The bravest and darkest shooter you’ll play all year.
MachineGames’ reinvention of Wolfenstein is the most inventive and emotionally-charged first person shooter we’ve played since Valve unleashed Half Life 2 way back in 2004. Now we’re well aware of just how hyperbolic that statement appears when written plainly on a webpage, but honestly that’s how we feel after playing the first three hours of this dramatic reboot.
The reasons behind this overwhelmingly positive opinion come down to three important feats which the Swedish developer has managed to carry off with aplomb. Firstly they’ve managed to humanise Wolfenstein‘s returning protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz, by imbuing the US marine with the sass of Die Hard’s John McClane mixed with the relaxed self-assuredness of Sin City’s Marv making him both likeable and easy to root for. Secondly they’ve layered multiple systems on top of the typical run and gun shooting action this series is known for, offering players real and meaningful choice about how they engage the Nazi threat in vast, multi-laned levels. And thirdly, and potentially most impressively, they’ve somehow managed to wrap their alternate history take on World War Two – with Nazi Germany boasting tech ripped from the future – in an atmosphere that feels genuine, honest and an unsettlingly real.
Now if you looked at the screenshot on the right, while reading that last sentence you might have said to yourself, “Real? Pull the other one Mr Games Website! It’s got blimin’ mechs in it!” And honestly we wouldn’t blame you if did, but for all New Order‘s cyborg German Shepards, nazi mecha and laser shooting stealth fighters the plot regularly comes back to human details adding flavour to this bleak version of the past. Now that doesn’t change the fact that the principle means of player interaction in this world is still shooting things in the face, but MachineGames has carefully inserted plenty of incidental details about the characters and the overpowered nazi threat to make you feel compelled to restore the balance in the Allies favour. This is seen not only in the places you’d expect like cutscenes, set pieces and character dialogue, but also in otherwise easy to overlook material like unlockable bios which explore the history of key characters and their motivations.
Let us give you an example in somewhat spoilerific fashion. Take that fella you see B.J Blazkowicz take a chainsaw to in the recently released Wolfenstein: The New Order Boom Boom trailer. His back story is much darker and more detailed than any chainsaw fodder necessarily needs to be.
Prior to his grisly death, B.J. witnesses the one-eyed Officer Keller order the destruction of dozens and dozens of mental health patients over a long stretch of time. He’s clearly a man who’s done unspeakable things and does, some might say, deserve the violent fate that awaits him and this is something the player feels while stalking this particular nazi prey.
During the set piece shown in the trailer, B.J. is in the process of interrogating the officer to learn where nazis are holding imprisoned resistance fighters, but rather than just showing this in a cutscene, players are placed in full control. In fact their objective during this uncomfortable scene in a basement involves searching out eye and body protection located in draws and shelving units around the prisoner, in order to protect against any unwanted blood splatter when combining the officer’s fleshy form with that of the chainsaw.
While the player is looking in draws and wall fixtures for the required goggles and apron, the tied up prisoner is exclaiming how hopeless the fight against the nazi war machine is and how his friends are going to bust through the door at any moment and condemn B.J.’s allies to a painful death. There is no choice here about whether the player spares or doesn’t spare the despicable yet restrained prisoner, and the cutscene depicting Keller’s final moments does fade away before the viscera hits the screen. Importantly, after this scene an on-screen prompt pops up indicating that a new character bios is available to view via the in-game menu. This particular entry gives a history of the recently slain Officer Keller, explaining that he was a member of the Hitler Youth, and how his family was sent to a concentration camp never to return during his formative years – essentially hinting to the player that Keller was as much a product of this new sadistic world, as much as he was generally a bad egg.
We won’t give away any other story details than that, and in truth Keller is a minor character in the overall scheme of the plot, but this example is representative of just how dark MachineGames are willing to go with the source material and how their supplemental plot touches enrich the game ten fold. Some players will just take part in that scene gleefully giving the nazi officer his due, but others will read every morsel of story detail MachineGames are willing to offer and come to the conclusion that this version of 1960s Europe is an utterly depressing place indeed.
There were plenty of other moments which hammered home the brutality of this alternate past during our three hours with New Order, including the now infamous E3 demo involving the player being interrogated by Frau Engel with her boy toy Bubi.
