With Machine Games' shooter almost ready to lock and load, we sampled a new slice of Nazi-flavoured American pie.
Following our first hands-on with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus at E3 this summer, we were invited to Bethesda's offices in London to play through another level of the upcoming Nazi-based shooter. The first half of the demonstration was the previous segment we played in L.A, so this preview will focus solely on the new level we experienced, set in Roswell, New Mexico.
The mission starts off with a cutscene showing BJ Blazkowicz with the resistance at their hideout. One of the first things to notice is a rather overweight German woman; Sigrun Engel, daughter of Frau Irene Engel, one of the main antagonists in The New Order. She's seen at the end of the first level, rather reluctantly hacking off Fergus' arm at the demand of her mother, so her appearance in the gang's headquarters implies she defers from the regime and opts to fight against the Nazis. A new character, a black woman whose name is still unknown but appears to now be running the show, is visibly annoyed about her inclusion, insinuating that she's a double agent and is actually reporting back to the Nazis, causing Sigrun to burst into tears and storm off.
Just like in The New Order, cutscenes resemble a high-budget film rather than a traditional video game. Emotions and feelings are conveyed effectively, while the environments are heavily detailed and the lighting leaves little to be desired. It's cliché, but the story-telling aspect of Wolfenstein II is the epitome of cinematic, even as far as the 30-frames per second cap during the cutscenes, for better or for worse.
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Gameplay kicks off on a Roswell high street, during a lively and patriotic parade, albeit one that has been corrupted by the Nazi regime. BJ's mission is to make contact with an informant who runs a local typical American diner and secure a path to the infamous Area 52. Once there, BJ must plant and detonate a small nuclear bomb he's carrying, as that's where the Nazis have moved one of their bases of operations.
Disguised as a fireman to not raise suspicion, BJ meanders down the high street littered with party-goers and Nazi officials, eavesdropping on conversations. Right from the start, you see two people dressed in the typical white robes of the KKK, conversing with a Nazi officer about how to say basic German phrases. Take a detour to the right, down an alleyway behind a store, and you'll find a drunk man rambling amidst some dumpsters. Cross over the road and there's another German officer trying to woo an American girl, saying "ich liebe dich" (I love you in German) while she acts coy.
At the end of the street is the diner, the same one shown off at E3. Just like we saw in the trailer, the Nazi officer asks BJ for his identification papers and it all goes smoothly until he stands up to leave, sees BJ's face plastered on a wanted poster by the door, then tries to apprehend our protagonist before our contact, the man running the diner, puts a bullet through his brain. BJ then goes downstairs into the basement and explains to the liaison exactly what he knows about Area 52, and after some insistence that it's all about extra-terrestrial secrets, he shows BJ a tunnel that leads directly to a depot where trains are loaded to travel to the military base.
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This is the first glimpse of proper combat we get, after the initial wheelchair-bound level. Four weapon upgrade kits were available, to be used on crafting a variety of modifications such as suppressors, scopes, and foregrips, depending on how you want to tackle the mission. We opted to try and go the stealthy route, equipping our pistol with a silencer and giving our assault rifle a scope, turning it into a single-shot rifle suited for longer range encounters. It didn't prove too fruitful though, as the pistol required multiple shots, even to the head, to take out most enemies, so missing a single shot resulted in them being aware and alerting others to our position. After a few guards we were compromised and ended up brute forcing our way through to the commander; the guard responsible for calling in reinforcements until they're eliminated.
Before long, a couple of mechs showed their ugly faces. Smaller than any of the mechs in the previous game, they're equipped with LaserKraftWerks; heavy, two-handed energy weapons which can tear through enemies if you pick one up from the robotic corpses, but will cause devastation if you don't take cover while fighting the mechs. Their other attack is a menacing charge that utilises their thruster packs and caught us out more than once. The sound of a burning thruster pack then a laser in your back, if you're not paying attention to your surroundings, is harrowing.
The next section took place on the train travelling to Area 52 and was much more enclosed than before, with tight corridors and corners and guards patrolling every area. Going stealthy and sneaking up behind every enemy seemed like the obvious choice, but one major hindrance to that is the inability to move bodies and dump them somewhere hidden after killing them. Ultimately, sneaking through the train became impossible before long as repeated silent kills caused the bodies to pile up and become more obvious. Another thing to note is that the AI seemed rather incompetent; they weren't the smartest in The New Order, and it could be because we were only playing on the second highest difficulty (as was recommended due to lack of optimisation at higher difficulties on the build), but they would routinely get stuck in doorways and on other enemies, along with turning and running in the opposite direction at times.
Despite the train section obviously being very straightforward, with the goal being just to get from one side to the other, there was still multiple options for routes to take. Going downstairs at first lead to a shaft that can be crawled through underneath the train, to skip the first major section, or you can go up the stairs to engage in more direct combat. There's also an outside section where you can keep underneath the walkways and avoid confrontation aside from a few stealth kills, or fight through a flurry of bullets topside.
It was at this point, when we disembarked the train at our destination, that our game crashed and we were unable to recover our save due to a bug. We were assured it'd be fixed by the final release, and it allowed us to tackle the level with a different strategy. We used our upgrade kits to make the pistol more powerful and to buff the assault rifle, and went through guns blazing. This felt like the true way to experience the game; little to no AI problems, the guns all felt weighty and dealt considerable damage, and dashing to and from cover while slaughtering any Nazis that crossed our path was much more satisfying than doing it all stealthily. New to The New Colossus is the ability to dual wield different weapons; you're no longer confined to two of the same, so you can pick up a shotgun and have an assault rifle in the other hand. Realistic? No. Totally rad? 100% yes.
We continued with the guns blazing option until the end of the level, where an enormous mech showed up. As per usual in the revitalised Wolfenstein games, rather than fighting the big bastard, due to our lack of ammo from our bullet frenzy escapades, we opted to dash straight for the exit, leaving the enormous Nazi robot and its friends behind. While we'd have loved to stay and fight the guy, due to the crash we were running late and had to finish as soon as possible.
The New Colossus is looking to be everything we expected and more. Collectibles litter every corner, from newspaper excerpts to playing cards, so there's a reason to explore absolutely everywhere. Gunplay feels as fluid as ever, while the stealth sections are tense and nerve-wracking. Brutally murdering Nazis has never felt more satisfying, and we cannot wait to learn about how BJ Blazkowicz and the resistance will overturn Nazi America.