Every gamer of a certain age remembers robot Hitler. For many, he's the first thing that comes to mind when the subject of Wolfenstein is raised. A progenitor of the entire first-person shooter genre, 1992 classic Wolfenstein 3D culminated in a titanic battle with the chaingun toting cyber Fuhrer in a bunker deep beneath the Reichstag.
The aptly named MachineGames hews closely to that mechanised theme in its imminent new entry in the franchise, Wolfenstein: The New Order. The Swedish studio imagines an alternate 1960s in which the Nazis won the Second World War with the aid of superior robotic technology.
Players take on the role of the impossible-to-kill all-American hero William B.J. Blazkowicz. The game opens in 1946, and Blazkowicz is on the counter-offense against the Nazis. The game's opening passage is a thinly veiled tutorial in which Blazkowicz is a passenger aboard a bomber.
After things go predictably wrong in the flak, Blazkowicz and a handful of fellow survivors end up on the fortified beaches of the European coast. Immediately, Wolfenstein's mechanical bent is on display, as automaton canines hunt for prey amidst the half-submerged plane wreckage.
The largely linear progression through this area is punctuated by moments of intensity when enemies lunge and force Blazkowicz to furiously stab his way to safety. Once our hero meets up with the rest of his team, it’s time to invade the castle and kill General Deathshead.
Guns and ammo are in ample supply. Blazkowicz starts with a pistol and a sub-machinegun but will quickly be able to equip powerful Nazi firearms. Dual wielding is possible and comes in handy in large fire fights, though running whilst dual wielding is virtually impossible.
Very early on, players will learn the importance of leaning and peering around corners – something vital when planning a path of attack. Instead of a guns’a’blazing approach to every encounter, Blazkowicz must decide whether it is wiser to kill off enemies or make his way stealthily to the prime target.
Some scenarios will require the assassination of the commander in charge. If left to survive during a protracted gun fight, this commander has the ability to radio for more soldiers to support him. There is a radio wave icon in the top right of the screen that will flash red when this occurs, so the aim is to find the commander and dispatch him efficiently.
In another nod to the original, as the level progresses Blazkowicz must climb a vertical castle wall by holding onto a rope with one hand and a firearm in the second. Shooting Nazi soldiers that peer out of the windows is essential in order to make it to the top.
These varying gameplay styles in the very first level are a refreshing break from the stock fare of the average first-person shooter.
At other times in this level, players will be subjected to quick-time events and and situations that require fast decision-making, and these occasions add to the experience and diversify the gameplay.
With the player now fully trained and prepared for the challenges of the game itself, Wolfenstein: The New Order jumps from 1946 all the way to 1960. Blazkowicz has been in a vegetative state all these years, and he awakes in an asylum under the care of nurse Anya and her parents, who own and run the facility.
Much has changed in the 14 years that Blazkowicz has been in a coma, and the Nazis now rule over the world with a motorised iron fist.
The New Order is shaping up to be a solid first-person shooter experience that deviates enough from the traditional formula to keep players engaged. It’s exciting to see a hallowed franchise return with a vengeance and a fresh thirst for Nazi blood.
We'll learn whether MachineGames can fully deliver on the final product when Wolfenstein: The New Order is released on May 23 for Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and PC.