Posted on February 24, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Wolfenstein: The New Order Preview: Winning a Losing Fight
If there’s a single theme running through Wolfenstein: The New Order, it’s one of mixture, hybridization and juxtaposition.
At every turn, MachineGames’ entry into the storied first-person shooter franchise combines elements of the shooter genre to create something a little bit different: it’s fighting Nazis, but in an alternate 1960; it’s a run-and-gun shooter, but you can play it tactically using cover or stealthily by paying attention to your environment; protagonist BJ Blaskowicz is an insanely powerful super-soldier, but the game’s tone drips failure and tragedy, conveying a war, and a world, lost.
Those slight twists on what we’ve seen before, hybridizing older shooter design elements with more modern ones, serve to make The New Order an interesting unknown quantity. At a Bethesda preview event earlier this month, I got a chance to play through the first three missions of Wolfenstein: The New Order — one of which we hadn’t seen before though the first were previewed by our Devin Connors — and they did nothing but reinforce the sense that MachineGames’ willingness to mix things together could wind up creating a standout experience that’s a little different from what shooter fans are used to playing.
The preview, which lasted about two hours, starts somewhat abruptly aboard an Allied plane during what amounts to a full-scale invasion of a particular Nazi installation. The year is 1946, and somewhere during the course of the war, Nazi technology spiked, leaving the Allies facing superior firepower at every turn. The man responsible for those weapons is commonly called General Deathshead, and the invasion is one last push to stop him, and by extension, the Nazi war machine.
It’s a losing battle. Players, as BJ, are sent scampering around the plane as it comes under fire in a tutorial mission, first fixing fuel lines, next manning a gun turret, until the plane goes down hard on the beachhead. There, BJ finds himself sneaking away from early versions of the huge, dog-like mechanical monstrosities we’ve seen before, known as panzerhunds. There’s swimming and stealth at play in this stage, until BJ can use a crashed plane’s turrets to blast a panzerhund to scrap and free his trapped comrades from some wreckage.
Then it’s off to invade the fort. BJ separates from his commander and allies, as all good one-man armies must, and heads into the trenches while also avoiding a “stomper,” a several-stories tall spider-like robot that fires bursts of electricity at soldiers below. Regular enemy troops, too, are outfitted with strange gear with a Nazi steampunk look, but they fall to your bullets just the same.
More Than Run-and-Gun
It’s in the trenches that players first get a sense of how Wolfenstein brings together multiple play styles, much in the same way as titles such as the Deus Ex series.
Almost every encounter with enemies can happen several ways, depending on how you approach it and how you like to play. You can cradle an assault rifle under each arm and spray down soldiers as they foolishly step out of cover to oppose you, or you can play more deliberately, using contextual cover by pressing up against walls and boxes and leaning out, taking enemies down with fewer shots by looking down your iron sights.
If you’re really careful and pay close attention to your options, you can usually engage in even stealthier gameplay in The New Order. Working through the trenches to take down machine gun nests, you can sneak up behind solders for silent takedowns, which has the benefit of allowing you to kill commanders, enemies who can call reinforcements, without being detected.
And most areas have multiple paths that lead to the same place, but create very different gameplay scenarios. In the trenches, it’s possible to walk the main path down the center of each ditch and come across every enemy head-on; or you can cut through bunkers, which can put you in several smaller, tighter engagements; or you can follow a path over land that cuts between two sections of the trench, bypassing some fights or allowing you to get behind enemies. Throughout the first three missions, most areas allowed for players to explore a bit and find different potential ways of entering and approaching a fight, which lent themselves to the various play styles.