http://www.totalxbox.com/72274/previewsForget 1080p - this is why it's going to be great
If you're anything at all like me, you'll be suspicious of Wolfenstein: The New Order. You'll be wary of reviving super-macho heroes like BJ, because i) his name's BJ, for Christ's sake and ii) the barbed sting of Duke Nukem Forever is still lodged in your flank. You'll be wary of having Nazis as the enemies, because there's only so much comedy and drama mileage to be had from hate-fuelled racist bastards. Maybe you're just done with shooters, because you've fired too many bullets in your life, and now you want to focus on basket-weaving and disco music.
I'm as weary, suspicious and generally unhappy as the next man. And yet, I'm stoked for The New Order. I've checked out now MachineGame's Wolfenstein at two preview events. The most recent event covered the first three chapters of the game, and it segued perfectly into the playable levels of the first event. So I've played the first five or six hours of The New Order. And I can't wait to play them again, and finish this story. And here's why:
The characters are alright
As a solemn narrator of what's going on around him, BJ would definitely get on with Max Payne. He's dripping with abrasive commentary, and leaden wise-sounding observations. But he's no Duke Nukem. He rarely wisecracks, which makes the fact he's effortlessly dual-wielding sniper rifles even more brilliant. But better still are the characters around him - people with unexpected amounts of humanity. Your squad, during the scenes in alternate WW2. Deathshead, a character lifted from the original game.
It's just surprisingly well-written in a way that sheared through my cynicism. The last thing I was expecting was affecting sincerity, atmospheric oppression and presentation that made my spine tingle. At one point you'll find yourself handing over a Nazi to the aged parents of a woman he's just had killed, and watch as the mother helplessly slaps him. Her fragility and his lack of remorse made my throat tighten, and the subsequent scenes much easier.
Blazkowicz is plunged into an eyes-open coma after the events of the prologue. His consciousness is locked away from his motor functions, which adds a streak of real pathos to the time-lapse storytelling. Yes, after a decade-plus of immobility, it's somewhat unlikely that he'd be able to leap to his feet and begin a duel-wielding rampage against a squad of Hitler's finest. But we let it slide with Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, and we'll let it slide here. What did you want, a six-month recovery montage?
Stealth, options and secrets
While MachineGames have kept Wolfenstein true to the explosive, uberblown chaos of the original, there's much more to The New Order than slaughtering your way through pig-thick AI. First, you can thin out the enemy herd with stealth, and prevent alarms being sounded and reinforcements called. This being bona-fide old-school, there's nothing in the way of sticky cover - and even regenerating health has its limits. But the ability to scoot around unseen is well-supported in the opening hours.
The level design doesn't settle for making the odd guard face a wall, or easily predicted patrol patterns. Secrets include hidden rooms, unforced puzzles, and secondary paths that completely cut out a combat set-piece. For a Wolfenstein game, all this feels suspiciously open-ended.
The gunplay works just fine
Perhaps it's the id Tech, but Wolfenstein puts me most in mind of RAGE. It may have let itself down with a tragically half-baked ending, but for a long time, that game featured some of the most ridiculous, robust shooting you could ask for. The Nazis aren't in the same class of acrobatic AIs as the mutant bandits from RAGE, but they're smart, challenging, and become ever more varied as you run into more and more tech. One nice touch is the laser cutter, that shears through soft cover and lets you take pot shots from relative safety. Wolfenstein delivers in its home territory category: it's a bloody entertaining shooter.
And it's not just me
Fine, you might be thinking. They got to you. Maybe they're pressing your buttons, and maybe you were given a promotional Bethesda T-shirt that made you so happy that it infected your memories of the game. I wouldn't trust me, either - I can get excited about absolute rubbish. But there were a dozen of us in that room, playing those first three hours. And there was a point, around forty minutes in, when I looked to my neighbour with a surprised look on my face, and we both mouthed "this is really good" at each other.
I can't remember the last time that happened. Synchronised joyful surprise. Hopefully the rest of Wolfenstein won't go to hell. And I still can't work out whether I want a Hitler-bot finale.
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Why Wolfenstein could be Xbox One's least expected killer shooter.
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