Published on July 3rd, 2013 | by Hubert McReed0
Wolfenstein: The New Order – Hands-On
In our fertile imaginations it seems crazy that Indiana Jones and B.J. Blazkowicz haven’t had an opportunity to team up over the years. They both hate Nazis, they both enjoy cracking wise and they’re known to step up to the plate when seemingly unbeatable odds await them. Alas, the id tech5-powered Wolfenstein: New Order doesn’t feature a whip-cracking sidekick or even Short Round, but that doesn’t mean this new venture from Starbreeze veterans MachineGames doesn’t take this series in exciting and, dare we say it, unpredictable directions.
The ninth entry in this intrepid first-person shooter series, which dates all the way back to 1981, once again stars the unsuitably named hero William Joseph ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, but the setting has radically altered. Moving from 1940’s Germany to an alternative version of Europe in the year 1960 with the Third Reich having conquered the entire planet, thanks to their mysterious new mechanized infantry and AI tech which is light-years ahead of their enemies.
Oddly, it’s as if Blazkowicz’s activity in previous games is completely null and void, and MachineGames were hesitant to reveal exactly where Hitler and co. received this highly advanced weaponry. However time travel is a good bet as the protagonist finds himself in a perversely twisted alternate version of the past tasked again with a handful of other resistance fighters, to take down the reigning Nazi regime.
What’s really impresses about New Order is how MachineGames have managed to update the Wolfenstein concept while retaining the schlocky coolness of the series. The first demo we were shown encapsulated that evolution perfectly with B.J. kitted out in Nazi servant garb trying to make his way stealthily through a classically resplendent train travelling across Germany. While moving from carriage to carriage he’s suddenly collared by an Aryan-blood detecting mech named Bernard, which in turn alerts an aging German General and her Austrian boytoy ‘Bubi’ to his presence.
She sits B.J. down all calmly, apologizing for her robot’s incorrect assertion that the blood-haired blue eyed American in front of her is actually Aryan, before she pulls a gun on our hero and puts him through a strange Voight-Kampffian test to ascertain his heritage, while explaining that one wrong answer will mean certain death. This ‘little game’ is revealed to merely be a playful ruse, but it speaks volumes to the kind of cinematic experience that MachineGames are going for.
While there’s a sinister side to this haunting event, the dialogue between the General and her clearly subservient junior comes across as both awkward and funny in equal measure. This whole section feels both tense yet strangely fun, as the pantomime villainess toys with the lives of the people around her.
After this linear section we got to play another mission set around infiltrating a Nazi factory dubbed the ‘London Nautica’, in order to steal some tech for the resistance. This section was prefaced by a thoroughly Cockney geezer telling us about the occupation and how the invaders levelled almost every part of England’s capital, curiously leaving Big Ben untouched, to create this monolithic monstrosity. This area packed a lot more of the gameplay one would expect from a Wolfenstein game.
First there was a pitched battle against a chasing robot dog through ruins which in turn gave way to more traditional shooter action with mechs, drones, agile AI guards and airmen running through halls, and emerging from cover attempting to chip more health away from B.J.’s fleshy yet sturdy form. Intriguingly, the health gauge is split into 20-unit increments which regenerate over time. Once it dips below 80, 60, 40 and 20, the only way to then top it up into the next segment again is to loot fallen soldiers for health packs or pick others littered around in storage or hackable safes located in specific places in the environment.
This nifty homage to Wolfenstein is just one of many with B.J. able to dual-wield weapons of the same type and boost health to over 100% temporarily. That annoying modern concession limiting arsenals to a handful of weapons is also completely gone, allowing players to pick up as many weapons as they like – praise be to B.J.!
The talky protagonist also regularly perks up with witty one-liners and monologues to add more of a personal touch to the shooting action. One section of the Nautica mission featured an exhibit dedicated to the Third Reich’s apparent landing on the moon, which led the protagonist to utter the soon to be immortal words; “The Nazis landed on the moon? F**k you moon!” Yes this line is dumb and it wouldn’t seem out of place if it was uttered by Arnie in Total Recall, but in a Wolfenstein game it totally works.
Mixing up the core combat experience, there’s also an effective and entirely optional cover system with players linked to surfaces when they hold the appropriate toggle, but this doesn’t slow the pace of Wolfenstein’s combat down too much. The addition of being able to silently kill enemies from behind also gives more food for thought in tackling areas which are otherwise suitable for run-and-gun tactics.
Like id games of old there is that classic feeling of progression with new tech and weaponry becoming available as players progress through the campaign. Once such creation was a laser cutter rifle/tool which could be used to fry rampaging mechs in a couple of shots or to solve traversal puzzles.
MachineGames also want players to explore their surroundings as much as possible, so they’ve also added an in-game journal/encyclopedia so that players can view tertiary information about the timeframe, locations and any enemies they face along with enigma code segments also scattered around levels revealing otherwise secret info.
The only missing feature in our mind is the lack of any multiplayer or co-op option, which for a Wolfenstein game does seem odd, but then the developers are committed to telling a polished cinematic tale and as Metro: Last Light proved, sometimes these kinds of sacrifices can lead to a better gaming experience.
All these components used to be a stable part of the first-person shooter cocktail, but since Call of Duty had its reductive way, developers seem to be following the ‘less is more’ approach.
Wolfenstein: New Order laughs in the face of increasingly tired modern shooter notions and looks to the past for ideas to liven up the military shooter-dominated marketplace.
B.J. is back boys and girls, and we’re mighty glad that he is.