When the Wolfenstein baton passed from Raven Software to MachineGames in 2014, it wasn’t exactly news that got many people excited. The strong reputation for quality the Wolfenstein license had enjoyed for decades seemed to have waned, particularly in the wake of the last game, the mediocre (and confusingly-titled) Wolfenstein. Raven’s last game in the series game was overlooked commercially and met with critical indifference, leading to the wholly Activision-owned studio being hit with redundancies as a direct result.
Meanwhile, Swedish studio MachineGames, undeterred, quietly crafted a standout follow up in Wolfenstein : The New Order. Despite it being a direct sequel to Raven’s game, The New Order felt like a fresh new take and was greeted with a much more positive reception on release. Though the game wasn’t a truly titanic success, it sold comfortably well, with enthusiasm for the game building steadily since that release. Between then and now, we’ve also had The Old Blood, The New Order’s standalone expansion, which served as a likable prequel to MachineGames’ first attempt. Over the course of these two releases and in the time since, gamers in their thousands have discovered (and in some cases, rediscovered) a series which, by focusing on a strong single player experience, really sets itself apart from the rest of the genre.
Then, at E3, the franchise’s growing prestige was cemented. The spectacular fun of the trailer for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus went down like gangbusters with fans and critics alike, leaving the game’s October 2017 release as once of the most widely anticipated of the year (in a year with some very stiff competition). The new game is likely to be the biggest selling since the seminal classic Return To Castle Wolfenstein, completing the series’ revival.
We’re preparing for the release of The New Colossus by taking a look at what it is, exactly, that MachineGames is getting so right over there in Sweden, and why, in this age of multiplayer focused shooters, so many people are returning to this staunchly single player, story based FPS.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously
Much like its Bethesda stable-mate, Doom, Wolfenstein is shot through with a rich vein of wry humor. And why shouldn’t it? Wolfenstein is a series where you spend your time fighting waves of lightning-firing robo-Nazis. That’s about as silly a concept as you’re ever likely to hear. Wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but utterly ludicrous. And it’s not like this ridiculousness has built over time, either: the Wolfenstein 3D era, way back in 1992, had the mythical Spear of Destiny as a plot point, and famously sported a robotic Hitler as its final adversary. Return To Castle Wolfenstein upped the ante considerably, with mutants, zombies, mummies, and ghosts comprising the game's enemies. So Wolfenstein has always been crazy: what MachineGames does better than probably any studio before it, is embracing that inherent craziness to create a genuinely fun ride of a game. There’s some fantastic dialogue, too, helped immeasurably by the always-excellent line delivery from the voice cast…but we’ll get onto that.
…But it takes its gunplay VERY seriously
The feel of Wolfenstein’s weaponry is the real star of the show when it comes to its overall gameplay. They way the weapons are designed, especially how they feel and sound when they’re fired, is undeniably paramount to the modern Wolfenstein experience. Even the most basic weapons like the heavy machine gun are an absolute joy to unload into a enemies face, and this joy only increases as the game introduces more exotic toys for you to play with. The stellar armory is fundamental to the games’ success because it means you never truly get tired of fighting through the endless rooms of enemies that form the bulk of Wolfenstein’s action.
It has the best enemies, hands down
You’ve got the best set of guns available in a modern shooter…now, what are you going to use them on? Well, how about the most iconic real-world enemy there has ever been. Nondescript robots, generic aliens, and modern military insurgents be damned: the Nazis are history’s apex bad guys because they’re as close to the real world has ever come to a genuinely villainous evil. The fact that the New Order and The Old Blood update proceedings by setting the games in an alternate timeline changes little, and in fact, gives us some great new enemy types. Fantastic stuff to shoot at is the other half of the gameplay equation at the heart of everything Wolfenstein does so well. Greats guns + great enemies = a thumping good time.
It has an astoundingly fantastic setting
Sure, we’ve seen alternate timelines done before (many, many times) in all forms of entertainment, but rarely with this much pizazz. Wolfenstein’s world has always felt like a heightened version of reality, like a playable comic, full of high-octane action and brutal violence. And especially since the MachineGames era began, this version of the Wolfenstein mythos feels so fleshed-out, and above all, so confidently executed, from top to bottom.
It’s full of interesting, well-developed characters
B.J. Blazkowicz has been the protagonist in every Wolfenstein game since the beginning, but in those earlier outings (as what the fashion then) he was a largely silent, impassive vessel for the player to inhabit. In MachineGames’ entries in the series, Blazkowicz has become so much more than that expressionless void of a character. His motivations are explored, with Brian Bloom, the current actor portraying the elite special forces operative, giving a much more accomplished and nuanced performance than BJ has ever been blessed with before. As a result of the time and effort thrown into this area of the games, we care about the actual plot. The same treatment has been given to the story’s supporting characters, too, which are well-acted across the board and encourage a level of empathy with the situation. Even if their situation is frequently the most ridiculous imaginable.
How excited are you for the new Wolfenstein? Do you agree that this is the best current single player shooter series, and if not, what would you place above it? Let us know in the comments!
Andy is a freelance writer for Game With Your Brain. You can follow him on Twitter.