Expecting only Nazi shooting, Stace comes away surprised and impressed by Wolfenstein's emotional gut-punch.
By Stace Harman on August 29, 2013 at 4:13 pm
Our previous experience of Wolfenstein: The New Order was one of carving a bloody swathe through a Nazi compound. It took place in a post-second world war era, after BJ Blazkowicz has awoken from a coma to face an alternate timeline in which Nazis won the war. There was little context given to our actions and, with a horde of Nazis bearing down, little time to stop and ask questions.
That E3 build was frenetic but a little shallow, which makes the impact of Wolfenstein’s Gamescom showing all the more surprising and, despite the graphic nature of some of the content on show, very welcome indeed.
This time around we’re introduced to Blazkowicz as he is at the beginning of the game, during its formative chapter in which he is a soldier for the allied forces circa 1947. He and his commanding officer are in charge of a group of rough-around-the-edges soldiers, some of whom are injured while others are so woefully green that they’re on the verge of passing out through panic.
In a nice nod to Wolfenstein’s heritage, your company of zeroes is charged with storming a Nazi castle to kill General Deathshead. Should you be so inclined, it’s entirely possible to creep through much of the castle silently slaughtering guards with a knife. However, your inclination for stealth must be matched by your proficiency at it — and so if, like me, you slip-up early-on — you’ll be shooting your way through the remainder of the level.
It’d be a shame to lessen the impact of what you’re going to see as you fight through the castle on the way to find Deathshead but suffice to say that the Nazi general is not the most balanced of individuals. This is evidenced by the unhealthy degree of personal satisfaction that Deathshead takes from conducting some really quite invasive medical procedures and a subsequent meeting with him that leads to you having to make a very uncomfortable choice.
As the consequences of that choice echo in your ears, you watch as Blazkowicz sustains the injury that leads him fall into his coma. It’s this subsequent section that has the most impact of anything we’ve seen of Wolfenstein so far and causes a re-evaluation of Wolfenstein as a narratively shallow shooter. Bearing witness to the events of Blazkowicz’s slow recovery at the asylum into which he has been cast offers an emotional gut-punch that I wasn’t expecting to experience in the whole of Wolfenstein’s campain, let alone its opening hour.
What I come away from Wolfenstein’s Gamescom showing thinking about most is not the linearity of its corridors, drama of its set-pieces or the hot-bloodedness of its moment-to-moment action. Instead, it’s the quieter, more disturbing narrative elements that underpin all of this.
Of course, I also shot a lot of guns at a lot of Nazis. But while Wolfenstein: The New Order is undoubtedly heavy on kicking arse and barking hackneyed one-liners, MachineGames is just starting to show that there could be much more to it than the size of its arsenal.