Wolfenstein: The New Order is unashamedly old-school. The product of Swedish upstart Machine Games – a new outfit comprised of Starbreeze veterans – the revamp endeavours to ditch the conventions that have consumed the first-person genre over the course of the current generation, evangelising classic staples such as medkits, enormous arsenals, and even bigger guns. But while the excursion through time is clearly a risky proposition, does it profit from its more simplistic sensibilities?
Assuming the role of William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, gaming’s inaugural Nazi eliminator, the narrative takes place in an alternate history in which Adolf Hitler and his band of unhinged cronies have taken control of the globe. Unable to lead a resistance due to the untimely onset of an irksome coma, the steroid-powered protagonist awakes to find the world a changed place. This leads to the ripped hero embarking on a Rambo-esque adventure across Europe, pumping lead into any Swastika-branded grunts that dare to cross his path.
Narrative was not the emphasis during our hands-on session, but coming from the team behind The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, we’re pledged plenty of exploratory segments in which the plot promises to take centre stage. It’s worth noting that the Uppsala-based studio is skipping multiplayer entirely, opting to concentrate on concocting a killer single player campaign. It’s a sound decision – especially considering the dominance of the genre’s biggest brands – but it’s going to put even more pressure on the developer to deliver something special throughout the solo affair.
Fortunately, the gunplay is more satisfying than rubbing salt into a mouth ulcer. Throughout the course of our relatively brief playthrough, we managed to amass an expansive artillery encompassing various shotguns, submachine guns, laser pistols, and more. Many of the weapons can be dual-wielded, meaning that you can sprint into battle picking off ostentatiously dressed adversaries with simultaneous shots of magnum fire to the face. Not that you’ll have much opportunity to do so in the game’s current guise – our Blazkowicz seemed more Blazkowimp due to the title's punishing difficulty. It’s still being balanced, apparently.
That doesn’t mean that the weapons aren’t exceptionally good fun, though. Picking off foes feels satisfying, with streams of bullets coercing your folly into macabre death marches. It’s not just gunmen of the flesh that you’ll be slaughtering – robots are also a fixture in this alternate history setting, testing your engineering acumen as you dismantle their armoured chassis one clip at a time.
It’s fun, but there’s going to need to be more to the game. Perhaps that’s where the communicative components will click in, but as already alluded, there was no hint of that in our hands-on. One sequence does introduce an element of verticality – pitting us at the bottom of a heavily-guarded spiral staircase – so there is evidence of variety in the gunfights. These shootouts remain intense throughout, primarily because you’ll need to gather resources from the carcasses of your fallen foes, resulting in reckless sprints through crossfire in order to grab an essential boost.
In fact, the health system is daringly different. Your life does restore in a lethargic fashion, but you’ll need to loot your victims or find items to properly replenish your energy. Both armour and vitality can be collected, but if either exceeds 100 per cent, the figure will deplete. This is actually a neat system which adds to the intensity of the action, as you kamikaze into battle when you’re overpowered in order to take advantage of your temporary buff.
Weapons are not restricted to combat either, with one laser rifle that we snatched able to cut through steel panels. This is not only essential for navigation purposes, but also for finding collectibles, as a cracked open metallic case rewards us with a welcome ammunition upgrade. The full game will be packed with intelligence items, currency, and more, perhaps paving the way for plenty of replayability. Again, we didn’t get to see enough of this for it to convince us either way.
Still, the game looks good enough. It’s being powered by Bethesda’s proprietary id Tech 5 engine, which was last employed in the flawed post-apocalyptic outing RAGE. A lot of the environments that we got to explore involved clinical corridors, but there were some standout areas, including a gigantic hangar deck scattered with cyborgs and disgruntled guards. The frame-rate is already fluid, and the studio’s promising an additional layer of polish prior to release. It’s no Killzone: Shadow Fall just yet, but that’s partly through artistic intent – this is shooting for a much darker tone, which is perhaps in-keeping with the story setup.
It’s the simple act of pulling the trigger that left us most impressed, though. Machine Games is clearly not trying to reinvent the wheel – in fact, it’s very much attempting to turn it back a few notches. And in a round-about way, that’s actually sort of refreshing. The commercial success of Call of Duty has forced the first-person genre into an insipid production line of rat-a-tat shootouts and larger-than-life set-pieces. By stepping away from that, Blazkowicz’s rebellious return to form promises copious amounts of combat catharsis. Will it be brilliant? It’s too early to tell – but it’s definitely going to be brash.
Wolfenstein: The New Order will unload its ammunition on both the PS3 and PS4 later this year. Is your trigger finger itching to play the title? Let us know in the comments section below.