Achtung! Wolfenstein, the furious Nazi shoot 'em up that set the template for the first-person shooter, is about to return for another bout of Third Reich slaughter.
Yet ever since Wolfenstein 3D came out in 1992 and blew our tiny 16-bit minds, the game-changing series has been treading water. Just check out 2009’s forgettable Wolfenstein, which recycled the same old run-and-gun action that the series first offered way back when watching Richard O’Brien prancing around The Crystal Maze was the very definition of gripping telly.
Fortunately, Wolfenstein: The New Order looks set to rekindle our excitement. Its Swedish developers MachineGames call their Wolfenstein reboot “a dark-roasted blend of drama, mystery and humour”, which makes it sound like a bag of Starbucks beans, but we’re hopeful that The New Order is going to haul the venerable FPS series into the present day without compromising on its primal action instincts.
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Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place in an alternative 1960s where the Nazis won the war, enslaved the world and gave referees the right to shoot uppity footballers who object to getting a yellow card; we’re not joking, just check this trailer. As if that wasn’t evil enough, they then built an army of giant killer robots and vicious mechanical dogs with steel gnashers to keep everyone in order.
Inevitably, only one man can save the day and that man is B.J. Blazkowicz, the American-Polish hero with an impossibly square jaw and a taste for shredding cannon-fodder Nazis with chunky guns. Just don’t ask him what B.J. stands for. And the game’s cartoonish Nazis better worry, because while B.J. has been something of a blank in previous Wolfensteins, this time they’ve given him - wait for it - a personality. Yikes. And a love interest. Double yikes.
What’s more B.J.’s new personality is complemented with a story that you genuinely won't want to skip. And that’s all good news because The New Order is single-player only, so story matters. But don’t worry, MachineGames haven’t forgotten that Wolfenstein wouldn’t be Wolfenstein without a ludicrous death toll.
RuN AND GUN
The New Order shows no sign of scrimping on the traditional Wolfenstein slaughter, promising countless waves of cultist Nazis to blast and big, explosive clashes with Third Reich murder droids.
The good news is that there is a little more to gameplay than the basic, 1990s-style run-and-shoot action of its past. While hardly revolutionary, the addition of such staples of the modern FPS as iron sights and cover mechanics should bring it kicking and screaming into the year 2014.
That’s not all, though. There are going to be opportunities to take alternative paths through levels and some RPG-like character development to unlock extra skills. Players can also take a break from full-frontal assaults by sneaking around and knifing enemies in the back. It’s not sportsmanlike, but confirms that this time Wolfenstein won’t be a one-dimensional shooter.
GORE TO THE FORE
Since B.J. took out Hitler back in 1992, the returning villain at the heart of the game is the vile Nazi scientist Deathshead. We say scientist, but in Deathshead’s mind science means dreaming up hideous ways to torture people rather than figuring out how to cure cancer. And as a result, The New Order is looking to be, even by Wolfenstein’s gory standards, a very bloody game.
In fact, in our hands-on review of the game, we described some of the early scenes as horrific. Adding to the sadism is Deathshead’s new henchwoman Frau Engels, who - judging by this trailer - is already looking like a particularly chilling and memorable enemy.
All of which raises the question of quite how... tasteful any of this is. To be fair, it's a modern FPS game, so taste doesn't necessarily come into it. After all, the likes of Halo, Killzone and the forthcoming Destiny wouldn't look much different if the enemies were Nazis rather than aliens. But on the other hand, they aren't Nazis - they're aliens.
In contrast, Wolfenstein: The New Order treads a fine line between presenting a genuinely chilling look at what the world would be like if the Nazis had triumphed, and offering up a load of camp Nazis to gun down in an entertaining FPS. It wasn't a problem in earlier installments, where realism was never an issue. But it could be this time round. We'll have to wait until we've played the full game to determine if MachineGames has got the balance right, or if it merely makes for an uncomfortably awkward experience.
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Sounds of the '60s
Wolfenstein: The New Order is going to be one hell of a noisy game what with all of the shooting and explosions and whatnot, but what’s really got us excited on the audio front is the music. The developers have reimagined the 1960s pop boom through a Third Reich prism, turning the record collection of Austin Powers into a range of catchy Nazi poptones.
So instead of The Beach Boys we get to freak out to The Comet Tails’ Weltraum Surfen, which you can hear in full on SoundCloud. The only downside is that we have to grapple with the moral dilemma of whether it’s OK to like fictional Nazi '60s pop.
So when's it out?
You won't have to wait much longer before getting your next-gen fix of Wolfenstein -The New Order is out on 20 May 2014 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. We'll have a full review nearer that time.
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