2009’s Wolfenstein was more or less a straightforward first-person shooter. The supernatural stuff was neat but the potential never seemed fully realized under the weight of dead Nazis. Using the Veil was interesting but it actually negatively impacted the gameplay, so most of the time I had to resist the urge to activate it. At the end of the year, it came and went with little fanfare, falling in the bucket of memories most people keep stocked with “oh yeah, that came out” games.
So imagine my surprise when the hands-off portion of the Wolfenstein: The New Order demo in the Bethesda booth at E3 2013 opened with not a shooting gallery but a test. More than that, it opens with you doing perhaps one of the most mundane and boring and absolutely fascinating things I’ve ever done in a video game: carry a cup of coffee.
It opens with you as series hero B.J. Blazkowicz walking along on a train holding a tray with two cups of coffee resting on it. Physics are in full effect as every jostling motion you make fills you with anxiety and excitement all at once. The dirt sloshes around in these two ceramic vessels, inspiring fear in everyone wearing a white shirt over a brand new carpet. Blazkowicz had just woken up a 14-year coma in a world where the Nazis won World War II, so who knows why he was serving coffee.
He’s stopped, though, by a woman, a Nazi officer by the name of Frau Engel. She and her effeminate companion ask Blazkowicz to sit across from them in their booth, though it’s less of a question and more of a command giving the presence of a large Nazi-branded mech robot thing a mere 10 feet away. Engel wants to test you for impurity, though she does compliment your fantastically Aryan features. She places some cards with pictures on them on the table as well as a gun and warns you that should you go for the gun, things will go poorly for you. From there, she presents pairs of cards and you must pick the ones that fill you with joy or the one that sickens you, etc.
We fail the test anyways as we pick the third card, Engel takes the gun and points it at us, saying that a truth Aryan would have gone for the gun. After some fraught talk, we eventually get to take our coffee and go, walking out of the car and entering a cabin in the next one where we meet our partner Anya. I guess the coffee was for her, but the point is that this was such an incredibly unexpected scene and with both me and Blazkowicz knowing nothing about what was going on, the potential for where this opening went was boundless. It was so amazingly exciting considering where the Wolfenstein series started and ended up. Was this going to be the surprise of the show?
Well, uh, probably not. The demo then proceeded into a section from the late part of the campaign where Blazkowicz must navigate a wrecked bridge and, I think, some portions of a train (the same one?). We get a glimpse at some of the advanced weapons we’ll get a hold of including a laser blaster thing that can also cut out certain walls à la like basically every heist movie ever. We also get to hear some of our protagonist’s charming personality come through as he proclaims that he’s gonna stick it to one particular “motherfucking space Nazi.” (It was actually kind of funny.) He does a lot of shooting and they do a lot of dying. Pretty standard fare.
But then we jump to the hands-on portion of the demo outside of the theatre and it opens with us driving into a Nazi base with falsified credentials. The driver is explaining a great deal of the problems with the situation and things and whatnot (it was hard to get a handle on what he was talking about given our lack of story context), but the gist is clear: this is a one-shot deal. Whatever this mission is, they had to work hard just to get to this point. He drops us off and then proceeds to drive into a guard wall and blow it (and himself) up. It was actually kind of intense.
Then we start playing and it’s kind of just more shooting. The first bit required me to navigate the debris from the wall as a large robot dog thing tried to hunt me down before getting itself stuck under some concrete. There are mechs to fight with shotguns and soldiers to shoot with machine guns. They really kind of soak up the damage, so you’ll find yourself dumping a lot more than you’re used to with more modern shooters, but it’s kind of fun when you dual wield big-ass guns.
But I really didn’t find anything out of the ordinary with the base game mechanics. You can sprint and slide, but that comes in handy precisely once in the demo, and the plasma cutter gun is used in very specific, required instances. The enemies don’t seem especially smart or aware of their surroundings as I had little to no problem maneuvering around them for the better angle (the mechs, in fact, seem to have trouble navigating stairs, a challenge I took advantage of).
At moments, I was having fun. I thought yeah, I could do this for an afternoon. And then I would sometimes feel a malaise with it all. But then I would remember the purity test and the drive into the base and get excited again. I really don’t know what kind of game Wolfenstein: The New Order is going to be, but I’m excited to find out, even if the answer itself isn’t all that interesting.
Look for Wolfenstein: The New Order on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC in December.