Wolfenstein: The New Order Hands-On Preview - More Than Just Nazi Blasting
Written Monday, February 24, 2014 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
I played the opening three hours of Wolfenstein: The New Order recently, at Bethesda’s offices in London. The series reboot, set during an alternate history in which the Nazis won World War II, is at turns hilarious, thrilling and occasionally troubling. But here’s the main thing I learned: it’s not the shooting that makes Wolfenstein: The New Order interesting.
Don’t get me wrong, the combat’s good. Reducing Nazi faces to mush and sending helmets spinning through the air is fun, especially considering the generous weapon load-outs and your character’s dual-wielding abilities. There’s an over-the-top goriness to the gunplay; a blood-drenched, viscera-splatted ridiculousness to it that’s great fun. But that’s not the interesting bit.
It’s not the stealth either. Blast your way noisily through the game’s Nazi strongholds and you’ll alert commanders, who’ll then call in reinforcements. Creep unnoticed around the multi-route levels, however, and you may be able to take out a commander silently, jamming your knife into his throat before the alarms are raised. Do so and you’ll encounter far less resistance. It’s a nice way to encourage different approaches, but it’s not what I found most interesting about the game.
No. Instead, the most interesting thing about Wolfenstein’s first three hours is the stuff you do when you’re not slaughtering Nazis. It’s a surprisingly multi-faceted game, overwhelmingly combat-focused, but nevertheless capable of providing some interesting diversions.
So as well as sneaking and blasting, you’ll be rushing around the belly of a stricken plane during a huge Allied assault, repairing systems and jettisoning weight to avoid kersploshing into the sea. You’ll explore German castles, stealing gold and moving ornaments to activate dusty secret passageways. And you’ll find yourself aboard a train, attempting to prove your “Aryaness” by playing card games with fantastically camp Nazis.
These activities, combined with the core gameplay and some engaging set-pieces - including downing fighter planes with a bomber’s gun turrets, scaling castle walls and battling huge mechs - contributed to three hours that were encouragingly three-dimensional. It could ensure that Wolfenstein offers enough variety to keep the game buzzing along, never getting bogged down in one element and always providing new tasks with which to engage. It’s heartening.
All of this is bolstered by level design which offers players a surprising amount of choice. In one section, during an attempt to infiltrate a Nazi base, I chose to Call of Duty my way into a control room, take out the commander, then defeat a stomping mech by slamming its deactivate button. However, I could equally have crawled through underground tunnels beneath the base, scaled a tower and sniped the commander from a vantage point, before taking out the mech with some heavy artillery. Wolfenstein’s not just a set of Nazi-filled corridors.
In many ways then, Wolfenstein could see MachineGames live up to its pedigree. The studio was founded by ex-Starbreeze talent, the same people responsible for Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness, brilliant titles that combined great pacing and multifaceted action with some memorably inventive scenes. Wolfenstein has many of the ingredients to repeat the trick.
There are some problems it has to overcome first, however, if it’s to match those games. The first three hours of Wolfenstein has some weird tonal issues, as it veers between darkness, irreverence, outright comedy and menace in a way that doesn’t quite work. It’s all over the place, something that’s neatly summed up by one strange section about 90 minutes into the game.
Here’s the setup. For reasons that I’ll leave unexplained, our hero "B.J." Blazkowicz takes a Nazi hostage, ties him to a chair and threatens him with a massive chainsaw. Only problem is, there’s no fuel and Blazkowicz is wearing what he feels is inappropriate clothing. So the player has to scuttle around the garage collecting petrol for the chainsaw, overalls to protect and goggles for our health and safety conscious hero.
It’s properly funny, as the player acts out a brilliantly perverse set of fetch quests, all within the confines of a tiny domestic garage. I was laughing out loud, right up to the moment when Blazkowicz pushed the whirring teeth of the chainsaw towards the screaming Nazi’s neck. Then, suddenly, the whole thing got rather dark, rather quick. The scene cuts away without showing the bloodshed, but it’s unsettling.
Wolfenstein is like this throughout. One minute a mech-dog will enthusiastically catch a potato masher grenade like a pup with a stick, only to explode into pieces, the next minute you’ll be choosing which of your companions should have their eye gouged out. One second you’ll be chuckling as your shotgun messily separates a Nazi from his head, the next you’ll be wincing at the graphic ferocity of the stabbing animation. The tonal shifts could be handled in a smoother manner.
Regardless, there’s plenty of reasons to be enthusiastic about Wolfenstein: The New Order. It’s a fun game, with great set-pieces, a diverse set of experiences, clever level design, enjoyable shooting and worthwhile stealth. Time will tell, however, if it can live up to the high water mark set by the developer’s previous game. We remain hopeful.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is out on May 20th in North America and on May 23rd in Europe for PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.