Posted on May 28, 2013, Phil Hornshaw Wolfenstein’s New Order is to Combine Old School with New
It’s not long into my hands-on playthrough with Wolfenstein: The New Order that I’m cradling a giant shotgun in each hand, each looking as though it was constructed using about 80 pounds of jagged metal.
As I round a corner entering the maintenance area of the Nazis’ lunar landing museum, angry Germans come sprinting toward me around the curved walkway. They’re met with a wall of spread fire that looks like it hits with the same punch as a sports car meeting a brick wall at 100 mph. Soldiers go flopping backward and crumple in heaps on the ground.
In these moments, the new Wolfenstein title from MachineGames hits that nostalgic sense of being a throwback to another era — an era of weapons that existed purely to be huge and ridiculous, and shooters in which the strategy was to literally run in a circle around confused enemies, ventilating them with everything from 9mm pistol rounds to plasma bursts to arcing electricity.
But this is not Wolfenstein’s only experience.
During my hands-on, I experience a fascinating gamut of first-person shooter mechanics. MachineGames is looking to blend the old-school run-and-gun game with more modern ideas of cover, strategy and cautious play. The result is an experience in which you feel like a one-man army whose bad-assery is trumped only by his brainpower — you’re a killing machine who has to outsmart enemies in order to stay alive, as well as be better at absorbing bullets than they are.
Waking Up in a New World
BJ Blazkowicz is having a bad time.
Last thing he remembers, he was fighting Nazis in World War II. Then something happened, and he wound up in a coma. When he awoke, he was an amnesiac and it didn’t take long for him to land in a mental institution. Some 14 years later, it’s now the 1960s — and BJ has his memory back. As he finally becomes aware of the world around him and his own past, he realizes what has happened: the Nazis won. The world is dominated. And the only way to fight back, apart from just being BJ Blazkowicz, is to seek out and join resistance fighters hiding from the occupiers.
It’s an alternate history that gives MachineGames some room to maneuver and explore, said Tommy Tordsson Björk, the game’s narrative designer.
“We wanted to go back to the core experience of what a Wolfenstein game is, and sort of build from that into a new direction,” Björk said. “And so we figured that exploring an alternate history is really something that, I think, people find very appealing, because it allows you to imagine a what-if scenario, and sort of explore that environment — ‘What if the Nazis had won the war, what would the world look like?’”
Namely, the world looks like a hellish melding of a ravaged society and a mechanical, totalitarian construct built atop it, not unlike the combination of alien architecture with the remnants of destroyed buildings in Half-Life 2′s City 17. There’s also a clear distinction between being a part of the new world order and, well, not. The demo we saw was divided into two parts: an assault on a Nazi research lab in London, which I was able to play, and a story driven train ride shown for eyes only.
The train ride portion of the demo presents some solid evidence that MachineGames is as committed to story in Wolfenstein as the developers suggest. Senior Gameplay Designer Andreas Öjerfors explained that MachineGames calls The New Order a “story-driven first-person action adventure,” and the opening of the hands-off demo certainly hits the story part hard. It finds BJ aboard the train, meeting his partner (and often the voice on the other end of the radio), Anya. On his way to her compartment with a tray of coffees, BJ is intercepted by a pair of antagonists we’re going to see again later: the sadistic Frau Engel and her equally creepy, subservient boy-toy, Bubi.
With nowhere to go (and understanding but not speaking German, it seems), BJ is forced into a booth with Engel and Bubi, with guards and a bipedal mech reminiscent of Robocop‘s ED-209 standing just feet away. Engel questions BJ about the purity of his blood — whether he’s truly as Aryan has his blond hair and blue eyes, which MachineGames is basing on the original Wolfenstein 3D character health icon, make him look.
“‘What if the Nazis had won the war, what would the world look like?’”
Engel insists she has a test that can sniff out anyone without pure blood, and pulls a gun on BJ. With nowhere to go, he’s forced to play along as the two Nazi officers laugh at the idea of summarily executing him. Engel asks BJ to pick between three pairs of photos that seemingly have nothing to do with one another, with the images including dark-haired people and light-haired ones, a spider, a flower, and a pile of bones.
Throughout this portion of the demo, it appears the player has the ability to choose either image by guiding BJ’s hand — or to grab the gun, which Frau Engel has left lying on the table. After choosing the third image, Engel again pulls the gun on BJ, but only laughs. Someone with impure blood, she tells BJ, would have gone for the pistol. With that, she sends BJ on his way with his tray of coffee, and he heads back to meet Anya. It’s a powerful character moment, not only because of Engel and Bubi, who are intense and unpredictable in the same way as Hans Gruber in Die Hard, but because it seems to really rattle BJ. He’s human, after all.