Wolfenstein: The New Order
Wolfenstein: The New Order asked me to shoot pistols, man turrets, and quietly knife guards to avoid detection. But it also did something I wasn’t expecting. It made me feel something.
I sat down for my demo recently in New York with a clear set of expectations. I knew that there would be Nazis (and a plentiful supply of armaments to dispose of them). I was aware of the giant robotic dogs and heavily armored stormtroopers. I came prepared for a world dominated by evil.
I was not prepared to care about the characters. I won’t kid you; Wolfenstein is very much a shooter dyed in the blood of its predecessors. You pick up discarded helmets and robotic armor pieces (manually, and not by walking over them), which somehow translate into protection for protagonist William “BJ” Blazkowicz. You find food and scattered health packs that immediately restore and “overcharge” your health.
Even with a more advanced approach to unlocking skills by embracing different play styles, Wolfenstein: The New Order leaves in place systems that don’t stand up to logical scrutiny, and it (like most shooters) should flounder in its archaic approach because of them. But through interactive story telling and Blazkowicz’s inner monologue, belief can be suspended.
Machine Games chose to portray the Nazis as nearly inhuman. The real torture and experimentation conducted on prisoners during World War II is terrifying, but in Wolfenstein: The New Order, the Third Reich takes dehumanization of prisoners even further.
During one moment in my three-hour demo of the first three chapters, Blazkowicz and his small squad face a monstrosity of flesh and metal. After having just passed through villain General Deathshead’s dissection lab, it’s impossible not to wonder if this hulking abomination was once interned in a concentration camp.
None of that would have had an impact if it weren’t for how Blazkowicz’s story moves from 1946 to 1960. After an explosion leaves him comatose and then imprisoned in his own mind, Blazkowicz is left to convalesce in an invalid home run by a Polish family. Over the 14 years he’s there, he sees patients taken by the Nazis for experimentation.
It’s not until his caregivers are threatened by Nazi forces that Blazkowicz is able to will himself into action. Machine Games could have put him in a dungeon or prisoner of war camp, but breaking free of his own mind (however improbable) had an impact on me, even if the moments between the awakening and his escape with the remaining member of the family reverts to traditional shooter concepts.
Wolfenstein: The New Order doesn’t pull any punches in its opening chapters. It is, without question, a shooter that feels recognizable in its action-based gameplay. What set my experience apart was how Machine Games appears to have spent the time to create characters worth caring about. Whether that can carry through the entire game without devolving into a pure revenge fantasy isn’t something we’ll know until the game’s May 20 release on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and PC, but I’m more interested in finding out than I was before.