As far as last chance saloons go, Bethesda Softworks is a pretty good place to wind up. The iconic PC franchise, having revolutionised the FPS genre with Wolfenstein 3D, is celebrating the tenth anniversary of its landmark Enemy Territory multiplayer pack, the most popular and enduring online shooter this side of Counter Strike. Recent effort to emulate that success, however, have been mixed. Splash Damage’s Enemy Territory: Quake Wars and 2009′s self-titled reboot both received relatively good reviews, but failed to make any impression on a saturated market.
Nazi iconography is certainly one way to gain attention. Bedecked in red and black banners adorned with the angular logo, the Earl’s Court exhibition centre had every appearance of housing the BNP party conference. Yet the game’s stand was tucked away in a corner of the over-18s section; PC rigs, Xbox controllers, and a modest queue. Next to Black Flag and Battlefield, there seemed to be little focus or fervour.
The game goes some way to redeeming any image problems. Mechanically identical to Call of Duty and stylistically channelling World at War, it manages to break the mould in other ways. The polish applied to Call of Duty and Battlefield often serves to mask their shortcomings; they aren’t the only war games on the market, nor should they be. One of my favourite games of 2012, Spec Ops: The Line, did so well largely because it was, narratively, the antithesis of those titles. What Spec Ops went for in story, New Order tries in audacious and challenging gameplay.
At first glance, it seems to have little more to offer. Protagonists have moved on a little since William “B.J.” Blazkowicz first took to the field, and the voice-act acting fulfils all stereotypes. The opening scene, clambering through ruins offing injured Nazis, plays like the epilogue to Inglorious Basterds. But once you’ve negotiated the frustratingly bland scenery, things get markedly more interesting.
There’s little that isn’t improved by robots, though the first, lone stand-off isn’t much of a showcase. But the next section played a surprising ode to Mirror’s Edge: winding up a factory door, sprinting out into a room full of enemies, and incrementally – death by death – deciding your best course of action.
Combat is refreshingly challenging. Get caught by two enemies in the open and you’re Röstbrot. Guns are powerful and numerous, but so are your opposition. It took me three tries to identify a plan of action – sprint upstairs, stab guy on turret, pick up turret, focus robot – and seven or eight more to successfully enact it. I haven’t been that grateful for dual wielded machine guns since Temple on Goldeneye.
The game works best in these spaces – consigned to kill all occupants, but free enough that you can and will have to exploit the environment to its fullest. The AI hides effectively, moving from destructible scenery when you’ve blasted through it, and pressing the advantage when you find yourself flanked.
It’s all very linear and not particularly ground-breaking. It’s also not got multiplayer, hard to imagine for any cross-platform shooter. But if it’s to be resigned to the critical appeal and limited success of its immediate predecessor, The New Order doesn’t look like such a bad way to bow out.