Going Back to Wolfenstein After E3? Don't Play it Like 'Doom'
A bunch of us are playing, or replaying, MachineGames’ 2014 shooter—and here’s some of what I’ve learned so far.
All screenshots captured by the author.
At the risk of repeating myself, in the vein of my lil BoxBoy apology the other day: oh, Wolfy, baby, I'm so sorry for ignoring you as long as I have.
I, like many, have been drawn to MachineGames' Wolfenstein: The New Order after being impressed by what publisher Bethesda showed off of its sequel, the October-due The New Colossus, during E3. Since that reveal, I've noticed many friends and peers on Twitter either returning to the (not quite, but you know what I mean) first game, or playing through it for the first time. And despite picking The New Order up for Real Money two years ago, I'd not so much as slipped it into my PS4 until a couple of days ago.
More. Fool. Me.
And, I immediately played it like a fool—a fool fluent, twitch-conditioned, in the gung-ho histrionics of Bethesda's other big shooter of the here and now, DOOM. To run and to gun in The New Order, without seeking shelter or health-restoring pick-ups—there's no full regeneration here for simply ducking behind some cover—is to die, and die, and die again. This categorically isn't DOOM, and I learned that the hard way, very early on. I imagine the sequel will play in much the same way—wits are crucial, as much as having an eager appetite for killing Nazis.
Basically, what follows is what I've learned from the first half-dozen missions of the game, which might help you reacquaint yourself, or give you a head start if you, too, are coming at this beast for the very first time.
Don't write off the game's protagonist, the erstwhile William Blazkowicz, aka "BJ", as another of those Duke Nukem or Doomguy types. Yes, he's a man of many faces, whose name has been attached to various avatars over the years—some of which were only ever behind the camera. He's thick-jawed, blue-eyed, kinda generic tough-guy looking; but The New Order does a terrific job of bringing unexpected nuance to this dual-rifle-wielding beefcake. And that begins at the very beginning—a flashback to happier times, perhaps, but context certainly, of who this BJ is, before he (and we) gets tossed dramatically into the strum und drang of the game's depiction of the Second World War, and the alternative history that follows its fiction's Nazi victory.
Don't, and I feel I need to repeat myself here, smash straight into it like DOOM. Sprinting around each level's sometimes maze-like layout is a sure-fire way to get murdered in a spray of enemy bullets, even on the lower difficulties. BJ is big, tough, and capable of going toe-to-toe, knife-to-knife, with most enemies on a one-on-one basis; but against legions, he's just a man, soft and pulpy cannon fodder for the advanced German War Machine. You can run, sure, but just doing that won't cut it—you'll be cut down. So you run, and you hide. Being a little bit sneaky in The New Order is so important, using the element of surprise to take down enemies before they can trigger back-up-calling alarms.
Don't rush at all, really—unless you've a mechanical Panzerhund on your tail, chomping and clanging its way towards your arse, in which case, really get a step on. The New Order has its share of stunning views, small moments of beauty in a world, a 1960, that's been largely overrun by the triumphant German forces, and crushed into suppression under so much concrete and steel. Also, there are a lot of collectibles around—"explore the environment," suggests a loading screen, and you really should.
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On topic, don't forget to clean up after yourself. Fallen foes can drop ammo and armor, so when you're sweeping each Nazi-free area for golden treasure and Enigma Code pieces, do step over those prone bodies for valuable little top-ups. Littering is a crime—take yours home with you. (Or, just recycle it, directly into the neck or chest of the next enemy soldier that tries to stop you.)
At the same time, don't piss about when the time comes to get wild. The music cranks up, Mick Gordon's soundtrack turning from tentative, barely there at times, to really quite DOOM-like in its grinding guitars and haul-ass aggression. When you get that cue: unleash hell. Because if you don't, it's goodnight, BJ. Fight fire with fire when the music's lit—it makes sense. And, seriously, don't bother with the small pistols—when you spy a shotgun, spray the shotgun. Your kneecaps will thank you for it. And really don't pause to have any sympathy for the Bad Guys, here, because they really are (or, I guess, were) the Worst Guys. Kill 'em all.
