Wolfenstein: The New Order Preview – BJ Blazkowicz, Warrior Poet
BJ Blazkowicz never struck me as a talker; more the strong, Nazi-killing silent type.
Previous Wolfenstein games, from id software’s breakthrough 1992 classic through to the lukewarm 2009 Raven/Activision offering, all prop up this characterization. But with a new developer comes a new vision, and MachineGames likes it when their protagonists wax poetic.
In Wolfenstein: The New Order, BJ’s not speaking aloud, like some crazy hobo with a
shotgun Thompson submachine gun — instead, most of his quips are internal monologue. But lines such as, “Your death is such paltry restitution,” are near-poetry, and many more like it mark the thoughts, observations, and musings of a war-weary solider who’s been fighting the same enemy for nearly a decade.
Wolfenstein: The New Order starts in 1947, so even without going down the spoiler route, you know World War II hasn’t turned out in the way so often described on The History Channel. Even still, BJ Blazkowicz and General Deathshead are back, locked in what seems like an eternal battle, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
While TNO, as I’m calling it, goes beyond the castle walls and out into the world, my hands-on preview started in a familiar surrounding. The finely-crafted, motion capture-based cinematics feed right into the scaling of a German castle wall, as you and a small squad attempt to bring down the fortress from within. Things don’t go as planned, ending with a slew of dead Nazis, a few dead comrades, and one rather difficult choice to make. For those who read our earlier hands-on preview of Wolfenstein: The New Order, this castle-storming adventure seems to take place at the beginning of the game, closer to the events of the historic World War II.
The castle is faithful enough to the Wolfenstein fortresses that preceded it, complete with hidden rooms, armor and Nazi tapestries, but we venture down a bizarre path soon after. The small, easily-disposed-of attack dogs of the past have been replaced with hulking mutts, the products of unspeakable experimentation. The “super soliders” strike a similar chord, as they loom over vanilla Stormtroopers like a father over his son. The supernatural has been replaced by the sick, twisted, and medically and mechanically maniacal this time around — a refreshing but sometimes frightening change of pace.
I also played through a hospital level, which takes place something like 14 years after the events at the castle. An exceptionally rough sequence to get through, the hospital is a tough reminder of how awful the Nazi’s truly were. Their interactions with the doctors and patients is a tough exchange to sit through: any use of the phrase “subhuman” in such a context is a hard pill to swallow.
The hospital sequence also serves as a reminder of how long BJ has been the in the warfighting game. MachineGames says TNO does not contradict or interfere with any of the established Wolfenstein canon — especially because of its place so long after other games — so BJ’s exhaustion-but-need-to-succeed attitude bleeds through nicely.
Not to downplay the importance of other Wolfenstein games — Wolf ’92 is a classic, of course, and 2000′s Return to Castle Wolfenstein is a definitive experience from the era — but The New Order puts a more serious emphasis on the Nazi regime and the atrocities it perpetrated against millions.
Some of The New Order does seem a bit by the book, however. The cinematics, while properly executed on the mo-cap side, do lack the drawing power needed by level set-ups. The dialogue has a very cliche, scripted feel as well, which feeds into the problem with the cutscenes, but this could be fixed with some voice cut changes and additions. It’s an odd feeling, especially because the intro cinematic has a much more theatrical feel to it. I hope this “Nazi Noir” vibe, as the devs describe it, bleeds into the bulk of the game. The guns also rub me the wrong way, but part of that is an interface problem — my PC demo started with an Xbox 360 controller, which explains some of the recoil control problems.
There are some rough spots in The New Order, but it seems like most of my gripes can be addressed in the home stretch — although revamping cutscenes is never easy. It seems to be a worthy addition to the Wolfenstein canon so far, especially with its emphasis on technological prowess and medical experimentation, while seemingly downplaying the overdrawn Nazi infatuation with the occult.
In the end, I’m just glad the hero has something to say, even if it’s only in his head.