I can hear the drone of the plane's engine, the roar of flak and I know things are going to be pretty interesting from here on in.
I'm immersed in the first few minutes of the new Wolfenstein, immersed and enthralled by the interior of the bomber and the situation I've found B.J. Blaskowicz in. It doesn't take long for the game to kick into high gear and I'm running around the interior doing a simple tutorial for Fergus, a heavily Scottish accented pilot and buddy of BJ's. In the first few minutes I've had more non-shooting action in the game than I've had in most first person shooters that market themselves as cinematic.
Wolfenstein: The New Order is also pretty cinematic when it comes to the cut-scenes, directed with a visual flair that's not often seen in games like this, both in terms of the cut-scenes that you watch in third person and the times that the game takes over and shows you information in first person.
I've seen the skies on fire and watched planes plummet to their doom far below in a cold an uncaring ocean. I've defended the plane from a relentless Nazi airborne assault, fixed a broken fuel line and done an assortment of other things that aren't usually par for the course in a FPS. I've leapt from one stricken aircraft to another and ended up smashed into the sea, unconscious with bullets tearing the water apart like lead torpedoes.
I've loved every minute of it too. Wolfenstein is back with vengeance and this massive game is full of great moments like this, interesting level design, compelling story (and I don't use that lightly) with some full on great performances all round by the likes of Brian Bloom (BJ), and Dwight Schultz (Deathshead). I'd gotten pretty sick of the CoD FPS storyline and I was worried that Wolfenstein might be yet another tired re-treading of the WW2 Nazis and horror theme.
It's not, it's a well made, highly polished and extremely fun shooter that blends all sorts of tried and tested mechanics into a fine-tuned experience that begs for more play even when the expansive campaign is over. There's at least 20 hours to be wrung from this game and possibly more if you look for all the collectibles, secret areas and hidden clues stashed around inside the game's massive levels.
If you're familiar with FPS' you'll be right at home with Wolfenstein, it's got all the tuned mechanics of games in the past. There's a good cover system where you can hold the left trigger from cover and peek out based on the cursor indicator direction, a system where you can also hold down the left bumper and push the stick to lean in any direction. This comes in really handy for taking cover at the edge of ledges and sniping bad guys from a good vantage point.
There's a great perk system, where you unlock in-game bonuses for your in-game actions. Kill 5 Nazis with thrown knives for instance and you'll boost an aspect of the Stealth tree. Show your prowess tactically and you'll get perks for the Tactics tree. Assault is for going loud and proud, dual wielding twin shotguns and blowing Nazi's faces off. Explosives speaks for itself and helps you carry more grenades and survive grenade blasts. Once a perk is unlocked, that's it, it's unlocked permanently too. So if you unlock it then die not long after, going back to a checkpoint, you'll still have that perk and any more enemies that died in the meantime will have accumulated to the next perk.
The rest of the controls are standard, right bumper tosses grenades. Holding it down opens a Red Dead Redemption style weapon wheel and Y swaps weapons. B does the usual crouch movement and X reloads. The d-pad down opens the map, and the other directions can be used to apply fire mode changes and mods to the weapon in question. Every weapon can have an alternate fire mode that's unlocked due to game progression and they range from a scope on the laser sniper rifle, to an Unreal Tournament style shotgun shrapnel mod.
Wolfenstein is a big game, it's going to take around 20 hours to see it all. There's two separate timelines as well - early on you'll make a choice (as I did) that changes history in various ways, some characters may/may not be there, some events will happen differently and there's a slew of subtle ways things alter. It's this layer of gameplay that is the icing on the already tasty Wolfencake.
What's really good about Wolfenstein is that it lets you play as you desire. If you want to be a sneaky ninja, murdering Nazi guards with a knife (thrown or otherwise), popping them in the head with a suppressed pistol mod - you can. It'll build up your stealth perks too, of course, there are advantages to playing like this. In most of the areas of the level you'll encounter Commanders, these can radio for reinforcements if you're detected and won't stop the bad guys coming until you kill them. Kill all of the Commanders and bad guys can't call for backup in an area.
Or if you want to dual-wield two shotguns both with the shrapnel mod attached, you can, you can be a force of nature or a silent deadly knife-wielding breeze. Two sniper rifles in those meaty hands of yours, sure BJ, you can do that too.
It's the level design that plays into this as well, there's adequate cover to support assault and gung-ho approaches, there's alternate pathways and vents that can be utilised to allow a more stealth focused player to eliminate enemies quietly. You can also mix it up and the game won't mind, allowing you to improvise and deal with threats as you see fit. The level design is vast too, many of the maps are huge multi-part affairs with all sorts of rooms, pickups and hidden items dotted around. Kill a Commander and you'll get question mark notification icons pop up on the map that give you a rough idea of where something is in the level.
There's also usually more than one objective to the level, with some smart stuff here and there to help break up the pedestrian flow of most other shooters. One moment you're gunning Nazis down in a WW2 trench, the next you're helping your resistance buddies in their HQ to sort a couple of problems out.
So with this great gameplay behind it, Wolfenstein has it where it counts, the guts of the game are solid. There might be an issue or two with guard AI when you're trying to sneak around, but that's something that is highly subjective, since you can't move bodies, sometimes a patrolling guard seems to ignore a dead comrade and just walk on by. Then I've heard guards exclaim surprise upon sighting a corpse, and one failed stealth attack saw me kill a Nazi guard right by his friend, who immediately raised the alarm and the Commander called in backup.
There's always a reasonable checkpoint though, and they're quite frequent since the game doesn't support 'save anywhere'.
The rest of the AI is pretty meaty and decent, and provides a solid challenge whatever difficulty you decide to play on.
Graphically, yeah it has power there, Wolfenstein runs at 1080p on the Xbox One at a steady 60fps. It's silky smooth and there have been no issues in that regard, it looks gorgeous and the sense of scale when you're immersed in some of these big set pieces is truly staggering at times. Id Tech's engine keeps things ticking over nicely and this game is certainly worthy of its big install size (41gb on the Xbox One) and highly detailed textures. It's Dieselpunk style WW2 meets advanced tech aesthetic is superbly done and the designs for the tech are pretty incredible.
The animations bring the battles to life, and there's a slew of death animations and a Soldier of Fortune-lite gore layer that makes it into a big action movie with an effects department that looks like the master of gore himself, Tom Savini has had a hand in the game.
The voice work and the sound work on the game are highly polished as well, with some great performances all round from the cast.
To bring this to a close: with a host of hidden content, Enigma Codes to crack (they open up new gameplay modes) and Extra Content to unlock. Two timelines and unlockable perks, the game is excellent value for money and a superb core shooter to boot. This is how old franchises should be rebooted into the next-gen and the layer of care and attention that's gone into Wolfenstein: the New Order is excellent. It's also unashamedly single player and a rare treat for those of us who want just a single player game, no deathmatch or multiplayer whatsoever. I love co-op myself, but it doesn't need to be in every single game on the planet.
No two levels are really alike and there's always some set-piece just waiting to hit you in the face with a barrel full of awesome. It deserves all the praise and accolades it can get, it's revitalised Wolfenstein for me and made me love shooters again.
"You call me Deathshead, I don't like it. I really am a very happy man."
Bring on any sequels if they're this good!