Wolfen­stein: The New Or­der

His­tory is in­verted as MachineGames rein­vents the Axis and the cover shooter

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher De­vel­oper For­mat Ori­gin Re­lease Bethesda MachineGames 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One Swe­den 2014

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

As we be­gin our time with the open­ing three chap­ters of Wolfen­stein: The New Or­der, the last game we’d ever ex­pect to com­pare it to is The Last Of Us. And al­most from the start we’re dual-wield­ing ma­chine guns and fend­ing off Nazi-branded ro­botic quadrupeds – no sur­prises there. Yet while the tone through­out is more In­glou­ri­ous Bas­terds than The Pi­anist, in terms of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, be­liev­able hu­man­ity and sheer pathos, MachineGames ap­pears to be squar­ing up to Naughty Dog.

This is even more sur­pris­ing given that pro­tag­o­nist BJ Blazkow­icz, a man whose neck is wider than his al­ready size­able jaw, has pre­vi­ously acted as lit­tle more than a graphene-thin ci­pher in a se­ries in­creas­ingly syn­ony­mous with un­re­mark­able and out­dated de­sign. But when, dur­ing a meal with a Pol­ish cou­ple whose grand­daugh­ter he has just res­cued, Blazkow­icz dis­cov­ers that it’s 1960 – 14 years af­ter the botched oper­a­tion that landed him in an asy­lum with a head in­jury – and that the Nazis won the war, he is shocked, con­fused and vul­ner­a­ble. He’s sud­denly more than an at­ti­tude and gun-hold­ing hands.

The first char­ac­ter we en­counter dur­ing a breath­less open­ing sec­tion is even bet­ter still: Fergus, one of gam­ing’s best-re­alised Scots­man. A sea­soned pi­lot and sol­dier who pa­ter­nally chides those un­der his com­mand with phrases such as “great flap­ping numpty”, he’s in­stantly like­able as he teaches us the ropes while try­ing to keep a clunk­ing bomber from fall­ing into the ocean.

Our first task is to re­trieve pli­ers and some wire from a stor­age locker in the plane’s hold in or­der to im­pro­vise a tourni­quet to pre­vent a dam­aged fuel line from ex­plod­ing. Hav­ing ac­cessed the crawl space that con­tains the ma­chin­ery, we ne­go­ti­ate a grow­ing in­ferno and seal the leak just as one fi­nal burst of flame sets our arm briefly on fire. Af­ter this, sup­plies and ve­hi­cles need to be cut loose from a blus­tery cargo bay in an at­tempt to stop the ail­ing plane’s al­ti­tude loss. Then, from a gun tur­ret in the nose, we at­tempt to fend off a wave of ex­per­i­men­tal jet-pow­ered Nazi air­craft, be­fore aban­don­ing the plane by leap­ing onto the wing of an ad­ja­cent air­craft. As tu­to­ri­als go, it’s a mem­o­rable one.

The New Or­der uses the lat­est ver­sion of id Tech 5, the en­gine that pow­ered Rage but is also be­hind Tango Game­works’ The Evil Within and id Soft­ware’s own soon-due Doom (AKA Doom 4). It’s a good-look­ing game, even if there isn’t a Me­gaTex­ture in sight and close in­spec­tion of the sur­faces in our PS4 build re­veals some dis­ap­point­ingly lowres­o­lu­tion work. The over­all ef­fect is far from un­pleas­ant, but hav­ing been spoilt by

Bat­tle­field 4 and Kil­l­zone: Shadow Fall’s pin­sharp worlds, it’s hard not to be dis­sat­is­fied. Worse still is the draw dis­tance, which ren­ders scenery be­yond the playable space an in­dis­tinct blur that looks like it’s been ripped out of Quake II. We can only hope this is reme­died by on­go­ing op­ti­mi­sa­tion ef­forts.

But none of that takes away from the sat­is­fy­ing gun­play. Weapons feel hefty and deadly, and ba­sic en­e­mies are felled quickly with just a cou­ple of bul­lets, even on the harder dif­fi­cul­ties. Hit a sol­dier in the leg and he’ll col­lapse to the ground straight away, back­ing to­wards the near­est sur­face and fir­ing with one hand while clutch­ing his in­jured leg with the other. En­e­mies re­act to ev­ery bul­let, buck­ling and con­tort­ing with each im­pact.

The New Or­der’s en­e­mies aren’t the bright­est we’ve ever en­coun­tered – they’ll still oc­ca­sion­ally po­si­tion them­selves next to some­thing ex­plo­sive and cov­ered in warn­ing

Even fa­mil­iar com­po­nents feel fresh when re­con­tex­tu­alised by pro­gres­sive me­chan­ics

signs – but the game’s AI does a good job of keep­ing things tense. Soldiers re­act to your pres­ence quickly, run­ning to cover and vault­ing over ob­jects to get there. Hole up in a room and they’ll wait out­side for you, tak­ing po­si­tion be­hind the door frame and seek­ing out win­dows to get a bead on you. While de­struc­tible cover reg­u­larly gives you the up­per hand, you can trick your as­sailants, too, be­cause you know they will search the last place you were spotted. This al­lows you to flank alerted groups and take out strag­glers silently with a fear­some-look­ing knife.

