PAX Prime 2013: Wolfenstein: The New Order hands-on
The gritty reboot is a common enough idea. Done right, a game will channel its past and build new value upon a much loved formula. Wolfenstein: The New Order is that rare exception to the rule. It’s a classic shooter appropriately fashioned as a modern one.
There was a heavy moment of doubt when our demo began. As we roped up a castle, our control was limited and the encounters heavily scripted. Nazis popped from windows and were promptly popped with bullets. It’s a moment we’ve played in countless videogames before and sprung a seed of doubt that perhaps this was just another shooter.
Once we arrived within the castle, all doubt was removed. The level design purely evoked what Wolfenstein’s all about. Maze like passageways, hidden passages that offered supreme vantage points on the archetypal enemies, a palpable layer of grit that hung in the air and plenty of conveniently left over food to scavenge for, with the omission of regenerating health.
Playing on the second-to-last hardest difficulty, there’s an extremely satisfying challenge present with options for how to tackle each scenario. There were moments where we sought out the possible approaches and found something so rare for the modern shooter and interesting for Wolfenstein. Stealth is an entirely viable option and feels as good as doubling up on machine guns and spraying bullets down the corridors.
The demo’s filled with emotional contexts. Within the first fifteen minutes we had to choose one of our squad mates who would then be killed in front of us. There wasn’t enough time to build the camaraderie necessary to make this an effective moral choice but it carries an emotional weight unexpected in such a gritty shooter. We battled a giant mech (but not a mech Hitler, unfortunately). Picked up giant machineguns and battled with Nazis over a gap in the castle. Trapped in a lab with tortured, experimented on dead bodies, being torched by incinerators. We had to break the incinerators because it seemed entirely unpleasant to be in a room with rotting, burning flesh. Awoke in a hospital to breakfast in bed brought by nurses whom were promptly killed. Fought our way out and took in the lovely god rays bouncing off the grim German architecture, built to oppress, hold in, and keep others out.
It was an inconsistent but impressive demo that felt hurried to show off all of the qualities at once. Which the demo accomplished. Machine Games and Bethesda are well on their way to a welcome throwback to one of the primary genre examples, making Wolfenstein: The New Order a formidable callback to one of id’s earliest accomplishments. It’s refreshing and heavy to play, feels like the return to something good. The infamous BJ Blazkowicz returns in 2014 and we’re ready to have him back.