This article was originally published in PC Gamer UK issue 255 .
BJ Blazkowicz thunders around the gantry that orbits the edge of the Moon Dome. He has an enormous shotgun in each hand, and the noise they make is more freight train than firearm – a pounding 'CHUNKA CHUNKA CHUNKA' that feels like it should climax in a 'CHOO CHOO'. It doesn't. Wolfenstein: The New Order furnishes the player with an array of ways to tackle its arena combat encounters, but I choose to deal with the Moon Dome by holding down both triggers and running fast in a straight line.
It works. BJ's double shotguns blast bits off the model moon in the centre of the room, and send Third Reichers sailing through shattered glass to the floor.
“Ever since you got to kill Hitler in the first game, it's been about alternate history,” senior gameplay designer Andreas Ojefors Arena tells me. “We took that and ran with it. We asked the question, 'what would happen if the Nazis won the war?'” That's all well and good. The question that The New Order answers more satisfactorily is, 'If a jackhammer got to spend one night as a human, what would it do?'
Another inadvertently answered question is this: what would the first-person shooter look like in 2013 if someone had annualised Quake back in 1997? The New Order isn't an id Software shooter, but it is deeply aware of its heritage.
BJ is delivered to the London Nautica – the Nazi research facility that houses the Moon Dome – in a car with a little Quake 3 Arena rocket launcher dangling from the key in the ignition. The game hybridises modern and retro design, mixing partially regenerating health with medpacks that can be gobbled in excess to temporarily shunt your health over 100, id-style.
“We tried to combine the best of the old-school shooter design with the new,” Ojefors continues. “There are things that shouldn't have been left behind, and things that should.”
He's insistent in referring to Wolfenstein as an action adventure game, rather than a shooter – but, well, it's a shooter. Its non- combat ideas are expressed through environmental puzzle-solving and bits and bobs of linear narrative, neither of which are totally left of field for a game that also features shotguns the size of railway ties. What I saw, however, was well-executed.
Machine Games is partially made up of veterans from Starbreeze, the developer behind the quietly excellent The Darkness and Chronicles of Riddick games and, by way of contrast, the noisily crap Syndicate reboot. The stylish ultraviolence and characterful writing of those games are in evidence here, particularly in an early sequence where Blazkowicz is interrogated about his heritage by SS officer Frau Engel and her Aryan boy-toy Bubi. Think Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds by way of Bioshock, and you'll get a sense of the tone.
The New Order is also linked to Starbreeze's early work by a thick vein of priapic silliness. BJ's shotgun-slinging has the same uncritical hyper-macho swagger that informed The Darkness's deadly tentacle weapons and, er, the entirety of Vin Diesel's career. When the industrial metal soundtrack kicks in and there are Nazis to be shotgunned, there's a lot of uncritical hyper-macho fun to be had.
The New Order's newer, smarter ideas resonate a little strangely in this context. Blazkowicz now has an upgradeable laser weapon that can be switched between man-blasting and scenery-cutting fire modes. The latter is used to find secrets and solve environmental puzzles, and a bit of clever engineering means it slices away at the world in relationship to the movement of your cursor.
Want to retrieve some ammo from a crate? You only need to cut a hole big enough for BJ to snatch it through. Want to make a hole in a chain-link fence, but bored with squares? Carve yourself an amusing willy-shaped entryway!
The laser also facilitates stealth. It's possible to crouch behind cover, slice out a gun-hole and then take pot shots through it with one of your other weapons. This is something that I've never done in a shooter before, and it's nice to be surprised.
The only issue is the dissonance – the change in pace doesn't quite work, and the high difficulty level of the build I played meant that I felt pushed into playing cautiously despite the wide array of options presented to me.
I came away from The New Order far more interested in it than I was going in, but it's got a way to go in the six months before release. Pace and feedback both need work, particularly the transition from mindless corridor blasting to meticulous set-piece battles. It's also majorly juvenile, and a lot will hinge on how knowingly that sense is embraced. Machine Games' Starbreeze DNA will help, but there are certainly times when The New Order plays like something a teenager might scrawl on the back of a history textbook.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, of course. I suspect that I would have adored it when I was 12, but I also wonder about how much the hobby has changed in the years since. Then again, this is still an industry where a grown man can casually answer a question with a remark beginning “ever since you got to kill Hitler... ”, so they'll probably be fine.