Platforms: PC | Xbox 360 | PS3 | Xbox One | PS4
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Let’s clear something up – I loved Return To Castle Wolfenstein back in 2001. While it was the multiplayer that stole much of my free time (I was the sneakiest of Medics, yo) its single player campaign was fun, challenging, and full of interesting weapons (and foes to use them on.) Fast forward to 2009 and it’s a very different story. Wolfenstein felt incredibly off in almost every aspect with a single player campaign that didn’t engaged me at all, and a multiplayer that had no real focus (don't get me started on those Veil powers... ugh) ultimately being my sole regretful purchase of that year. So, to say I was nervous heading into my hands-on session with the next entry in the franchise was something of an understatement – I really wanted this to be as fun as RTCW.
Sat down in a room with a handful of other journalists, I was allowed to play the beginning of the game in its current Alpha build form, as timeless hero “B.J” Blazkowicz is joined by an team of Allied soldiers raiding the fortress of Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strass, one of the recurring antagonists of the series. It’s here we return to the familiar World War II setting – artillery fire off in the distance, storming castles with huge halls inside, and, of course, many Nazis to kill. Sure, it’s nothing we haven’t seen or played before, but after a somewhat lengthy intro cinematic, it all kicked off.
And to borrow a quote from another infamous gaming series, war has never been so much fun.
I began as B.J. and his team rappelled up the fortress walls, with enemies popping out of windows only to fall to their demise the moment they were shot, all the while the battle outside provided a rather noisey backdrop. Swinging between windows as debris fell down was an easy task thanks to many games in the genre having similar sequences – no quick time events, just strafe and jump. This is one of the reasons why TNO plays so well, with familiar controls refined enough to ensure the player feels in complete control in a twitch-style FPS environment. Even the weapon select menu that pops up, assigned to the d-pad, is simple yet effective in its use.
Making my way through the fortress, proceedings began to feel much more familiar. Enemies were hiding behind cover, others attempted to flank me, but thankfully my trusty gun was capable of taking them down. Every weapon I used had a sense of weight behind it, and this was the case even more so when I began duel welding MP40s. All of a sudden I felt like a complete badass, and while I certainly wasn’t invincible I was mowing down the enemy in droves. What is probably the most important thing to take away from this is that the gunplay felt fun and more in line with RTCW.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, though. There were a few moments when I got lost trying to find the right door to use, and at one point when I dashed for a crashed airplane looking for a way to get around to some friendly NPCs and couldn’t, I learned about three minutes later that I had to kill a bunch of enemies that were the other side of the wreckage before I was able to progress (in fairness, it could have been a lack of attention on my part, but a little indication of what needs doing would have been helpful, even in the pause menu.) That said, while the overall design is that of a corridor shooter, arenas (more so later in my playthrough) appear big enough to provide a large enough area to allow for mobile combat. In addition to this, hidden intel documents make a return to please the treasure hunters and completists out there.
As I made my way deeper into Deathshead’s fortress, things started to get rather gruesome as we saw the corpses of allied soldiers having heinous dissection being performed on them. It was also around this point that we got to meet one of the prototype mecha-soldier monstrosities for the first time in an up-close-and-personal way. While it was visually intimidating, the fight itself was easy enough, back-stepping and strafing as the hulking foe swung at me, but it was after this that the whole mission went to hell, and the setup for the alternate timeline began. Deathshead, now with a disfigured face, came across as a mixture of creepy and cartoonish in our initial encounter, but this meet-and-greet also provided the first of what I was told would be many choices that would affect the story. Admittedly, it was to choose between two Allied soldiers I had not really had the chance to really care about (young, scared American boy or battle-hardened Scottish captain – I think the right choice was obvious) but I assume there will be pay-off with this choice later on, and hopefully there will be more testing choices to be made as the plot progresses (the characters having more than 10 minutes of screen time will probably help as well.)
The demonstration ended with a small section taking place in a 1960s world where the Nazis had won, and reintroduced B.J. back into the fold. The nearest thing to a quick time event then happened, but thankfully it was within the context of the controls interaction-wise, ensuring the gameplay flowed from scripted sequence to gameplay as smoothly as possible. Here, we got to see a retro-futuristic take on the weapons and enemy design, both of which keep their effectiveness from the earlier part of the demo. The final big shoot-out that took place in a large connected corridors made it feel like a huge action sequence, with the duel-welding pistols at my disposal being the icing on the cake.
In terms of art direction, TNO is well-polished yet not exactly stand-out in terms of its visuals, but it was the soundtrack and the noir-esque monologues that really caught my attention. The use of Hendrix’s version of All Along The Watchtower in the reveal trailer is a great indicator of the style MachineGames is going for, with the hectic fights accompanied with distorted guitar that add to the mayhem as the bullets fly. If the level of presentation that I saw in the beginning of the game is held to the same standard throughout the rest of TNO, I feel it could well receive by most FPS fans. Of course, with it being an Alpha build, the usual issues of slowdown occurred from time to time, but with no evidence texture pop-in I though what I saw bode well for the rest of the development.
The finished game is still some ways away yet, with only a rather vague date of 2014 to go on, but what I saw certainly has me feeling optimistic of the end result. Am I a little sad I won't get the multiplayer shenanigans from RTCW? Of course I am, but so long as the arena fights and weapons I had yet to see remain as fun and with the same level of impact as what I experienced in my hands-on, The New Order might well be the return to form the Wolfenstein franchise has been waiting for.