Published May 20, 2014Marvel comics has periodically published a comic line called "What If..?" which allows artists and writers to play around with alternate pasts and futures based on a narrative possibility turning out differently. Consider Wolfenstein: The New Order like a videogame version of this — what if the Nazis won WWII? Oh, and what if they also had killer robots?
The game is the latest in a franchise that dates all the way back to 1981's Castle WolfensteinWolfenstein 3D, an iD Software game that arrived 11 years later to usher in the era of first-person shooters that they would soon after perfect with Doom and Quake. After being rebooted in 2001's Return to Castlewolfenstein by Grey Matter Interactive and then again in 2008's Wolfenstein by Raven Software, the franchise was resurrected yet again by new Swedish developer MachineGames.
The New Order once again stars William "B.J." Blazkowicz, an Allied trooper battling the Nazis, but they take the title literally. Rather than being set during the Second World War as usual, B.J. emerges from a coma in 1960 to discover a Europe controlled by the Third Reich and its robots, which he must now fight with help from an underground resistance. The game then takes you from concentration camps all the way to the moon. This alternate post-war history conceit is a smart move that allows the Nazis to still be the bad guys — a refreshing break, actually, from the terrorists and aliens that dominate so many other shooters — but without rehashing WWII for the umpteenth time.
But the most refreshing part of the game is what's not there — multiplayer. The New Order is a single-player-only game. The first-person genre has become so focused on its competitive and co-op modes that most releases put all their energy into building multiplayer maps treat the single-player campaign like a tossed-in tech demo to practice gameplay.
This reached its peak with Titanfall, which did away with single-player altogether so they could focus their resources on multiplayer. Maybe they had a point, because The New Order takes the same tact by putting all their effort into single-player. It pays off with solid character work and a narrative that actually matters — there's even a not-out-of-place romantic subplot — which makes all the high-octane action and cinematic set pieces hit their target. (Machine Games/Bethesda)