In the 20 years since Wolfenstein 3D released (PS: you're old), the first-person shooter genre has changed. Whereas running around and shooting stuff directly in front of you without ever looking up was cool in 1992, gamers demand more from their shooters in 2013. They want shiny visuals, they want iron sights, they want a cover system, they want, they want, they want. But they also want games to feel "retro" and "old school" and everything else that conflicts with the other things they want.
Starbreeze's Wolfenstein: The New Order looks to satiate all of that, mixing together elements of old and new to create an experience that should make gamers of all kinds happy. Well, in theory--usually, trying to make everyone happy results in a disaster. Does The New Order succeed where so many before have failed? Here are 6 things you need to know.
The story is set in an alternate reality where the Nazis won WW2
World War II is over, and--uh oh--the bad guys won. Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place in an alternate past where the Nazis defeated the Allies in the war, leading to total world domination by Hitler and his armies. But it wasn't accomplished by brute force or blitzkrieg--strange, ancient technologies were what turned the tides. This weird machinery (which, ironically, is covered in Hebrew script) has led to the Nazis being more technologically advanced in 1960 than the world was in 1990. They put a Nazi on the moon.
You play as B.J. Blazkowicz, just-awoken from a coma that he's been in for 14 years. During the war he was one of the best soldiers the Allies had, and he's going to continue the fight now that he's awake. Working for the resistance, he aims to put a bullet in Hitler's skull... again.
It's incredible tense and moody...
We saw two sections of the game, the first of which was dramatic and emotional. In a scene that felt ripped from a Quentin Tarantino movie, B.J. was on a train with a creepy, evil Nazi woman. As he walked by with a few cups of coffee on a platter, she flagged him over, asking him to sit. There, she tested him, poking and prodding to find out if he was pure-blooded. She put her gun on the table and pulled out flash cards, saying that if he passed the test, he'd be proven pure. Each card had a different image, and he needed to choose the right ones or die.
At the end of the test she laughed, and grabbed her gun. "If you weren't an Aryan, you'd have tried to take the gun!" she screamed, laughing as she sent B.J. on his way. It was eerie and tense, and set the tone for the rest of the game.
...and then suddenly silly and insane
Or... so we thought. The next section of the demo had B.J. dropped off at a Nazi research facility in London--at which point the car peeled out and drove into the building, blowing a hole for B.J. to enter through. And then, out of nowhere, came the quips. "Got ya chasin' prey" he said as he ran around a giant, robotic dog. Soon after he trapped it under rubble and killed it. "You're the prey." Later, when he ran into a giant mech, he walked towards it and laughed "Wanna dance?" before being bashed away.
It was really out of place and annoying at first, given the moody introduction. But over time, we found B.J.'s dumb jokes and one-liners funny. "No power like firepower!" he yelled after picking up a chain gun. It was so uncomfortable and strange. When he found a picture of the Nazi moon landing, he glared in disgust. "You put a Nazi on the moon?! Fuck you, moon."
It plays like a modern shooter...
This swirl of flavors continued into the gunplay, which included many of the amenities we expect from a game released in 2013. There's a cover system, allowing B.J. to stick to objects in first-person. While there, he can peek and lean, pop above cover, and hide out while he regenerates health. It doesn't work perfectly, and we often found that we'd slip out of cover while trying to line up a shot, but it felt satisfactory most of the time.
B.J.'s suite of current-gen tools don't end there. The war hero can also sprint, slide, and pull up iron sights to get a better view of his enemy. While many of these elements might be seen as sacrilege to those looking for a "classic" shooter, they function well, and should help make Wolfenstein feel more like a modern shooter.
...with plentiful splashes of old-school FPS fun
Sure, New Order takes strides to modernize the classic FPS, but it also keeps one foot deeply rooted in the past. While there is regenerating health, B.J.'s health total will only tick back up to 20; to restore your HP to 100%, you'll need to pick up health and armor packs off the ground (an action that's currently mapped to the same button as reload, which sometimes causes conflict). This makes the shootouts feel more tense, and lowers the amount of time you'll spend hiding behind cover. You can also pick up extra health packs to raise from 100 to 200, though the number will slowly tick back down.
B.J.'s also able to dual-wield most weapons in the game, and carry as many as he can find. Instead of being limited to one or two firearms, we had a huge arsenal to choose from, giving us the feeling of an old-school shooter where we could swap between any number of guns in to mow down our enemies.
The weapons are big and rewarding
Part of that old-school delight is in finding and using big, beefy, powerful weapons. Besides having access to shotguns that could blast off enemy's limbs (and heads, leaving squishy brains behind) and an assortment of rifles, machine guns, and the occasional chaingun, we also had a laser that allowed us to cut through objects. This was mostly used to slice open vents, but we later found an even more powerful version that was devastating in battle.
And, again, the game straddles the line between old-school and new very well. That laser was not only a big fucking gun, but it allowed us to carve holes in boxes so we could loot them, as well as creating small slices in cover that we could fire through. We didn't end up using it too much for that, but when we did, it was incredibly rewarding.
Ready for war
We went into Wolfenstein: The New Order with lukewarm expectations, especially after the last few games in the franchise failed to impress. But after getting some hands-on time--and having our asses kicked by giant robots--we found ourselves totally pumped to play it later this year when it launches on current and next-gen consoles. It's one thing to make a retro-style FPS, but it's another to successfully merge what made old first-person shooters so challenging with everything that makes us love the current state of the genre. Sign us up.
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