We were invited down for an afternoon at Bethesda in London to get our hands on the new Wolfenstein game, to which we graciously accepted. We weren’t prepared for just how much fun the experience was. Let’s be straight here; Wolfenstein has always been about shooting Nazis in the face. Now, there is plenty of that so no need to worry but there is also a sizable amount of interesting options added to back up its single-player only choice.
This new entry into the illustrious series is being handled by Machine Games from Sweden formed by ex-Starbreeze Studios founders. This being their first game causes the feeling of a fresh start for the series to be even further exaggerated. The whole time spent playing the first few hours had me saying the phrase “Oh wow!” continuously. I found myself constantly surprised with how violent, gory, yet hilarious the game is.
So, getting down to it, this is an FPS that has taken a very unpopular route and is single-player only. This choice may seem like a bad business decision but the gap in the market for an awesome single-player FPS experience, over six hours in length, is huge. While maybe every now and then Call of Duty manages to have a decent campaign and every couple of years we get a Halo famous for its story mode, there really aren’t many other FPS games with attention lavished upon the solo experience. That’s all good in theory but does it stand up to scrutiny? I’m happy to report: it bloody well does.
Wolfenstein: The New Order does shooting Nazis in the face better than any game in recent memory. The gunplay is fantastic. There is the choice of precision but also the ability to dual-wield any two of the same weapon in the game - even the knives which can lead to some hilarious gameplay. This leads to frantic firefights where switching up your weapons is important. There is an obvious and very old school design ethic behind this game as it allows you to carry more than two guns at once. As if giving you a large arsenal of guns that you can switch to at any point wasn’t enough, the visual design of these is all fantastic. Your standard Thompson, for example, even in 1946 has a more mechanical look to it, due to the alternate history timeline the game’s narrative follows.
At the beginning of the game it’s 1946 and World War Two has been going on longer than in real life as the Germans seem to have acquired some advanced technology. It’s not clear why or how this happened but it’s something we’re promised we’ll find out while plowing through the twelve to sixteen hour story. As B.J. Blazkowicz you are an all-american walking machine of death that manages to survive until 1960 in an almost vegetative state, until one day, when threatened with death, your functions come back to you and it’s payback time. The story, while not the most thorough, is something that comes across as a huge difference from your average FPS. There is effort here beyond your common ‘save the world’ narrative and Wolfenstein pulls this off in a very tongue in cheek way. It knows it’s an over-the-top FPS and doesn’t pretend to be anything else making it a refreshingly large step away from modern military shooters. There is very little dissonance between the Blazkowicz in the cut-scenes and the game, which is a big deal for, frankly, any first person shooter.
Just like its predecessors, Wolfenstein is bloody. Very bloody. Headshots leave soldiers with no heads, standing there for a second before they flop to the floor. The impact of every shot is noticeable on screen with the reaction of the enemy as they are hammered by your choice of death dealing. This actually leads nicely on to the way the game looks and after a while it became apparent what it reminded me most of; Bioshock Infinite. The game has a bold style that is, while cartoony, slightly hyperrealistic. Everything is exaggerated, which plays well with the over-the-top nature of the title but straddles a line that can cause a flinch every now and then with some deaths.
There are several new systems in place that help keep things interesting in a single-player only setting. There is a perk system that allows you to upgrade different aspects of the gameplay by playing that way. Enjoy using dual-wield? Use it and you’ll unlock quicker reload times. But we were also told that it is possible to unlock everything in one playthrough to make yourself an ultimate walking tank if you wish. These are all unlocked by challenges relating to that play style. Also, while there is regenerating health in the game, once you’ve got to 100 health you can overcharge yourself for a short period by picking up more health allowing you to absorb more damage.
The levels seem to have been designed with exploration in mind as there are secrets all over the place. But while this adds to the old school feel of the title, it also feels very reminiscent of another Bethesda published title. Dishonored came to mind more than once while exploring and finding secrets. The way the levels are designed means there aren’t just linear corridors to be led down but many areas to explore and mini puzzles to solve which may or may not lead to Nazi Gold and a whole range of other collectables.
Collectables come in several different forms that actually might end up making a difference. Nazi Gold will give you power ups that may include improvements to overall health and similar things. There is plenty of concept art, there are Enigma Codes that allow you to augment the game in different ways. There is also plenty more I’m sure.
This is all stuff we only found in our very short playthrough of a press build of the game. There is so much more to come that we can’t wait to get our teeth into the final experience. Everything we’ve seen so far is showing that Machine Games may have the perfect formula to reinvigorate the single-player FPS.