets you go wild just can’t achieve. It humbles BJ, and by extension the player. It injects the need for humanity. The success of BJ’s actions give the hope that changing all of it is truly possible.
This is why I think the game is so replayable, as strange as it might seem. The story, and the feelings it evokes, is unlike any other game I’ve played. It’s not just a game about fighting Nazis – it is also a fight for social justice. It is about empowering the downtrodden and the minority to fight against the overwhelmingly oppressive majority. In one scene, after capturing a prototype Nazi helicopter, BJ apologizes to Caroline, the leader of the resistance, because their efforts when WWII was still ongoing left her partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound. From the pilot’s seat, she tells him not to apologize – that “I’ve learned to fly.” This, and many other powerful moments, are what keep the game going. Despite the adversity, the members of the resistance have learned to adapt and grow, as people would.
After I played The New Order last year, I was curious to pick up an older title in the series and see how it held up in comparison. I chose Return to Castle Wolfenstein on Xbox – and it did not take long to become disappointed. It’s just your standard Nazi-killing game from 2001, when Medal of Honor was popular, and a layered story like The New Order’s couldn’t been conceived. People always talk about wanting HD remakes of this game and that – but I feel like if Bethesda ever attempted to bring back the older Wolfensein titles in a major way, it wouldn’t work. Wolfenstein 3D would remain unscathed because of its importance to video game culture but, to be blunt, sometimes games are meant to stay in the past, and no amount of modern paint and technology can change that.
I cannot stress enough how much I’ve grown to like The New Order. There’s nothing else like it. Even the romantic subplot, which might seem needless and tacked on in another game, works here because it has just as much meaning and intrigue as the rest of the game. There are definitely things I don’t like here – a certain underwater segment takes too long, and the checkpoint system can be pretty wonky; sometimes taking weapons and ammo from you when you reload a checkpoint, and other times killing enemies for you if you didn’t down them before you died. But it’s never enough to stop me from playing. I’m not even the type of person who likes replaying games right away, because it’s usually boring and a grind the second time around. Not here – even on the third, fourth time around, I’m still loving it. Still realizing things about it. Making new discoveries.
If you haven’t played it, I highly suggest you do. And if you have played it, go play it again, twice if you can. It almost feels like a strange little happy accident that a game like this can exist in a sea of Call of Duty and Battlefront, but it feels necessary too. I hope MachineGames can continue to make games like this – I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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