Nazis, they're the ultimate bad guys aren't they?! Just like zombies or aliens, despite all kinds of pop-cultural interpretations over the years, they are still very effective (although often one-dimensional) as antagonists. Despite this, it is a long time since World War II dominated the action genre, and games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty have explored many other time periods since. But now it's time for a revisit to the Third Reich. Old Wolfenstein will once again be dusted off. Just don't expect a very accurate history lesson...
When Uppsala-based Machine Games plays the first teaser video for the new Wolfenstein, I get to see an alternate reality where the Allies lost World War II. B.J. Blazkowicz, the main character we first got to play with back in 1992, explains the concept with a gritty voice.
"I've been gone for too long. So much has changed," he hisses.
The year is 1960 and the alternative course of events after World War II is summarised by nifty artwork. Pictures of nuclear weapons flicker by. Around 1948, the Germans get the bomb, and six years later they land on the moon. Parades in Berlin are grander than ever and you can't turn around without getting a swastika in your face. On the streets of London, now German, a three-meter high mech beats up the opposition. But according to Blazkowicz, the war is not over, even if Germany thinks so. A logo with Wolfenstein: Third Reich, written in the classic Wolfenstein font, appears.
"The real subtitle is The New Order," Machine Games explains to me.
After an accident, B.J. Blazkowicz has been in a coma for 14 years and wakes up in the beginning of the game in a mental instutition. The not-so-cozy news that the Nazis won the war reaches him, something which may shock even the most thick-skinned. We get to experience this historical rewrite through Blazkowicz's bewildered eyes. We will be B.J., not play him, as Machine Games puts it.
Two pre-rendered faces appear on the screen, a woman and a man's face. Machine Games has used the pixelated B.J. head from the original to create the new face. The woman's name is Anya and she is the nurse at the hospital, and she will be at Blazkowicz's side during this adventure.
When I get to try the game myself, a disguised B.J. finds himself in a luxury train car, with a tray of coffee in his hands. I get introduced to two of the game's central antagonists, Frau Engel and Bubi. The former is a high-ranking Nazi officer and Bubi is her sissy boy-toy, complete with slicked-back hair and dubious Errol Flynn moustache. Need I mention that they are both blonde? This couple, who seem to have a really strange relationship, are very colorful. Just the name Bubi makes me giggle.
"Stellen Sie den Kaffee auf den Tisch," Engel instructs me, and impressively enough, all her other lines are also done in German. Engel calls for me. She stares. She compliments my Aryan appearance. Bubi likes my eyes. I will have to undergo a test; Engel will find out if it's pure blood in my veins. She puts away her futuristic Luger and places two photos on the table: one with one eye, one with a mouth. I get to choose what I think is beautiful, and point at the eye.
Two new cards are presented, and this time I point to a butterfly. Then: a skull and spider, and a question of what disgusts me the most. I try to choose, but then Engel pulls her gun from the table and aims at me.
"If you weren't Aryan, you would have chosen the gun," says Engel, and then dismisses the short test as nonsense, with a crazy laugh.
Weird mind games. I suspect that these choices will affect the game in some way, and indeed they will. Machine Games explains:
"The timeline and gameplay will change depending on the choices you make in the beginning. It becomes slightly more stealthy if you choose one direction, and more action if you choose the second. This is a way for us to increase the longevity of the game, and just like in the original game, there are also a lot of secrets and collectibles to find."
We jump forward in time and space to a sequence, about a third of the way into the game, that takes place in London. Here we meet a resistance movement, and our mission is to infiltrate a research lab. The building, London Nautica, is shown by my new burly friend, who drives me to the lab in question.
A radio tower is singled out as my goal. An explosion occurs and a statue falls, almost hitting my beautiful face (and eyes). I sneak through the rubble with weapon drawn. Suddenly, a dog-like mech is trying to attack me. "You look hungry", B.J. Mutters, and sneaks in another direction. I cut through a fence with a high-tech six shooter. Nazis mangled by the explosion get a taste of my gun, and I find a more powerful weapon.
During all this, I am guided via radio by Caroline Becker, one of my allies. A different kind of mech with a red cyber-eye starts flogging me with electroshock attacks, and a wild gun battle begins. B.J. ducks behind a rock and lets the tin-man eat lead, until the beast is beaten and whimpers mechanically on the floor.
Once in the lab, I am surprised by a bunch of nazis and I scrounge up all sorts of weapons and go berserk with dual-wield. There are German's shouting, and the music starts pumping. I run into a mounted machine gun and slaughter follows. An interesting feature of this weapon is the way that you can crouch, and peak in different angles, while shooting.
I then reach a huge room that appears to house a exhibition of the Nazi space program. A gigantic replica of the moon surrounded by proud information boasts about the feat, and around the fake celestial body stands a dozen heil-ing statues, dressed in spacesuits. It looks like something from Iron Sky and oddly fits well in the Wolfenstein universe.
"You ... put a nazi on the moon. Fuck you, moon," mutters B.J. with oddly misplaced anger, and it is one of many short comments the hero utters to himself.
Some light puzzle and platform elements later, an arduous climb up an elevator shaft begins. I get to shoot some more nazis and I dodge falling debris. B.J. shoots the brakes from the elevator with another comment - "what can go wrong?"
In a research centre I later find a room covered in thick glass, housing some kind of super laser, which I obviously want to get my hands on. After a bit of enviroment-based puzzling, I get access to the glass cage and the sight of this thingamajig. B.J. throws a glance at his old weapon, frowns upon it, and tosses it aside in favor of the huge laser gun. Obviously, a large number of nazis shortly enter the room so I can test the new weapon. Over-the-top slaughter begins, which brings the last Wolfenstein game's imaginative arsenal to mind. A single shot of this baby is enough to transform the right-wing exteremists into a puddle of tomato ketchup.
And with this slaughter, the demo ends. Overall, Wolfenstein: The New Order feels like a promising, nicely exaggerated action game with memorable characters and fun weapons. If you are really generous, there are also shades of The Chronicles of Riddick here, and if Machine Games keeps the quality on that level, we can expect a triumphant return for the gaming world's most devoted nazi basher.