In our view, the consistently brave and brilliant narrative direction MachineGames has employed in this new breed of Wolfenstein is by far the most interesting thing about the game. Their cutscene direction at times too is genuinely astounding, echoing the quality achieved by Naughty Dog in terms of cinematic storytelling. However in raw gameplay terms this shooter is impressive as well.
During our three hour playthrough there were plenty of regular first-person shooter tropes like turret sequences, wall-climbing and bouts of trench corridor shooting, but slowly and surely more elaborate mechanics were introduced. For example in the first level, which involved assaulting a beachhead in a manner that wasn’t entirely unlike D-Day, players are told to enter a bunker via one singular point. Follow this objective by the letter and you’ll find yourself using explosives on a door earmarked as an obvious entry point, however if you circle past the objective and carry on to another completely unmarked room containing some haphazardly stored nazi warheads, it is possible to explode the missiles and thus flank the platoon full of soldiers waiting patiently behind the door associated with the original objective.
The consequences of these choices are minimal really, as they still lead to lots of dead enemies and the same cutscene to run at the end of the mission, but these environments do offer some scope for players to express themselves and that’s to be encouraged. Another moment involved us running away from a massive skyscraper-sized nazi mech – the sort of which would make Skynet turn green with envy. Again players have the option of ignoring this bot or use an aggressively procured AA gun to end the robot’s lightning-fuelled tyranny.
Other levels featured classic Wolfenstein callouts as well, such as giant portraits sliding to the left when interacted with to reveal secret officer quarters and the familiar eating food to regain health trope. Fans of id’s franchise will also be pleased to hear that there’s still the potential to boost your health over 100 as well, if only for a short time.
Guns ranged from the predictable assault rifle to giant laser mini-guns which melted away any metallic cover enemies were unfortunate enough to be hiding behind, and yes it is possible dual wield most weapons although long-range accuracy is sacrificed a little bit. There is a cover system in play in New Order as well, but while playing on PC we rarely, if ever, used it. The lean toggle, tied to the ALT key, was all we ever really needed.
As our playthrough progressed, we noticed levels got substantially larger and the traversal options available to us became much more varied.
The missions that followed Officer Keller’s demise involved B.J. moving through multiple heavily fortified security checkpoints which players have the option of infiltrating and neutralising in any fashion they wish, as long they kill everyone inside and open up a mission critical gate.
At this point we were free to either go loud and alert everyone in the base or go in silently and take people out via a neck-cracking melee attack from behind or silenced pistol. This is when we started messing around with Wolfenstein‘s Commander system, which is tied to several high ranking officers located on any given map. Essentially this mechanic encourages stealth play minimising the enemy reinforcements players have to face. When we first came across this area three prompts appeared at the top of the screen showing the proximity of our location to a nearby commander. The story reasoning excusing this mechanic is that the player always has a radio to hand and that he or she can automatically scan frequencies to determine the position of high-ranking officers, who happen to be the only personnel on the field who can tell high command that the area is under attack. We’ll excuse the silliness of this concept as it’s clear that nazis in this alternate version of history aren’t shy of advanced tech, (robot dogs anyone?) but as a game mechanic it works well.
We stalked the three commanders for about ten minutes, carefully avoiding patrol patterns by grunts. Eventually we took the commanders out one by one eliminating the chance of them calling in reinforcements and we felt rather chuffed with our sneaky performance. Impressively there weren’t any game loads between these three massive checkpoint areas which in truth functioned more like mini-bases than meager checkpoints – boasting massive steel doors, lifts and sniper towers.
Further expanding this kind of player choice, every environment in Wolfenstein: The New Order also boasts hidden enigma codes, letters, gold pieces, health upgrades, maps and secret weapons to incentivise tackling levels multiple times.
Just like our preview from October stated, MachineGames’ debut is shaping up to be something very special indeed and our latest experience with the reboot hasn’t swayed that opinion one iota. New Order‘s rendition of a Nazi-run world in the 1960s is most easily described as hell on Earth and if you’re anything like us, you’ll relish the chance to restore history to its true path with every snapped neck and every carefully placed bullet. B.J. Blaskowicz is back boys and girls, and he’s certainly not a chap to be messed with…
For up-to-date pre-order information about Wolfenstein: The New Order, check out our retailer round-up on PreOrder-IQ.com
GRID Autosport, The Evil Within, Valiant Hearts, Space Hulk, Supraball and Homefront: The Revolution star in this intriguingly varied issue of our free-to-read .Download Now!