Do you ever look back in time and ask, "What if?" Probably not, but amuse me for a second. What would life be like had the Titanic never sunk upon its voyage to America? How would the world have looked if women never got the right to vote in elections? Just what would have happened if I'd got picked to play in my school football team? All captivating topics, yes, but Wolfenstein: The New Order is posing one of the most-asked questions of all: Just what would things be like if the Nazis won World War II?
One of the franchises famed for catapulting first-person shooters into the mainstream and inspiring the billion dollar success stories of games like Call of Duty and Battlefield is back, and this time it's representing the old school with a storyline that would be fit for a classic 80s action movie. Forget buzzwords like 'realism' and 'visceral', this game is all about edge-of-your-seats, in-your-face, blink-and-you'll-miss-it action. It's a tribute to shooters before they were the behemoth they are today, and it's immediately refreshing to anyone bored of the yearly COD installments.
It's also hard. Very hard. Grown accustomed to regenerating health? Well, that's out. Instead you'll have to search around for health packs and armour, just like back in the day. Want to rush through levels quickly and easily just shooting things? Not so fast, from what we saw there'll be several parts of levels that are slowed down so that you can find out how to get onto a platform, or how to open a particular door. It doesn't take much brainpower to figure out these little conundrums but it's Wolfenstein's way of reminding you what games used to be like.
Of course, with such a bizarre narrative you have to throw in an equally zany lead. Step forward, BJ Blazkowicz. Marking his return from the previous Wolfenstein games, this time BJ has woken up from a coma he suffered during the events of WWII. He was out for 15 years, has suffered amnesia and finds out that the Nazis have taken over the world. He's probably had better days.
Blazkowicz takes it upon himself to basically put the world right again, he's the archetypal hero and he's also a goldmine for one-liners. At one point our protagonist finds a set of images which indicate that Nazis were the first people to reach the moon. "You put a Nazi on the moon?" he wonders aloud. "Fuck you, moon!" It's a not-so-subtle approach to some light comedy, but we chuckled.
Where Wolfenstein really shines though is the pure action aspect. Equipping a meaty shotgun and unleashing hell upon hordes of Nazi soldiers just feels so satisfying. Weapons pack a real punch, and the bodies of enemies go flying or have limbs dismembered if you shoot at the right spots. Most weapons can also be dual wielded if you find two of the same kind, which makes for even more intense, and fun, gameplay. Make sure to check out the corpses of any Nazis lying around for bullets and weapons, as you'll find yourself quickly running out if you get as trigger happy as we did.
You'll also be coming across Nazi mechs that pack a real punch. Fighting these big boys isn't nearly as satisfying though, and not just because they hand out a lot of punishment. Firing at them doesn't seem to do anything, and we were about to give in and try a change of tactics before the first one blew up. There's no visible damage and no animation to show you're hurting these things, which might irritate some players. But it's a tiny gripe in an otherwise rewarding experience.
While pure, unadulterated action may be the driving force behind Wolfenstein: The New Order, developer MachineGames is also hoping an involving story will keep players hooked until the very end. And for an FPS that won't be featuring any kind of multiplayer elements this will be key. Simply shooting at Nazis won't be enough to keep players salivating for more, the locations and puzzles have to be continuously captivating and the plot should have us craving to see what happens next. That's all to be seen, but from what we've witnessed so far, Wolfenstein has the potential to be the perfect blend of old school dynamics and new school polish.