The timeworn cliché, “you only have one chance to make a first impression” often doesn’t apply to the game industry. Quite often, a developer shows off a slice of an alpha, which seems to be an indicator of the direction of the final build. However, that’s not always the case. Occasionally, full scrutiny of retail code will exhibit radically different play mechanics, visual design, and even a wildly dissimilar tone. One of the best examples of how these elements (as well as perceptions) can shift was demonstrated across two showings of MachineGames’s upcoming first-person shooter, Wolfenstein: The New Order.
Last year, before publisher Bethesda Softworks allowed the press to get their hands on a single stage demo, they established the game’s timbre with one of the game’s key cinematics. Recalling the punchy dialog and dark humor of Quentin Tarantino’s oeuvre, the sequence exhibited an interrogation of franchise protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz conducted by a female S.S. office. With a Luger up for grabs situated between the two characters, and a boy-toy assistant flanking the older Nazi, the scene fused intensity and levity, suggesting that The New Order was channeling the Nazi-revenge fantasy of Inglourious Basterds. The succeeding playthough revealed a competent, yet derivative shooter, where players battled a robotic dog and concluded with a fire-fight in a room occupied by a massive moon model. All the while, Blazkowicz would issue his trademark punch lines, indicating that Wolfenstein wasn’t going to take itself too seriously.
Eight months later, New Order seems like a completely different game.
This time, press were given three hours to play, beginning from the start of the game. The title’s obligatory control tutorial only gave a slight indication of the game’s malicious tenor. As players were performing rudimentary tasks aboard an aircraft, using a single button presses to cut loose cargo and repair fuel lines. Sporadically, these sequences were interrupted by the sporadic jump scare- with the game’s 7.1 Surround Sound setup articulating the resounding impact of incoming flak. A bit where players used a turret to shred enemy aircraft didn’t install much confidence in Wolfenstein’s sixty-dollar, single-player only campaign.
But, as Blazkowicz and his comrades began their descent on reoccurring arch-nemesis Deathshead’s castle, The New Order grew increasingly engaging. While firefights were largely confined to closed spaces like trenches and halls, the ballistic exchanges felt rewarding- punctuated by the occasional grisly nazi death. Demoed on PlayStation 4’s, the game’s controls were well-heeled, providing the proper amount of auto-aim as well as agreeable nuances like the ability to lean from cover. Stealth could be used to eliminate the lone unaware enemy or players could risk activating an enemy-generating klaxon by employing a run-and-gun approach. Play style is further established through a perk system, which bestows dividends to Blazkowicz, like the ability to carry an increased amount of ammo.
Both the conclusion of the first stage as well as introduction to the next level exhibit some exceptionally dark moments. The former forces a binary choice on players that’s as tough as any of The Walking Dead’s decisions. The later establishes the game’s motivation- in the process converting to cartoonish Third Reich of Wolfenstein past into a truly heinous group. At one point, The New Order’s emotional impact was strong enough to induce a short break from the game, which is an anomaly in the FPS genre.
The PlayStation 4 build on display targeted a sixty frame-per deliver, but did exhibit the occasionally drop in silkiness as well as unmistakable v-synch tears. But beyond these transgressions, The id Tech 5 engine delivered detailed textures and an expansive draw distance without the appearance of any mid-level loads. Although not everything in the game’s environment is destructible, some elements do reveal damage, while detonations in certain pre-established locations offer alterative pathways.
Wolfenstein: The New Order’s presumed shift in tone has two explanations. MachineGames might have retooled the game- which would explain why the release date was pushed back until May 20th, 2014. Or, much like a new movie trailer, newly revealed gameplay and footage casts existing elements in a new, more sinister light. Either way, first-person shooter fans should keep an eye out for Wolfenstein- it’s one of the rare entries in the genre where the storyline isn’t disposable.