'Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more' - Henry V, Shakespeare, 1598
It feels like an apt description of the gaming industry at large these days. With studios releasing sequel after sequel in an effort to hedge risks on properties that have long overstayed their welcome but still retain a loyal following, it makes sense to farm out some of these franchises to new teams in hopes to breathe new life into them. Such is the case with Wolfenstein: The New Order, with Bethesda passing on the development task to MachineGames. Off the bat this seems like a smart move, with the studio being started by former founding members of Starbreeze Games, couple this with building the game on id Software's id Tech 5, I'd say this reboot has me hopeful.
I got a chance to play through the first two chapters of the game during a recent hands-on preview event, stepping into the boots of the series mainstay, B.J. Blazkowicz. From the get-go this felt like a different Wolfenstein, with a Nazi force that was in command of some fearsome technology, much more advanced than what the Allied Forces were using. The opening chapter started off on a plane, crossing the Atlantic, on its way toward the compound of Dr. Deathshead, a major fortress of the Nazi regime. The ride is obviously not going to be a smooth one, with everything going wrong that possibly could for the Allied Forces. A lone plane crashing upon the shores of Deathshead's fortress with a miniscule amount of survivors is all that's left to try and take him down.
Landing at the beach meant storming through trenches, and taking down soldiers, with any and all improvised weapons at my disposal. Every enemy has something you can use, whether it be bits of armor that you can pick up to improve your defenses, or ammo for the weapons you be wielding. Overhead, a massive mechanical walker made sure I kept my head down, as it stomped around the battlefield above. Getting in to the fortress was no easy task, requiring me to take a rather winding path, and destroy some heavy machinery that kept my comrades pinned down.
I was given a short respite from all the run-and-gunning during a segment that had me scaling the entrance to the compound, and upon reaching the top, the game actually felt like it opened up more, and started to feel like the Wolfenstein games of old. The castle interiors contained a number of hidden passages and shortcuts, giving me the option to play the game in a more stealth manner. It was here that the influences of games like Bioshock and Deus Ex could be felt in the level design. My eventual goal of finding Deathshead went from plausible to disaster in no time though as this first chapter drew to a close.
The second chapter finds B.J. in a mental asylum in Poland, recovering from the trauma he suffered from that mission gone bad. It's here that we're also introduced to his companion, Anya. At this point, the Nazi's have completely taken over the world, and now B.J. is on the hunt to find any members of a resistance to try to overthrow them. What this means is sneaking behind enemy lines to get to Berlin, where dissidents are being held. Getting to the rail-yard to catch a train to Berlin was a bit of different experience than Deathshead's castle, the open nature of these next few areas gave me a chance to play around with, and earn some of the perks that can be unlocked based on your play style.
Rather than have skills just unlock at arbitrary points in the game, you can improve your skills by performing specific actions in game, and they play in to one of the four 'Class' categories; Stealth, Tactical, Assault, Demolition. Stealth is exactly what it sounds like, taking out foes with a silenced pistol can improve specific attributes, like the amount of damage done by a head-shot when aiming down the sights of the gun. The Tactical perks are tied to more passive abilities, like your time to aim down sight, or reload speed. Assault is tied to how much you like to run and gun, increasing your damage when dual-wielding guns. Demolition is tied to what you'd expect. It's kind of funny that one of the perks of Demolition unlocks the ability to throw back grenades.
By the end of the second chapter, I was on a train bound for Berlin. And of course it would be an eventful ride, with a high ranking official forcing me in to an 'Aryan Test.' If there's one thing the guys at MachineGames have nailed so far, it's in making characters that do a good job of getting under your skin. Believing I had passed, I was permitted to return to my cabin, where the hands-on portion concluded.
It's still a bit early to say, but there's probably about two more months of development time left, and while there were some bugs, what was playable definitely had a sound foundation. The team at MachineGames looks to be on pace to at least do better than 2009's iteration provided they can clean up some of the minor issues that were floating around, which considering the legacy of this franchise I certainly hope they're on top of. For a franchise that is over thirty years old now, Wolfenstein has definitely had some ups and downs, and it looks like The New Order could be a turning point for the series. We'll have a review when the game launches this May.
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