At Bethesda’s pre-E3 presentation I was able to go hands on with the recently announced Wolfenstein: The New Order from Machine Games. Prior to playing the demo, a room full of journalists were privy to an in game sequence showing off the game’s graphics and set up the antagonists of the game.
The first scene we saw had BJ posing as a server on a Nazi passenger train. While bringing coffee to the back of the train , he is interrupted mid task by a Nazi Officer and her boy toy and forced to sit down and participate in a game that is to reveal whether or not he’s “pure blood.” It’s tense, and wonderfully acted and animated. Think about the scene in the bar in Inglorious Bastards and you’ll get the idea.
After this scene the demo began proper (SPOILERS BEGIN NOW) with BJ in a car with a resistance fighter whom I assume we’ll know more about in the actual game, however, in this context it was still kind of shocking how his involvement ends. After your driver’s explosive ending, it’s time to start killin’ Nazis.
Once I gained control I noticed the game’s HUD. On the bottom of the screen–centered, and taking up very little screen real estate–were the health and shield meters. The health is on the left and is represented by the classic health cross flanked by a number (starting at 100 but can go up with pick ups) and to the right of that is a shield that represents your armor, also flanked by a number. It’s minimal but very old school and pretty neat considering how fresh the visuals are.
BJ was left with nothing but a pistol and embarked on a game of cat and mouse with a robot dog with huge jaws full of sharp, metal teeth. The tension was palpable during this segment, but unless I’m incredibly awesome–which is incredibly possible–it felt rather scripted.
During this section of the game I managed to pick up another weapon, a fully automatic assault rifle, and noticed the game’s weapon switching. Instead of tapping Y, I had to hold down the left bumper and it brought up a side-scrolling menu that showed each gun (and their dual wielding variant once I had picked it up). From this menu you can highlight any gun and press Y to favorite the weapon, which can then be selected quickly by pressing Y again. It’s not over intuitive, but that could be just me because I’ve been playing Call of Duty regularly since 2006. I did manage to get used to it, so I suspect most players will as well.
After this moment I entered the building and I immediately noticed that the game didn’t have any sort of hand holding guide to lead me to my objective. There was no radar, no button to press that lays out a trail or anything of the sort. Despite this, I never felt lost or unsure of what to do next. Contextual objects that could be interacted with were highlighted in a subtle but noticeable way by giving off a faint glow, or were seemingly lit a bit brighter than the rest of the environment. It’s intuitive and makes it feel slightly less “gamey” (though I loathe the term, it is apt).
I should note that it was here that the demo and I had a disagreement because I was tasked with hot-wiring an electric lock and was prompted to touch two wires together to open it. The only issue was that I was doing what it asked and nothing was happening. One of the developers even came over to assist me and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t opening. Finally they asked for me to hand them the controller and they managed to do it. Not sure how, but I didn’t make the game. I was just playing it and I’m perfectly okay with conceding that the developers are far smarter than I.
From here I had to shoot my way through some waves of enemies, searching rooms for old school pick ups. As mentioned earlier, your health and armor meters default at 100, but picking up health packs and flack vests allow that number to be exceeded (point of fact–at various parts of the demo the meters seemed to max out at 200).
Once I cleared the room I had to face off with a massive Nazi mech. Here is where the cover mechanic became useful. We’ve seen cover mechanics a gazillion times, but like this year’s Tomb Raider, the cover in Wolfenstein: The New Order is contextual. If you are behind cover, simply pulling the left trigger to aim will pop you up over cover to get some shots off as you aim down the sights. Releasing the left trigger puts you back into cover. You can also lean out from cover, but doing so leaves you in a shooting from the hip perspective. Though less accurate, it’s still effective. The cover isn’t sticky, and doesn’t require a button press. In fact, between this and Tomb Raider, I’d be more than happy if this became the de facto cover mechanic in games from here on out.
Once I defeated the Nazi mech, I moved into the next area, and noticed that MachineGames wanted combat to be varied not just from the AI and enemy types, but also how the game plays. There is an emphasis on verticality you don’t see in many shooters that simply throw the player into a room with one, maybe two tiers and that’s it. This was not the case in this next area.
Moving into a sort of museum with high ceilings needed to display a giant replica of the moon, walkways flanked the display providing enemies a good vantage point and, ultimately an advantage, because even in cover I died here a lot. Bringing it back to the briefing for a moment, we were told that the demo we would be playing was set at a difficultly resembling hard and they weren’t kidding. The ease of which you intake a fatal amount of bullets, the verticality of the level, and the AI all forced me to move quickly looking for places I could get a clear shot at the enemies on catwalks, stairs and walkways.
After narrowly surviving the most recent onslaught, I made my way a small surveillance room to the top of the area. Once I retrieved the dual-wield shotguns, I was prompted by Anya (whom is, I assume, the love interest if one exists) via ear piece to make my way down to a door that was inaccessible from the walkways. It was here that I experienced my second and last technical issue with the demo. As I mentioned earlier, environments that can be interacted with give off a subtle glow, as was the case with a chain holding up a satellite display. The objective in this particular moment was to use my hand welder to burn through the chain dropping the satellite between the two walkways and use the solar panels as a bridge. The only issue was that it wouldn’t work. Thinking “video games” I decided to off myself by jumping from a walkway and restart from the last checkpoint. Fighting through all of the enemies again, I got to the makeshift bridge section and again, the hand torch wouldn’t cut through the chain. I’m not sure if this was a foreseen issue or what but there was a cross beam I could walk on not too far from this that lead above the walkway I needed to get to so I just made my away across that and dropped down taking minor damage in the process.
Anyway, moving down a small corridor, I entered a lab that triggered a cut scene. Noticeably pre-rendered, the game employed split screen to show the two people that BJ was communicating with. Once I regained control I got my hands on a rail gun/torch combo gun and literally tossed the puny hand torch to the ground. It was actually a funny moment and nice little touch that you don’t often get in games of the genre.
Here is where I moved into the final and most difficult section of the demo. I entered a hanger replete with walkways, rooms, cover, Nazis and 3 Nazi mechs. This made me appreciate the pacing of the demo and the sense of escalation. Each area ramped up to the next, slowly preparing you for this moment. From the one on one mech confrontation, to the verticality, the cover mechanic–all of it coalescing into a nice, natural and intuitive tutorial.
Using my same old shooter trick of stop and pop to whittle down the numbers most emphatically did not work here. The enemies can and will shoot you from every possible angle, including cracks in your cover. Instead, I had to take out a few enemies, move on to the next section, grab what I could, shoot and move on. This part easily took me 15 minutes to clear, and there are a variety of different ways I could have approached defeating the enemies.
Once the enemies had been slaughtered, it came time for a proper boss battle; a giant, Uber Nazi Mech made its way into the hanger. It turned out to be a slightly underwhelming fight because the mech only strafed right to left, didn’t move very fast, and had an audio tell when it was about to fire its missile in your general direction which was enough to deplete half of my health in one shot. I simply had to enact a war of attrition by slowly plugging away at it, while running around a big structure in the middle of the room.
Defeating the Uber Nazi Mech ended the demo.
I will admit that I am relatively easy to please with shooters as long as the controls are tight, and the action is smooth and exciting. Wolfenstein: The New Order has this in spades. It’s gorgeous, at times funny, violent and plain old ridiculous. It’s clear that MachineGames loves the franchise and wishes to usher it into the current and coming generation with flair and style. It doesn’t reinvent the genre and I appreciate that. They know what Wolfenstein is and want to make a Wolfenstein game that takes advantage of the next gen graphics and gameplay. And if this demo is any indication, they may have pulled it off.