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Wolfenstein: The New Order - a blast from the past

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the latest instalment to id Software's iconic shooter legacy. Stace Harman plays Machine Games' next-gen blaster and speaks with the team about its oppressive new regime.

William “BJ” Blazkowicz is having a very bad day. The protagonist of Wolfenstein: The New Order has just awoken from a 15-year coma to discover that Nazi Germany triumphed during the Second World War thanks to some suspiciously advanced weaponry.

Nobody knows where this awesome arsenal came from but the results of its power are plain to see: a 1960s London with nary a trace of flower-power, free-love or rock ‘n’ roll and that instead reflects the oppressive characteristics of Nazi rule.

Hulking German monoliths stand stark against the skyline, while mechs stalk the streets and serve as personal guards to sociopathic high-ranking German officers.

To top it off, BJ has just discovered that the Nazi’s also won the space-race and were first to put a man on the moon and if all of that wasn’t enough to dampen his spirits, the driver of his ride has just blown himself up for the sake of a diversion.

In light of all this doom and gloom, BJ has elected to take up arms and join the rebel resistance; pitting his thick-set physique and granite jaw against a host of Nazi soldiers and assorted mecha in an attempt to solve the world’s problems.

BJ’s approach to problem-solving involves brandishing a gun at it until said problem goes away or, as is more often the case, until it falls down dead. On the odd occasion that a single, standard-sized firearm doesn’t seem to do the trick, BJ opts to dual-wielded two massive pieces of weaponry instead.

Yes, Wolfenstein: The New Order is a focused, single-player first-person shooter that places significantly more emphasis on shooting than it does on complex moral choices. It’s also very keen to keep you on your toes, as MachineGames’ Jens Matthies explains.

“We want to recapture that sense of movement that a lot of modern shooters have lost,” says the creative director. “[In modern shooters] there’s a lot of focus on headshots and of leading you through scenarios and we want to get away from that.

“Here, the AI will force you out of cover and charge you if you’re too passive and we think that’s a cool way to play because you have to be thinking all the time. Sure, if you’re not used to that it’s a bit of a learning curve to get used to it.”

What this translates to in the London Nautica level that I play through is multi-tiered, arena-style spaces that force me to move frequently and often as my cover is destroyed and fascist soldiers converge on my ill-advised hiding spots from multiple directions.

Pausing behind cover provides respite from the gun fire that’s slowly chewing apart a concrete pillar, but it leaves me entirely exposed from behind. Conversely, backing into a corner to protect my backside serves only to offer my enemies a stationary target on which to concentrate their firepower.

As things stand, Wolfenstein: The New Order is pitched on the punishing side of difficult. Armour pick-ups are minimal and only a fifth of BJs health bar is rechargeable, which makes searching out health packs a mandatory part of combat.

In true old-school shooter style the health bar can be temporarily boosted all the way up to 200 percent but it will steadily deplete back down to its maximum of 100, which again promotes active aggression in order to maximise the bonus while it lasts. I die a lot in the hour that I’m playing Wolfenstein but it seldom feels unfair, it just makes me feel like I’m out of practice and have been too readily pampered by a lot of modern FPS’.

While the majority of time is spent dancing around enemies and shooting them in the face, one tool in BJ’s arsenal is not meant for this noble purpose. A free-form laser cutter that’s used to cut chains and solve rudimentary environmental puzzles is given a significant upgrade around a third of the way through the game, which allows it to cut through sheet metal.

Aside from being able to crack open metal containers for power-ups, this upgraded laser cutter also makes it possible to carve out peek-a-boo holes in steel barriers in order to snipe unaware enemies from afar or to just get a bead on where they are before unleashing hell with dual-shotguns. Stealth is an option, then, but don’t expect it to play a significant part in a game that revels in arming you with implausibly-sized firearms.

“We definitely have a stealth element in Wolfenstein,” assures Matthies. “However, it really depends a lot on the scenario. There’ll be some areas in the game where stealth is really the only option but there will also be other sections where you also have a huge arsenal and stealth is less appealing”.

This kind of directed choice is indicative of my time spent with Wolfenstein: The New Order. It seems likely that the game is going to propel you from A to B via several weird and wonderful combat scenarios, pausing only to allow you to catch your breath and make simple choices concerning your approach to the next area before flinging you headlong into another tense shoot-out.

However, there are some quieter moments, too. A scripted scene aboard a train is at once uncomfortable and perverse as a mature German officer and her camp companion abuse their position of absolute power by toying with BJ.

Matthies intends for such scenes to offer a change of pace to the bombastic combat arenas, which is why MachineGames is keeping a tight rein on the pacing of Wolfenstein’s linear narrative; moving players through the story rather than allowing them to dawdle.

Overall, Wolfenstein: The New Order looks to be an unapologetically old-school shooter and so whether its attributes count for or against it really depends on personal preference. One person’s shallow shooter is another’s pure-blood FPS and it’ll be interesting to drop in on BJ Blazkowicz later this year to find out whether MachineGames can maintain the taut pace of a one-hour demo across Wolfenstein’s entire campaign.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is set for release later this year on PC, PS3, 360, PS4 and Xbox One.

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