Reviving BJ Blazkowicz - Hands-On with Wolfenstein: The New Order
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 09:58am 30/08/13 | Comments
AusGamers took time to have a crack at a second new hands-on session for Wolfenstein: The New Order from MachineGames. Read on for our full thoughts...
I'm positive that id Software would have opened Wolfenstein back in the 90s the way MachineGames has here, had it had the technical capabilities. Stylish, full of energy and desperation -- it's the sort of intro into an action-adventure game so many other studios would love to be able to pull off.
Ascending the wall of a German-occupied castle, BJ and his team take aim at windows, wiping out Nazis as they appear in spectacular vertical fashion. Unbelievable grapple device in his left hand and an assault rifle in his right, The New Orders' intro is as over-the-top as the character himself. But it's the added realism to this hyperreal world that doubly sells the experience. While ascending, if you aim to your left, where the grapple device is situated, the character will move it out of the way. You can also crawl a little to both your right and left and the whole time, because of this sense of realism, and based on the studio's heritage with greater first-person movement, you feel like you're actually in the body of the classic shooter hero.
And classic is the best way to describe Wolfenstein: The New Order. Your health, for example, is represented numerically and doesn't refill over time like most modern shooters. However, you can overcharge your health with found health packs and food (including dog food). Doing this will add the equivalent number of points to your HP but as soon as they're accrued, they also begin to countdown until you reach 100. There are also myriad secrets to uncover, whether its hidden switches to open false walls for classic treasure bounties, or simply hot wiring a case harbouring an awesome weapon, ammo cache or even more treasure -- the game is ever-rewarding as far as exploration is concerned, but it never once overshadows the core shooter experience.
That core experience then, is a symbiotic relationship of the aforementioned hyper-realism, with a grounded sense of self. BJ can run around with an assault rifle in each arm tearing up the place, but the way in which the enemy drops when they're shot or even just the sound and recoil of the weapons grounds that over-the-top gameplay with projected familiarity. Things work and react in this world the way you'd assume they should, except for BJ (and the equally crazy, creepy and downright scary side of this successful world-conquering regime).
The game paces itself beautifully too. The inside of the castle you ascend at the beginning is equal parts eerie and ripe for exploration. Frescos line the walls in keeping with the Nazi tradition of stealing all the world's greatest treasures, and you never know what you're going to find around each and every corner. You can crouch and lean out of cover, which is handy, and jump of course. Everything else though, is contextual to the situation handed to you. This is an adventure game wrapped in a shooter, so expect things to shift up as far as interaction with the world goes, but from what I've played so far, it's never at the cost of the meat of the game.
From a narrative level, MachineGames has baked half the storytelling into the physical world. Whether it’s live, real-time events or just an aftermath you accidentally stumble into, you're given the sort of exposition you can only get in the videogame medium. It's an important tool using the environment in this way. Players are going to be rampaging through most scenarios like a man possessed, breaking this up with too much interruption from a story-delivery perspective would be damaging to that core experience, so the way in which the team has approached this is quite a thing to behold. You might not expect a game like this to really hold any sort of depth where storytelling is concerned, but based on my two experiences with it so far you'd be wrong.
While it wasn't explicitly revealed in great detail, there will also be an element of choice in the game, though there’s no real word on consequence yet. The sequence in question though, had me choosing between two of my allies, as to who would have their eye removed by the mad General Deathshead. It's a jarring moment regardless who you choose, and given the brutal nature of the game, I'd be surprised if we don't see quite a few moments like it, but again, there was no real hint of consequence -- only the emotional markings on you based on your decision. Hopefully we see something relatively tangible in this area to promote at least a second playthrough for players, but for now, we'll have to wait and see.
And that brings me to the final point of the game, because the word "brutal" should not be understated here. Bethesda games are often known for their maturity, but Wolfenstein takes it to newer heights. And it's not even just about gore. The implied horror is what makes this game often uneasy, and adds to that grounded sense of self I talked about earlier. Of course it's an over-the-top action game, but it takes its foundation from a slice of history and an evil the world actually knew. Put into context then, that evil actually being successful in their goal armed with your knowledge of the lengths they went to, to get there, and you might have an idea of what I'm talking about. I'd rather not spoil the full-on surprise, but if you like your games served with no holds barred, Wolfenstein will do it.
It's worth noting that as far as a shooter goes, The New Order feels fantastic. The weight and sound of your weapons and, again, the damage you inflict with them is a rewarding and exciting experience. BJ's strengths as a soldier come into absolute light and you feel all-powerful playing as him. The game's ability to guide you while giving you recourse is a design element missed on many studios, and it's very arguable that MachineGames has done with id Tech 5 what id couldn't do (as well as we’d hoped) -- it looks fantastic running on current-gen and we still haven't seen PC or next-gen consoles yet, but that’s likely the reason for the recent delay into 2014.
People can piss and moan about the lack of multiplayer here, but that doesn’t mean multiplayer in this franchise is dead, rather MachineGames is simply focusing on what it knows best and as far as an action shooter goes, The New Order is definitely hitting all the right notes. I’m slightly biased though, because I love a good single-player experience, but if this offering into a new world for Wolfenstein is successful then perhaps the skies the limit for its reinvigorated future. If you’re after a solid, fun and rewarding game, so far Wolfenstein: The New Order is looking to deliver.