Wolfenstein: The New Order preview – flying high on a West Wing and a prayer
Bearing the name of a franchise that started life over 20 years ago doesn’t immediately instil confidence that Wolfenstein: The New Order is going to provide something genuinely new in what is an already over-populated first-person shooter genre. However, as with The Never Ending Story and organic food, names can be deceiving. The New Order might be trying to draw on those nostalgic heartstrings that still sing for the series’ early entries, but it’s plucking at them in very much its own way.
Having now played the first three levels, it’s clear this shooter is primarily concerned with being big, eccentric and charmingly exaggerated. Within the opening couple of hours we battle mechanical attack dogs, navigate through the legs of a giant robot and narrowly survive a scrape with a sadistic Nazi doctor who is the very embodiment of a dastardly comic-book villain.
Following a traumatic event that befalls protagonist William ‘Blazko’ Blazkowicz – sending him into a state of semiconsciousness – 16 years pass in the blink of a cutscene eye. When he fully awakes
in 1960, he’s met with a world in which the Nazis have won the war and taken over. This 1960 features flying machine gun drones, bipedal robots reminiscent of Robocop’s ED-209 and guns that wouldn’t look out of place in Killzone or Mass Effect. Your one-man mission is to reignite the resistance and destroy the Nazis – and nothing screams Wolfenstein like a realistic narrative full of rational and sensible characters.
There’s a great deal of variety in how you’re tasked with approaching and winning this war. In the first two levels alone we conquer the skies with a turret gun, scale a castle using a rope and hook, use stealth to disable guards at a checkpoint and search a garage for goggles to protect our eyes from blood splatter as we chainsaw a Nazi captive to death. Levels are designed specifically to facilitate player choice, meaning there’s often more than one way to approach any given situation.
“We’re tempted to sack off the stealth options because the shooting feels great”
When we enter an area harbouring an enemy commander, for example, an icon appears on-screen to tell us how aware of our presence he is. If we can put him out of service without being seen, nobody else can call in reinforcements – making our overall job much easier. Once the commander’s down, it’s up to us whether we dispatch the rest of the enemies through stealth or an all-guns-blazing approach – safe in the knowledge that more bad guys aren’t going to appear. Alternatively, we can let the commander see us and have a whole area’s regiment come at us – and we’re tempted to sack off the stealth options because the shooting feels great.
The futuristic weapons and enemies means you’re having the most fun when tackling foes head-on; working out which guns are best for a given situation and how you can use the environment to your advantage. Dungeon-like corridors force you to play more slowly to avoid getting caught unawares, whereas more open areas allow you to choose between getting up high and using sniper rifles – which can be dual-wielded – or staying low in the thick of the action.
If later levels can introduce new ideas and challenges with the frequency of The New Order’s initial hours, it’s difficult to see how it could possibly fail to undo the damage done to the series with last-gen’s so-so instalment. What was once looking to be a stop-gap until Doom has suddenly turned into a dark horse for 2014.