Don't forget to lean! Really. While sneaking around office blocks and bunkers, peep around corners using BJ's not-at-all-patented slant-yourself posture. It's essential for sequences where silence is eminently preferable to going in all guns blazing—especially in the parts where, surprise(!), BJ doesn't actually have a gun to hand. You might not go into The New Order anticipating fairly prolonged stealth parts, but you'd be wrong to assume it's all ballistics and bravado.
Don't neglect your health score, at the bottom of the screen—yes, you get some red on you as BJ takes hits, but that redness isn't Gears of War-like indicative of just how almost dead he is. Check the number. Is it under 20? Get the hell out of there. You can raise the maximum stat to over 100, and even push it to 200 by "overcharging" your health (and yes, there's an achievement for that)—but don't hoover up health packs willy-nilly when you spot them. Sometimes it's best to remember the location of a few, in lockers and under desks and in breakable wooden crates, and grab them after you've dealt with the next wave of enemies.
Don't ignore your map, either—it'll sometimes mark the locations of important gear upgrades, and also collectibles. It's not an ever-present HUD feature; you have to bring it up with a button, pausing the action, making it easy to forget about. But train yourself—every few new rooms, pop it open, get yourself a gander. Might be that you're just a few feet away from some ever-so-useful pick-up.
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Don't skip the cutscenes. To be honest, I'm not sure that you can, as I've not tried—but you probably can, because we've all met people who insist they play video games just for the playing bit, and can't be bothered with the actually-pretty-important-most-of-the-time context, often delivered at times where you can put the pad down. The New Order has some really sweet scenes between the excessive violence, where characters are given room to breathe, and to become more than just a mission objective.
Not too much room, mind—this isn't The Last of Us, or The Walking Dead. But MachineGames have, he says before seeing all of it, crafted a compelling little story here, wrapped up in a more-than-competent shooter, and I feel it's important that attention is paid to it. Or else: what are you playing for? Also: skipping means not seeing the mathematician Tekla become totally scatterbrained over BJ and Fergus returning to the resistance ranks. Like: mind blown. It's a welcome moment of light relief in a game that can get terrifically bleak.
And speaking of bleakness—don't not pick an Allies comrade to be executed (or are they, huh, huh?) by the game's Biggest of Big Bads, the scarred-up evildoer Deathshead. Staying still and silent when the wicked SS doctor is goading BJ into making a most unenviable decision doesn't end well for anyone. The New Order isn't quite a one for all, all for one sort of action romp—it's more, I suppose, be selective with who has to be sacrificed for the greater cause.
Related to that, don't worry too much about the two timelines that play out after said scene, depending on who you select for Deathshead to have his way with. The differences between them are, from what I've read, minimal.
That said: why would you not save Fergus? Sure, he's the older guy, he's had plenty of life already, and maybe the lad beside him, Choice B, I forget his name (sorry, man), had more to look forward to. But from what I've seen, with him shooting up Nazis beside me, barking orders and leading from the front at all times, one does not fuck with Fergus. The wily, wiry Scotsman knows what's up. When he says it's killing time, it's killing time. And when he orders you to stop flapping around in the prison courtyard and get the hell in the car, do it. Dallying is death.
Finally, don't be afraid of just slapping it on easy and enjoying the ride. The game wants to put you off playing it on anything but look-at-me-I'm-so-hard levels, but ignore its kinda shitty visuals when selecting how tough you want the challenge to be. "Bring 'Em On" is the standard option, but if you nudge it a step lower, to "Don't Hurt Me", you'll still be dying a few times, as it's no complete cakewalk. "Can I Play, Daddy?" is the lowest it goes, and I've not tried it myself—but if you want to play it that way, with or without daddy's permission, go for it. I've no time at all for people who say there's a wrong or right way to experience games with selectable difficulties—you've paid your money, you do what's right for you.
After all, you want to know what happens to BJ et al, before they wind up in the events of The New Colossus. That's why we're all (re)playing this thing, right? So, get to the end credits, however you like. I'll meet you there, soon enough.
Come and be a BJ to Mike's Fergus on Twitter. Did that sound rude? A little, maybe.