Time waits for no hero

I’ve gone hands-on with Wolfenstein: The New Order before, but my recent glimpse at the game has given the most complete picture of B.J. Blazkowicz’s new adventure thus far. For those of you who may be unaware, the premise of The New Order is that it’s an alternative storyline or parallel universe from the Wolfenstein games many of us grew up on. Here, B.J. Blazkowicz doesn’t stop General Deathshead. Instead, he suffers a coma-inducing injury, sleeps for 14 years, and wakes up to hell on Earth, a world where the Nazis won.

This new build allowed me to play the entirety of the game’s first three chapters, starting with B.J. flying into Nazi airspace with his buddy Fergus. Now, I’m not going to get into the minutiae of my time with this demo, because if you’ve played a Wolfenstein game before, you’ve got an idea of what to expect: lots of Nazis to shoot and stuff to blow up. But few games have given me that big-budget action-film vibe more than this.

From that very first sequence, you’re asked to do the impossible, and as is typical in these kinds of games, it’s all so much daily routine, like brushing your teeth in the morning. Jumping from your doomed plane onto the wings of another allied plane. Hopping into a turret and fending off half-robotized German Shepherds. Commandeering an AA gun to take out a giant mechanical walker reminiscent of a Star Wars AT-AT. And this was just the first chapter.

Beyond the variety seen in the over-the-top action moments, The New Order did a great job of making me feel empowered with just its standard first-person shooter fare. Running through the trenches, dual-wielding assault rifles and mowing down Nazis left and right, legs and arms flying everywhere. I felt like I could take on the entire German army by myself.

And, yes, all this sounds super-sensationalistic, but you don’t play Wolfenstein for realism. If anything, gaming these days is so much about immersing you up to your eyeballs in the world we already live in that when something like The New Order comes along, it actually feels kind of refreshing. I saw how fast B.J. sprinted from his wheelchair in the asylum after sitting on his behind for more than a decade, and I knew that most of reality had been checked at the door. This game is all about empowering the player on a very basic level.

Even the cutscenes communicate how much of a badass B.J. is. In one, after escaping the asylum, B.J. interrogated a German officer with a chainsaw. Let me say that again. With a chainsaw. In the three chapters I played, B.J. projected more testosterone than I’d seen from every male gaming protagonist combined over the past year. I’m not saying that’s always a good thing, but in this context, with the absurdity of the situation, it fit—and I found myself enjoying my playtime more because of it.

Some less-bombastic moments with B.J. also showed a little depth to his character. My favorite? After clearing out a bunch of Nazis from a roadside checkpoint’s motor pool, B.J. got into the husk of an abandoned jeep. He then started spinning the wheel, pretending to honk the horn, and even worked on his pickup lines with an imaginary girl. It helped give the sense of B.J. being a man out of time—both in regards to recent gaming trends as well as his own plight. Then he went outside and blew up a pair of mechs.

I also noticed something interesting while working my way through the game’s menus. Late in the first chapter, your unit is captured, and you have to make a choice on whom to save between a pair of soldiers. I made my decision and realized later on that text appeared on my menu detailing the person I’d saved, giving me the sense that it could affect my playthrough later on. I don’t know if the choice will result in anything beyond a cameo later in the game, or whether it meant my entire story had been thrown down a different path, or even if more choices were coming at some point, but I love the idea of your decisions—even in something as far-fetched as Wolfenstein—carrying weight.

Honestly, I was more excited for Wolfenstein coming out of my play session than I had expected to be. The stunning attention to detail in the world and its characters impressed me, but what I’m most looking forward to is seeing how far MachineGames goes with this action-movie focus. Sometimes, like moviegoers with big budget blockbuster films, you just want to leave your brain at the door, and Wolfenstein looks to be banking gamers will be looking for that kind of experience come May.