By Steve Wright
So, I watched a hands-off presentation of Wolfenstein: The New Order at E3, and then played a hands-on demo for about 30 minutes... and I still can't tell if its a serious game, or a tongue-in-cheek one. That's not a great thing.
In reality, MachineGames and Bethesda are a new order on the franchise themselves, taking the reins from Raven Software and Activision. MachineGames is made up of a ton of ex-Starbreeze staffers, most of whom worked on one of my favorite games ever, The Darkness. The best bits in The Darkness were the little details; in the midst of gunslinging, spending intimate moments with your girlfriend, where you could snuggle on the couch and watch a movie, or dance -- just dance -- really sold the emotional connection that so many games get horribly, horribly wrong.
You can see that Starbreeze-esque influence in Wolfenstein: The New Order, which features B.J. Blazkowicz fighting Nazis in an alternate 1960s universe where Hitler was victorious in World War II. The first sequence we were shown featured B.J. undercover on a Nazi-filled train, stopped by the game's antagonist Frau Engel, who asks our hero to take part in a game that will show if he's a true Aryan or not. Without spoiling the sequence, it's a tense moment tha envokes real, raw emotion.
Sadly, tha sequence is muddled with the inclusion of Frau's boytoy plaything, named Bubi. For one, he's a super-mincing gay stereotype, made worse by the fact his name sounds as you read it -- boobie. The tension and intrigue of the whole sequence is essentially ruined by a "is he or isn't he?" one-dimensional piece of awful comic refief. To make it worse, B.J. immediately went on his way afterward and had what a MachineGames developer called a "love scene" with the game's main female protagonist. Let me tell you, the Star Wars prequels did it better with Anakin and Padme.
The hands-off presentation shifted to a combat sequence, and it looked great. Weapons have a weird futuristic Art Deco feel to them, and can be used as welding tools to cut through the environment. B.J. set off dispatching Nazis, and I was finally getting on board... that is, until a break in combat that lead B.J. to muse. The audience laughed as B.J. caught his breath and exclaimed, "I'm coming for you, you fucking Nazi spaceman." Everyone around me laughed at the comment, but I sure didn't.
I was too busy thinking we'd stepped into Duke Nukem territory.
Were we meant to take that seriously? Was it tongue-in-cheek? I still don't know.
That's really why I'm struggling with The New Order. Playing the shooter, I loved it. It looks great, has amazingly destructible environments, and does away with sticky cover but has lots of areas to crouch and use strategically in firefights. In a crouching position at debris, you can shoot it out to make new vantage points with which to shoot, or you can lean out from cover or look around corners and shoot baddies. Playing for only a half an hour, I stumbled across a wide variety of weapons with unique and fun primary and secondary fire.
To sum it up, The New Order excels when it comes to shooting mechanics. Its real problem is that it needs to really figure out what it wants to be -- a gritty take on an alternate history of our planet, where emotions matter, or a farcial romp with space Nazis and robots.
I'm sorry to say it, MachineGames, but the game could work in either of those scnearios, but not in both. At least, not with what I saw and played and E3.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is scheduled for release in Q4 2013 on Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4 and PC.