Nex Machina

An old-school shooter that feels mod­ern.

PC GAMER (US) - - CONTENTS - By Phil Sav­age

The re­veal of Wolfen­steinII:The NewColos­sus has put me in the mood for some mind­less fun. What bet­ter way to sate that urge than with more Wolfenstein? WolfenDoom:Blade­ofA­gony is a GZDoom mod and an un­of­fi­cial suc­ces­sor to Wolfen­stein3D. Down­load­ing it, I as­sumed it would of­fer an answer to the unasked ques­tion: What if id Soft­ware had stuck with Nazis, in­stead of mess­ing around with de­mons on Mars? In fact, it’s so much more. There are el­e­ments of Wolfenstein, such as the chunky Aryan bosses dual-wield­ing arm can­nons. And there are el­e­ments of Doom, no­tably the com­bat, which has Doom’s pace, if not its plasma gun. But what makes Blade­ofA­gony ex­cep­tional is that it’s more than just PC gam­ing alt-his­tory fan fic­tion. This is not Wolfen­stein3D by way of Doom, but rather Re­turnto Cas­tle Wolfenstein by way of two decades of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and dis­sec­tion from the Doom mod­ding com­mu­nity at large.

You play as BJ Blazkow­icz, Nazi killer über alles, drawn back to the front­lines af­ter a pe­riod of ad­min­is­tra­tive leave. Blade­ofA­gony’s first ma­jor sur­prise is its cine­mat­ics— specif­i­cally, the fact that it has them. It opens on a dolly shot set to Beethoven’s Moon­light Sonata, as Blazkow­icz’s brother-in-arms Cpt ‘Dirty’ Douglas Blake types out a let­ter urg­ing the Amer­i­can beef­cake to re­turn to ac­tive duty. The way the cam­era moves through the low-poly room lends an amount of depth and drama to the oth­er­wise retro style.

Blazkow­icz re­turns, of course, but isn’t im­me­di­ately sent to the bat­tle­field. Be­fore each mis­sion, there’s a brief­ing at al­lied high com­mand. Here, in an im­pos­ing man­sion sur­rounded by pic­turesque coun­try­side, Gen­eral Miller sets out the up­com­ing mis­sions—com­plete with a slideshow con­sist­ing of tac­ti­cal maps and grainy black-and-white pho­tos. The pre­sen­ta­tion is on point: The man­sion is full of de­tail. The walls are cov­ered in flags, and ac­cu­rate posters of WWII-era films, such as Con­fes­sions of a Nazi Spy and Hitler—Dead or Alive.

I’m not au fait with the lim­i­ta­tions of id Tech 1, but it’s clear that much of this is only pos­si­ble thanks to the in­no­va­tions of source ports like GZDoom. While Blade­ofA­gony looks sim­i­lar to Doom, it’s filled with lav­ish ex­tras. And that’s re­flected in the per­for­mance. One of the down­sides of Blade­ofA­gony is its fram­er­ate dips, even on a pow­er­ful PC. I ex­pe­ri­enced more per­for­mance prob­lems here than while play­ing id’s most re­cent Doom game.

Mis­sions are set across the breadth of World War II’s many fronts. The first, Op­er­a­tion Speer­spitze, takes place in Tu­nisia. It’s a night in­fil­tra­tion mis­sion, and feels rem­i­nis­cent of the open­ing lev­els of MedalofHonor:Al­lied As­sault. There’s a dis­tinct dif­fi­culty curve to the open­ing mis­sion, as Blazkow­icz starts equipped with just a knife. Here’s where Blade­ofA­gony re­veals an­other neat trick: Stealth. It’s ba­sic, but it’s pos­si­ble to kill en­e­mies by creep­ing up to them un­seen.

It be­comes a fast shooter that re­wards ex­plo­ration and thor­ough­ness

Much of the first mis­sion is spent man­ag­ing ammo. It’s fiendishly dif­fi­cult, as marks­men hide on the rooftops, chip­ping at your health. But af­ter this pe­riod of des­per­ate scav­eng­ing, the pick­ups come thicker and faster, and the ac­tion tran­si­tions to some­thing more fa­mil­iar. As you col­lect weapons and ammo, Bladeof Agony’s pace evens out. It be­comes a fast shooter that re­wards ex­plo­ration and thor­ough­ness. At HQ, you can spend money on ar­mor, health packs, and even a metal de­tec­tor. You’re en­cour­aged to leave no room un­turned, and no Nazi un­killed.

It also be­comes in­creas­ingly Wolfenstein. The open­ing would sug­gest a se­ri­ous, re­al­is­tic story, but oc­cult el­e­ments and weird sci­ence are slowly in­tro­duced. A re­cur­ring boss, Dr Josef Sch­abbs, is a gi­ant in a lab coat, who throws hand­fuls of sy­ringes in your di­rec­tion. Be­fore long, un­dead Nazis are thrown into the mix. It’s a weird mix of styles, but, thanks to the pre­sen­ta­tion—the mix of 3D en­vi­ron­ments and 2D sprites, and the ex­ag­ger­ated Doom­style death ex­pres­sions—it never feels so se­ri­ous as to be jar­ring. And that’s de­spite their be­ing a mis­sion set dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Over­lord.

Yes, as a World War II game— even a silly one with su­per­sol­diers— there is a Nor­mandy mis­sion, as Blazkow­icz works to dis­able flak can­nons with C4. One of my fa­vorite things about Blade­ofA­gony is the dis­tinct color pal­ette of each lo­ca­tion. Al­lied HQ is warm, al­most sepia in tone. Tu­nisia is dark, with a blueish tint against beige and yel­low brick­work. Nor­mandy, of course, is so gray as to be al­most mono­chrome. The amount of ef­fort that’s been poured into these maps is ad­mirable, and I reg­u­larly found my­self im­pressed by some small de­tail.

Sliced up

Much like those early id shoot­ers, Blade­ofA­gony is split into episodes. Two have been re­leased so far—the sec­ond, Shad­ow­soft­heRe­ich, hav­ing ar­rived in June. It shows def­i­nite am­bi­tion, open­ing with Blazkow­icz stealth­ing through a Nazi prison— again sub­vert­ing the later ac­tion with an un­armed sec­tion and a care­ful crawl to­wards your first pis­tol. Later, you fight along­side an AI com­pan­ion and man the tur­ret of a tank. Through­out, you’re run­ning and gun­ning, but there’s enough va­ri­ety to keep things from feel­ing stale.

Blade­ofA­gony isn’t the best ex­am­ple of com­bat in a Doom mod, nor is it filled with the purest, most in­tri­cate maps. But its scope is re­mark­able. It’s an amaz­ing show­case of the mal­leabil­ity of GZDoom, and a fas­ci­nat­ing clash of shooter styles into an am­bi­tious cam­paign that some­how still feels co­he­sive. It’s not yet fin­ished, but these first two episodes are a great start, and well worth your time.

It’s not all beach land­ings. There are zom­bies, too.

Be­fore each mis­sion, you can visit HQ for a brief­ing.

The fa­cial ex­pres­sions are on point.

It’s no MedalofHonor, but it’s im­pres­sive nonethe­less.

Look at that guy, furious that his din­ner’s been ru­ined.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.