And stealth is al­most al­ways an op­tion thanks to the game’s in­tri­cate spa­ces. De­spite the fo­cus on sin­gle­player, these com­bat bub­bles of­ten feel like they’ve been de­signed for mul­ti­player. Gen­er­ous amounts of cover and mul­ti­ple paths through most rooms make it pos­si­ble to get be­hind the en­emy’s front line be­fore they even know you’re there. Do­ing so is even tac­itly en­cour­aged with the in­tro­duc­tion of a new type of en­emy called the Com­man­der. If alerted to your pres­ence, they’ll re­treat to a safe point on the map and call for re­in­force­ments. Backup, in the form of ar­moured troops, will con­tinue to ar­rive un­til you kill all the Com­man­ders in an area. Take them out be­fore they can broad­cast, though, and you’ll face sig­nif­i­cantly less re­sis­tance.

But when bul­lets start to fill the air, you have more op­tions than nor­mal too. Hold the lean but­ton (L1 on PS4) next to a wall, pil­lar or any­thing else that you think might stop in­com­ing fire and, rather than snap to cover, you’ll be able to lean around, over or un­der­neath it with the left stick. You can still back away from a sur­face at any time and you can use this dy­namic lean al­most any­where, mak­ing for a truly or­ganic cover sys­tem. So if you spot a guard’s feet un­der a door or through a food hatch, you can lean down and crip­ple him with a bul­let to the foot, or sim­ply barge through and fin­ish the job.

Wolfen­stein’s world is built from the se­ries’ sig­na­ture mix of me­dieval ar­chi­tec­ture, twisted ex­per­i­ments and anachro­nis­tic tech­nol­ogy, but a level set in the brightly lit asy­lum that cares for Blazkow­icz of­fers a change of pace from all the greys, blacks and reds. The game rev­els in ref­er­enc­ing its own his­tory, too, and sharp-eyed play­ers will find a se­cret pas­sage be­hind a gold-framed, floorto-ceil­ing por­trait of a Nazi gen­eral dur­ing a mis­sion that sees you in­fil­trate a cas­tle. But even fa­mil­iar com­po­nents feel fresh when re­con­tex­tu­alised by The New Or­der’s en­gag­ing plot and pro­gres­sive me­chan­ics.

It doesn’t al­ways hit the mark, though. Those afore­men­tioned ro­bot dogs, for in­stance, aren’t nearly as en­joy­able to fight as hu­man foes, and the in­tro­duc­tion of small, hard-to-hit fly­ing drones in­duces a heavy sigh. Plus, while the story does an ex­cel­lent job of ril­ing you up to kill Nazis, do­ing so in a game that some­times re­sem­bles Bul­let­storm can leave you feel­ing self-con­scious.

Still, MachineGames’ sto­ry­telling as­pi­ra­tions are un­ques­tion­ably ad­mirable. If the stu­dio can main­tain The New Or­der’s early plot mo­men­tum and con­tinue to in­tro­duce new ideas at the al­most overwhelming pace of its open­ing sec­tions, it might have achieved some­thing great: re­turn­ing Wolfen­stein to its high-speed, high-con­cept roots.

These ma­chines act as the first line of de­fence dur­ing a beach land­ing se­quence. Al­though fear­some, the ca­nine char­ac­ter­is­tics they’ve in­her­ited makes them vul­ner­a­ble to a game of ‘grenade fetch’

Al­though MachineGames is keep­ing de­tails of the broader plot to it­self for now, this art­work sug­gests that play­ers may be vis­it­ing a Nazi-built moon base on their quest for re­venge

While nor­mal en­e­mies are dropped with only a bul­let or two, in­creas­ingly elab­o­rate ar­mour de­signs quickly com­pli­cate mat­ters

We en­coun­tered two vari­ants of aug­mented sol­dier dur­ing our ses­sion, both mini­bosses. This type is vul­ner­a­ble to head­shots, of course, but an­other ver­sion re­quires you get be­hind it af­ter a tem­po­rar­ily blind­ing shot to the eye

TOP LEFT Some char­ac­ters from 2009’s Wolfen­stein make a re­turn, in­clud­ing Caro­line Becker, a ma­jor part of the re­sis­tance who was gunned down in that game. She sur­vived, but clearly not with­out in­jury. TOP RIGHT Hokey para­nor­mal com­po­nents are be­ing dropped in favour of a fo­cus on a retro-fu­tur­is­tic aes­thetic that oc­ca­sion­ally re­sem­bles a Kil­l­zone game (sartorially, if not in terms of tex­ture res­o­lu­tion). LEFT Dual-wield­ing weapons changes the scope but­ton to sec­ondary fire. It’s cer­tainly Wolfen­stein canon, but in prac­tice is less sat­is­fy­ing than the more pre­cise, and punchy, sin­gle-gun setup

FAR LEFT Sneak up be­hind a guard to dis­patch him with your knife. Guards will al­ways search the last place they saw you, so it’s pos­si­ble to use the labyrinthine level spa­ces to your ad­van­tage. LEFT This ro­bot stalks the beach trenches dur­ing the opener, fir­ing elec­tric­ity bolts as it goes. While you don’t fight it di­rectly, then, we sus­pect it’s a har­bin­ger of en­coun­ters to come

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