Wolfenstein: The New Order preview: Running and gunning, with personality

By John Keefer, May 28, 2013 9:00am PDT

Wolfenstein: The New Order brings back B.J. Blazkowicz for another round of Nazi killing. Developer MachineGames tries to modernize the franchise by adding depth to its characters and writing, but it doesn't quite fit with the campy, arcade-style tenets that are core to the series. While the attempt is admirable, Wolfenstein fans will be more interested in the energetic action the series is known for, and the demo we saw has that down quite nicely.

In this incarnation, B.J. Blazkowicz faces an alternate reality in the 1960s where the Germans won World War 2 with some new, mysterious technology. He has come out of a coma after 14 years and must come to grips with this new world order. Creative director Jens Matthies said one of the goals for the game was to develop some drama within the story and give the player a reason to care about the characters.

To illustrate the point, we see B.J. traveling on a train, as a transition between missions. While getting coffee for a traveling companion, B.J. runs into Frau Engel, a German officer, and her associate Bubi, who Matthies describes as her "psycho boytoy." In a slightly interactive sequence, Engel forces B.J. to sit down for a game, where she gauges his reactions to a variety of pictures to determine just how Aryan he is. The player must choose which image is more emotional. The game was driven by one of the developers so it is unclear if there is a wrong response, but at one point, Engle points her pistol at you, informing this is the last set of pictures, so make your choice a good one.

There is definitely tension as Engel exudes an "I own you" air in the confrontation. She lets you off with a slightly maniacal laugh, then goes back to paying amorous attention to Bubi. A few seconds later, B.J. is being asked my his female companion if he minds sharing the single bed in the room. Coupled with the improved graphics and decent voice acting, the whole sequence adds personality that hasn't been seen much in previous Wolfenstein games, and is somewhat refreshing for those that want personality mixed with their FPS.

But the personality doesn't last. The demo abruptly gets back to B.J.'s calling card--death and destruction. The scene switches to B.J. preparing for a mission to a German research facility in London that he must infiltrate to capture some advanced helicopters. As B.J. makes his way through the facility he faces off against a wide variety of Nazi enemies--soldiers in gas masks, robo dogs with large metal teeth, and robots with lasers and machine guns. After the early emphasis on character development and depth, the game falls back to traditional Wolfenstein gameplay of blasting your way through levels and staying alive to get to the next mission.

In the ensuing mayhem, the personable B.J. devolves into a Duke Nukem parody with his campy one-liners. In one particular scene, B.J. reads a plaque showing that the Germans were the first to the moon. His response: "You put a Nazi on the moon. F**k you, moon." The entire sequence is peppered with these little gems, pretty much counteracting every sense of emotional attachment you might have started to feel for the new B.J. By the end of the demo, he comes across as dumber than a doorstop whose only usefulness is his Rambo-style approach to getting the job done.

And that shouldn't matter to Wolfenstein fans who just want a good fast-paced FPS. B.J. finds plenty of over-the-top futuristic weapons, such as a lightning gun and energy cannon, that he can dual wield to dispatch formidable robots and adversaries. He can take over turrets to blast waves of enemies. And the big lug can still take a lot of damage. He still has to smash crates to find health packs and armor, but his health will regenerate a bit on its own in 20 HP increments before stalling and requiring a health power up. There are even a few puzzles that need to be solved to progress through the level--whether by using a gun, a cutting tool or the energy weapon.

Running and gunning and killing Nazis are the essence of the franchise, and MachineGames so far has done an admirable job of paying tribute to the id games of yore. Unfortunately, the emotional trappings that the developer is trying to infuse into it seem a bit disjointed and out of place.

We'll be able to see how everything comes together when the game is released some time in Q4 of this year for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

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