The response to the announcement of Wolfenstein: The New Order’s announcement wasn’t exactly the most positive I’ve seen. In fact it generally seemed to consist of people questioning why the game exists and things along that line. To be honest I sort of fell into that camp, with nothing really drawing me to the game or exciting me.
Then the most annoying thing happened – I actually got to see and play the game. Bethesda’s games were my first appointment of this year’s E3, and this year’s entry into the the Wolfenstein series seems to be a big focus for them.
Fortunately, for a game that seems to be such a big focus for them, there’s a lot to like about the game. It’s set in an alternate version of the 1960s where the Nazi’s won the Second World War, and follows B.J. Blazkowicz as he battles against the Nazi rulers.
Before I got to play as B.J., Bethesda showed off some other chunks of the game. First up was an interesting story section set on a train, where Blazkowicz’s attempts to get coffee for him and his companion are interrupted by the arrival of a senior Nazi, her boy toy and their guardian mech.
Engel, the quietly terrifying high ranking Nazi who invites you to sit down with her and her companion Bubi, wants to play a psychological game to check that there’s no non-Aryan blood running in B.J.’s veins. Essentially she toys with you, before the astonishingly creepy Bubi stops her.
While this might seem like an odd scene to select for an E3 demo, it really shows an interesting direction for the game’s narrative. Obviously it’s not clear just to what extent moments like your encounter with Engel and Bubi will be dropped into the story, but if MachineGames and Bethesda can pepper your quest with these kind of character interactions then it really should set Wolfenstein apart from your typical first person shooter.
Of course, while character and narrative are all well good, it’s the combat that’s going to make up the majority of Wolfenstein’s play time. Although there’s some very basic cover based elements present, mostly in the form of a rather nice lean mechanic that uses the left shoulder button and the left stick in tandem, for the most part the combat seems standard but solid.
Far more interesting than the combat itself is the weapons that were on show. Although you have your standard pistol and sub-machine guns, the Nazi victory in World War II apparently gave a significant boost to humanity’s technological development. For example, in the hands on demo you’re given a hand held laser cutter, while what Bethesda were showing in their theatre featured a pretty wide array of energy weapons and very advanced projectile weaponry.
While the heavier weapons all looked hugely entertaining, it was the lightweight laser cutter that actually caught my attention. As the name suggests, this isn’t just a weapon, but also helps you to get to cut through things in your path. I can’t quite put my finger on why, but burning a hole in a chain link fence was just a great fun.
The game’s heavy use of mechs suggests the same kind of high tech advancement that the weapons do. They feature pretty much everywhere, acting as brutal enforcers of the Nazi rule. They range from odd, dog like creations, to full on battle suits three or four times the height of a human.
The way that these mechs are mixed in with average human units actually makes them a lot more interesting and challenging, as well as adding to the feeling that this really is a different reality. It would be pretty easy to hold them back for big fights, but it feels a lot more believable that they’d be assigned to as many squads as possible.
However, to use a cliché, it’s not all good. While there seemed to be a few minor moments that you were given a slightly more open approach to your progression, the demoes seemed incredibly linear overall. In particular the hands on, show floor demo felt more tightly guided than something like Call of Duty at the beginning.
While some may be fine with games that take that approach, it just a feels a bit tired now, particularly for a title that will be making an appearance on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One alongside it’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions.
Despite this, The New Order is certainly doing enough to warrant anticipation and excitement. It genuinely feels good to play, the weapons are fun to use, and it has the potential to to tell an interesting in a nicely character driven way. While I do feel somewhat surprised to be saying this, The New Order really does seem like it could be one to watch in the build up to its release this December.