In 1992, id Software released Wolfenstein 3D, a ground-breaking game that had PC gamers enraptured by its high levels of violence and fast-paced action. The franchise’s sixth title, Wolfenstein: The New Order, was released 22 years later in May 2014.
Wolfenstein: The New Order was well-reviewed and critically-acclaimed, but I was probably too busy playing Titanfall, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Mario Kart 8, and Watch Dogs to bother with what I thought was just another mindless shooter. I eventually bought the game when it went on sale later that year during Black Friday (for $20, I couldn’t resist). But instead of popping the disc into my Xbox, the game went right into the ever-growing pile of games in my backlog. It remained in that shameful pile for over two years.
A few weeks ago, I made a half-hearted joke about how my New Year’s resolution is to play through my backlog (which happens to include Fallout 4 and GTA V), and a friend mentioned that he loved Wolfenstein. I figured that it would be one of the quicker games to get through, considering it isn’t an RPG, and I was in the mood for just a quick gaming session, so I finally freed the game disc from it’s plastic-wrapped prison.
The cutscenes were the first big surprise for me. Sure, I had heard that Wolfenstein was good, but no one told me just how stylized, contemporary, and hip the cinematic direction was. As the story progressed, I was just stunned at how the main character, B.J. Blazkowicz, and supporting cast were all incredibly memorable and compelling. I have to give tremendous credit to writers Jens Matthies and Tommy Tordsson Björk for bringing these characters to life with real emotion.
The setting isn’t just a side note either. While the game tells a tale of science fiction, it uses the alternate history setting to speak of the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust and of the sacrifices remarkable men and women during the real history of World War II. This brevity makes each level and mission that much more engaging and important. I couldn’t wait to see where the story would go after completing each level.
To be sure, the gameplay is repetitive, but it wasn’t terrible. I did enjoy the stealth-like options to playing the game. Sneaking up behind Nazis and insta-killing them with a single thrown knife or a takedown is more fun than just dual-wielding automatic shotguns and mowing them down all the time. Ultimately however, the gameplay really only feels like busywork for the player. Thankfully, Blazkowicz’ inner monologue and radio communications with other characters keep the levels from being completely mindless.
Viewing history through Wolfenstein’s sci-fi lens did not diminish the writers’ intent to depict during that horrific time in human history. Through allegories, the game was able to successfully portray the brevity of what the Jewish people suffered through and lost, and the heroic accomplishments that everyday people achieved against all odds, perhaps more than any other first-person shooter based on WWII. This connection to history made playing through Wolfenstein a journey to remember and cherish.