Teaching a new Wolf new tricks.
Wolfenstein is a first-person shooter in which badass William "B.J." Blazkowicz spends his days blowing Nazis to Aryan kingdom come. Back in 1992, that sentence would have meant Wolfenstein 3D, one of the forefathers of popular first-person shooters, and every new gamer who is playing video games solely due to Call of Duty, Battlefield, or Halo should pay their respects. Today, that means Wolfenstein: The New Order, a title published by Bethesda, developed by MachineGames (with key members responsible for the Chronicles of Riddick and Darkness video games), and modernized from the original source.
So then how would Wolfenstein 3D look if it was designed by the current generation? Well, for starters, William Blazkowicz has received the obligatory upgrade in polygons and animations, but he still has the grit, the muscle, and the one-liners to back his badassery. I'm sure every preview for this title will mention one particular scene in which Blazkowicz infiltrates a Nazi museum, sees an exhibit about Nazis landing on the moon, and utters to himself: "Fuck you, moon!" Go ahead. Say that out loud. Because if you don't start using that phrase in your everyday life, you're a Nazi.
As for the environments, gone are narrow, pixelated hallways and claustrophobic ceilings with Blazkowicz hiding around corners. This time around, he must navigate everything from helicopter hangars and museum exhibits, to elevator shafts and planetariums. In an introductory opening sequence for a mission of a Nazi-occupied England, Blazkowicz's escort Bobby decides to go kamikaze and rams his bomb-rigged car straight into the entrance of aforementioned Nazi museum. This creates a level where Blazkowicz must scour through the remains of the rubble, while killing Nazi soldiers, Nazi robots, and Nazi anything that gets in his way.
In many regards, some of the retro Wolfenstein elements have been retained. The only numbers and pick-ups the player needs to worry about are for health, armor, and ammo reserves. Any health that goes over 100 gradually drains to Blazkowicz's maximum health limit, which encourages players to use that temporary health boost in the name of well-timed aggression.
Successfully mowing through the waves of enemies, though, means understanding the intricacies of the cover system. The demo that I tried, the developers warned, was on one of the higher difficulty settings, so nailing down the basics of the cover-based shooting was absolutely essential. Despite the wealth of health pick-ups from medkits and Nazi corpses, health does not regenerate to full, so it's important not just to find cover, but also to lean from cover and slide into cover. Even when using the turret, leaning away while firing prevents Blazkowicz from avoiding stray damage.
The most interesting gun in his arsenal is the metal cutter, which is charged by finding various energy stations and whose main function is to create holes in wire fences, cut linked chains, or fire energy blasts on its alternate setting. Many obstacles and minor puzzles can only be conquered by way of the metal cutter, but it can also be used to carve holes in boxes for additional resources and in thin cover through which Blazkowicz can fit a surefire spread of bullets. It adds an element of strategy to a game that would otherwise be a simple run-and-gun affair.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is currently slated for Q4 2013 for current-gen and next-gen platforms. With currently no plans for a multiplayer mode, MachineGames is banking on the strength of the single-player combat to hook hardcore fans of the first-person shooter genre. And from what I've played, Wolfenstein: The New Order will succeed, no matter how the universe is aligned. Because you know… Fuck you, moon!