MachineGames is no stranger to dramatic first-person interaction. Wolfenstein: The New Order might be the first game produced under the team’s new name, but the developer is actually comprised of founders and key members from Starbreeze Studios. That puts The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay and The Darkness under their belt, making them partially responsible for defining character-driven narrative this generation.
That influence is definitely felt in Wolfenstein: The New Order. The demo we were shown starts with series lead William (sigh) “B.J.” Blazkowicz undercover aboard a Nazi train. The setting is London, sometime in the 1960s. Young William has been out of the picture for the past few decades thanks to a coma, allowing the Nazi party to win World War II and overtake the planet with mysterious super weapons, as vicious regimes are wont to do. While carrying a tray of coffee to his partner-in-rebellion, Anya, Willy is stopped by The New Order’s latest villain, Frau Engel, and her “psychosexual boy toy” (as the developers put it), Bubi.
It’s here where MachineGames’ pedigree is felt most. Frau Engel isn’t a pleasant sort. She runs our hero through the Nazi equivalent of a Rorschach test, gauging his reactions to photographs of butterflies and human skulls. At any point, B.J. has the option of taking her gun, which she assures him will result in a bullet through his head before he can reach across the table.
It’s interesting to see a female villain like Engel in a video game — especially from the series which brought us bikini-clad sorcerers and soldiers in rubber catsuits. Engel is older, domineering, actively sexually, and obviously psychotically cruel. She’s even a physical threat, confident she can outdraw the protagonist in a clean fight. The scene directly channels the muted tension of some of Quentin Tarantino’s “coffee table scenes,” and, in doing so, uses a character who feels like a blend of Hans Landa and Calvin Candie.
When the game doesn’t feel like an episode of Telltale’s Walking Dead, it’s a solid, if fairly standard first-person shooter.
There are a couple of nice wrinkles, such as the ability to cut through predetermined parts of the environment in real time, leaning out of cover, dual wielding guns, and the generally more ridiculous nature of the high-tech weaponry. The enemies — including Nazis, robot Nazis, robot Nazis with jetpacks, and robot Nazi dogs — aren’t exactly your typical dude-shooter fare, either.
Perhaps it’s the use of id Tech 5 which told the developers to bring the series back to its roots, but combat also feels just a smidge faster than the modernist of modern shooters. In short, The New Order’s combat feels like a unique veneer laid atop familiar gameplay.
My final opinion on the game will lay in reserve until we know the final ratio of adventure game-like moments such as the one on the train to actual combat, and if MachineGames has found a way to bring that same subdued tension to the battlefield.
We”ll find out when Wolfenstein: The New Order dominates PC and every major console (sans Wii U) later this year.