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By Ishaan . May 20, 2014 . 1:00pm
Wolfenstein: The New Order is a re-imagined take on the classic series that gave birth to the first-person shooter. Developed by Swedish developer Machine Games, The New Order takes place in an alternate 1960s era, where the Nazis won World War II and now rule the planet with an iron fist and an array of bizarre, futuristic technology.
Work on the game began “very quickly” after Machine Games were acquired by id Software and Bethesda Softworks owner ZeniMax, Senior Gameplay Designer Andreas Öjerfors shared with Siliconera. The studio pitched its alternate post-World War II vision for the game, and the higher-ups at Bethesda liked what they heard.
“We then stayed with id [Software] for three weeks to nail down what the soul of Wolfenstein is,” Öjerfors recalled. “We found it to be the frantic action, the twisted take on Nazis, the David versus Goliath theme, and of course exploration. All those aspects are at the core of The New Order.”
“We like to call The New Order a ‘story-driven first-person action-adventure’ to try to communicate the emphasis on intense action, but there’s also drama, history and mystery,” Öjerfors emphasized, when I asked if the game would include any downtime where the player could take a break from the killing. “Beyond combat it’s a game about exploration—you’ll explore the world, the narrative and the characters.”
“Mystery underpins the entire game,” he elaborated, as we discussed the game’s story further. “The mystery of how the Nazis suddenly managed to turn the tides, win World War II and conquer the planet. The mystery of what has happened to the world and the people in it. B.J. ends up in a coma at the end of the war, so he and you, as the player, are equally oblivious to the realities of this New Order as he wakes up in 1960. Together, you’ll search for answers.”
Öjerfors says that the idea behind the game’s retro/sci-fi theme comes from how people of the 1960s would imagine technology of the future, with a twist of Nazi madness. A “distorted reflection of the space age generation’s dreams,” he calls it. I asked if the game would have enough of this material for history buffs that want to learn about its alternate setting to sink their teeth into.
“If you’re interested in the alternate history timeline of The New Order, there is a lot of information to discover about the events of the war. You’ll even be able to find and read plenty of old newspaper articles describing the change of history,” Öjerfors replied.
Judging by trailers, Wolfenstein: The New Order is certainly a game with character (and characters). In a trailer released for the game earlier this year, Machine Games highlighted a number of the game’s villains and gave protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz a personality that is much more apparent than in past games. This trailer also made some very effective use of dark humour, and that was part of why The New Order caught people’s eyes. The game has a personality of its own.
“In earlier games [Blazkowicz] has been a simple action hero, but we’ve made him into a real person, one you can sympathize and hopefully identify with,” said Öjerfors. “One of our inspirations is Tarantino’s movie Inglorious Basterds, and like Tarantino’s work The New Order thrives on dualities. Action and drama, humor and darkness, over-the-top violence and low-key gentleness. We’ve spent a lot of time and effort in honing a balance between these polarities to find the right tone for the game.”
Expanding upon what makes Wolfenstein in particular different from other shooters on the market, Öjerfors said that it comes down to merging old-school design principles with more modern advancements in shooters. For example, The New Order does make use of a cover system and tactical AI, but also relies heavily on frantic speed and movement on the part of the player. And of course, there’s the 100% Health readout.
“We’ve brought back the classic 100% health as a persistent resource, but ensured that if you’re almost dead after a fight we’ll regenerate it to 20%,” Öjerfors noted. “You still need to be mindful of your health level, but you’ll always be given a fighting chance to continue.”
This approach carries over to stealth as well. According to the designer, “The enemies use body language and verbalization tells to hint that they sense and are about to spot you, and thereby give you time to hide. We even subtitle such utterances to make sure that you can catch them. We also try to ensure that there are paths available where you can remain close to cover if you’re about to be spotted.”
Finally, out of genuine curiosity, I also asked Öjerfors the most obvious question about Wolfenstein: The New Order—how the decision to avoid including a multiplayer mode was made, and how Machine Games designed the game to be replayable without one.
“The choice to make a pure single-player game meant that every drop of sweat poured from our brows came from crafting the best single-player campaign we could possibly do,” he replied. “That was very important to us. It’s part of our studio culture.”
“Our way to make the game fun to play through a second time is the same way we make it fun the first time—by providing a wealth of options and possibilities. Do you want to rely on stealth, mayhem or a more tactical approach? There are meaningful choices to make, plenty of exploration and secrets, and it’s possible to unlock new game modes.”
Wolfenstein: The New Order was released today for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4.