Wolfenstein is one of the godfathers of the FPS genre but it hasn’t always made the transition to the modern era of gaming elegantly. However, Wolfenstein: The New Order seems to be the shot in the arm the series has sorely needed. My time with the PlayStation 4 version of the game at PAX East 2014 has been my personal highlight of the show so far.
The demo started on a battlefield in 1946 as the war still rages on. I assumed the role of a soldier who just barely escaped drowning. My first objective was to locate and destroy an automated machine gun turret that was pinning down my fellow soldiers. The game did not provide any onscreen markers leading me to my objective but the level design was rather linear and simple to follow. I fell through the floor of a downed aircraft, entering a subterranean bunker replete with Nazis. I started off with a Thompson machine gun but quickly switched it out for a German weapon which can be dual wielded and fired independently.
The game uses standard FPS console controls, so it's easy to get used to and dive right in. The one issue I had was with cycling through weapons. Holding down one of the shoulder buttons brought up a weapon wheel that you could toggle through using the left analog, but the same stick is mapped to movement. More than once, when I was outnumbered by enemies and low on ammo, I got stuck trying to pick a new weapon leading to an unfortunate death despite the fact that the game pauses when you bring up the wheel.
In one section I was confronted with a securely locked door. Noticing a small opening at the bottom I assumed the prone position which gave me vision of an enemy’s feet on the other side. Shooting at the boots resulted in the door being opened by a wounded enemy firing up at me in a last ditch effort to survive. Eventually, I found the machine gun and destroyed it with a grenade. I then ran fervently into the trenches, engaging in numerous tense firefights with the Nazi forces. The game retains Wolfenstein’s old school sensibilities to gratifying effect. You have a numbered health meter as well as a defense meter you can replenish by picking up health and armor. You have the ability to overcharge your health above the 100% limit, but once you reach that point your extra health gradually diminishes until it returns to 100.
The sound design is both immersive and visceral. Listening through a pair of TurtleBeach headphones as I played the game at Bethesda’s booth, I could not help but be hypnotized by the thrilling sounds of war. The weapons all fire with exciting force and the clang of bullets bouncing off metal or piercing through skulls is riveting. More than anything, I liked the constant clinks and clangs of weapon and item pick ups.
Graphically, Wolfenstein is a very pleasing game, though it does not immediately wow you with an overwhelming leap over what shooters offered during the previous generation. Brown and gray still dominate the color palette, though Wolfenstein’s technological anachronisms - such as fully robotic dogs - add to the visual flare. The framerate maintained a rock solid 60 frames per second for the duration of my playtime.
I happened on a small room stockpiled with unexploded missiles. An icon on the screen prompted me to use a bomb to clear it so I stupidly hurled a grenade without enough time for me to get to a safe distance. The ensuing explosion that resulted in my death was both awesome and disheartening. After a lengthy loading screen, I respawned at the last checkpoint and hurled the grenade form a much safer distance this time. The blast cleared a new path for me to follow.
Once again I found myself low on ammo and overwhelmed by enemy forces. After numerous failed run-and-gun attempts, I tactically used my silenced pistol to take out guards one at a time until I could get my hands on real firepower in the form of a heavy machine gun. The machine gun was as fun to use as it was devastatingly powerful. Enemies’ heads exploded and limbs flew off in a spectacle of carnage my eyes won’t soon forget. Using the machine gun to power my way up through the enemy stronghold, I took out Nazi anti-aircraft weapons and even commandeered one myself for use against them.
At the end of the demo I was reunited with my squadron as the captain prepared to lead us on an assassination attempt on an enemy target, General Wilhelm Strasse (aka Deathshead). The next section involved repelling up the sides of a castle wall, ending the demo with an enticing tease of more to come. The cutscenes I watched featured decent visuals but most stand-out was the amazing voice acting.
All in all, Wolfenstein is shaping up to be a kick-ass experience. And the wait is almost over because The New Order launches in May for the Xbox One, PC, PS4, PS3, and Xbox 360. Those looking to join the resistance should consider pre-ordering the game in order to get early access to the new Doom beta on current gen consoles.