Wolfenstein: The New Order developer Machine Games is made up of ex-Starbreeze members, and it shows. Phil Owen checks out the history-bending shooter to discover the extent of the studio’s imprint.
”MachineGames is clearly trying to paint a rather dire picture here, which is as it should be considering the Nazis were kinda a bunch of assholes.”
Though Wolfenstein is the oldest of the old shooter franchises, it’s one that has been playing catch-up quite a bit in recent years with the last – dubbed simply Wolfenstein – feeling very much like Call of duty with Nazi robots. It was fun, but maybe it didn’t live up to the legacy established by the name that essentially invented the first-person shooter.
MachineGames, founded by a group of folks who left Starbreeze, is looking to make their mark with Wolfenstein: The New Order, a next-gen shooter that very much feels like a Starbreeze game. That studio put a big emphasis on presentation along with gameplay, so we’d usually end up with stories that felt like they matter to us.
Remember in The Darkness when we – as haunted mobster Jackie – sat down on the couch with his girlfriend to watch To Kill a Mockingbird? You could watch the entire movie with Jenny’s head on your shoulder, and having that moment together lent serious weight to what would occur later.
What we were shown of The New Order at E3 was heavy on that kind of presentation element. The title refers to the way things are in this alternative history, in which the Nazis won World War II and now rule the planet over a decade later.
BJ Blazkowicz is back and still resisting the menace, but it’s a whole different game now, one involving subterfuge in addition to the killing that BJ does best. Before getting my hands on the game, we were shown a demo run by a dev that demonstrated exactly the type of story presentation we can expect from the experience.
We saw BJ on a passenger train, getting some coffee, when a high-up lady Nazi called him over to her table as her younger sex puppet sat nearby and giggled. This menacing woman seemingly decided to challenge BJ’s pure-bloodedness, and she administered a test in which she would show two pictures and ask BJ a question about each pair, and you have control over what BJ chooses.
After the test, she let BJ move on back to his cabin, but the encounter was certainly unsettling enough to stick with me, and I feel at this point that was a more memorable sequence than anything in the last game. From there we were shown a more typical gameplay segment, with BJ shootin’ dudes on a bombed-out bridge while he attempted to make his way across it.
Even here, though, the developers’ attempts to pump some life into the staid shooter formula were evident. At the end of the segment, in particular, was a moment that made me actually physically react – BJ must jump across a gap, and when he does he contextually grabs the edge of the far ledge, but just barely. As he hangs on with one hand, he looks down at the water below, and when he looked back up an enemy soldier was staring down at him. I actually yelled.
When it was time for me to actually take control, I was further entertained by story presentation. As the playable demo begins, BJ is riding in a car with an Englishman in London, as the other man bemoans what the Nazis have done to his city. After we arrive at our destination, a giant shrine to national socialism, the driver let me out of the car and then speed off right into the front of building, where he set off the bomb in the trunk.
”That The New Order won’t even have a multiplayer mode further cements how seriously MachineGames is taking the storytelling experience they will be providing.”
A moment like that, with an honest-to-god suicide bomber who is on my side, has weight, and it indicates that MachineGames is out to do something more than just give us another good time with guns.
When I think of high profile Western storytelling art that casts a sympathetic eye on suicide bombers, Battlestar Galactica and Syriana immediately come to mind, but not much else. MachineGames is clearly trying to paint a rather dire picture here, which is as it should be considering the Nazis were kinda a bunch of assholes.
At the same time, though, The New Order is not a completely serious affair. When BJ is stalking his enemies, he likes to talk shit and even crack jokes occasionally, but not in the Duke Nukem/Serious Sam way. There’s always an edge to his tone that indicates he’s pretty damn pissed off, which, again, feels appropriate.
Yes, of course, there is still plenty of fighting and robots and all that good stuff. But The New Order is a game with more on its mind than just mass murder, and that gives it a leg up in what will sure be a fierce battle for shooter supremacy as the new generation begins.
That The New Order won’t even have a multiplayer mode further cements how seriously MachineGames is taking the storytelling experience they will be providing, and that gives me hope that when the time comes to dive into the full game we’ll have an experience that is as engaging to our minds as it is to our reflexes.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is due to hit PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One in December.