We saw the trailer for the game, but it was the developer behind the next installment of the venerable series, Wolfenstein: The New Order that had our rapt attention. Jens Matthies, Creative Director for MachineGames (comprised of a great many ex-Starbreeze alumni) sat us down to take a look at the holiday-slated title. They intend to migrate away from the run-of-the-mill aspects of typical shooters and reinvent BJ Blazkowicz in this latest world-hopping adventure.
The game demo takes place in an alternate universe in 1960 where the Nazis have won the war using a mysterious technology. Everything BJ has fought for has been lost and he and his fellow Kreisau Circle compatriot Anya are keeping up the good fight. Under false identities, BJ and Anya are taking the train into Berlin. It’s unfortunate that our Nazi hosts have other plans.
As our demo begins, we take two coffees from the dining cart. A large mech escorts a Nazi officer to her table nearby. She takes a moment and compliments our Aryan features as she toys with her pistol. Obersturmbannführer Frau Engle and her effeminate SS boytoy “Bubi” sit at the table and demand that we sit and talk. We put down our coffee and submit to her “test” – a litmus to determine if we are of pure blood. The stakes couldn’t be higher as the penalty for failure is death.
Laying out a series of cards, Frau Engle lays out a photo and asks us to select the one that excites us the most – an eye or a mouth. After that, a flower and a butterfly for whichever makes us happy. Next a skull or spider for which makes us feel disgusted – a card that she advises is the last card so we must choose very wisely. Glancing between the card and her pistol we carefully select the skulls. She bursts out laughing and flatly states that if we weren’t Aryian we’d have gone for the gun. Dismissing us, Bubi tells us that this is just a game she enjoys using to torture strangers. Grabbing our coffee with unsteady hands, Anya ushers us into the next train car and we sit down for a quick drink. An uneasy (but hopeful) conversation over just having one bed and how we’ll have to share it unfolds before we move to another sequence.
This interaction is our first brush with what I’ll call the “Starbreeze effect.” The full-body and facial capture has to be seen to be believed, and the pictures in this document simply do not do it justice. Capturing the full performance at 60 frames per second, the Frau, Bubi, BJ, and the nearby guard were all captured simultaneously in a single scene. This ensures that the interaction is both seamless and completely natural. Just like in Riddick, the facial fidelity is beyond anything you could possibly expect for a game. I asked a nearby developer about the cutscene that lead up to this section and found out that it wasn’t actually a cutscene – it was rendered with the engine as well. Yeah…it looks that good.
Jumping forward into the demo for the game, BJ is looking to hunt down, as he calls it, “a Nazi fucking spaceman” – a scientist researching lunar technology. Our train has crashed and we are trapped. We flip a switch on a gun, turning it into a cutting torch. This allows us to cut our way into a the next car. Our car is hanging by a thread on mangled concrete and steel – we’ve derailed on a bridge. The whole place is beautiful and twisted and about to become our permanent resting place if we don’t get moving. Again using the cutter on the environment, we slowly descend through the inverted cart, picking up ammunition that has spilled from a nearby crate.
Making our way onto the crumbled bridge proper we see a Nazi soldier trying to revive a fallen comrade. We engage, sniping him in the head, and unfortunately unleashing a battle against a mechanized SS soldier and his comrades. The mechanized soldier is sporting a minigun, but we’ve picked up one of our own. Switching weapons, we gun down the remainder of the Nazi forces. Smug and self-satisfied, we didn’t even see the rocket soldier who almost cuts us down to zero health. We grab a Tesla coil-looking weapon and cut him and his friends down to size as it unleashes some sort of obliterating plasma round. Back on our feet we use the rocket alt-fire of the machine gun to take out a few distant enemies.
Climbing up the remains of the bridge, we take a moment and heal up. Ascending the service stairs to the top of the train platform, we are greeted by more Nazis. Unleashing an automatic shotgun that reminds me of the automatic Saiga, we start hammering away at them. Picking up a second one and dual wielding them is both magical and vicious, literally ripping our foes in half. As mechanized aerial drones begin to descend on us we lean to the left from our crouch spot and blow them to bits. You heard me right… leaning …in a console game!
Using our trusty machine gun we blast through a service door only to cut down more squads of soldiers. We blast their cover with the shotgun, reducing the destructible cover into splinters. Making our way to the exterior of the bridge, we make a leap to a nearby ledge. Looking down to to watch a chunk of the bridge fall into the water, we look up to find BJ getting punched in the face to end the demo.
There was a lot of debate on this title, both on the GT team as well as in the mainstream press (and even from a few developers), but there is one thing I know for sure – this team knows how to make incredibly beautiful and compelling single-player experiences. I have absolutely no doubt that when we see the return of BJ Blazkowicz in Q3 of 2013 on PS3, Xbox 360, as well as PS4, Xbox One, and PC this fall, it’ll be with the full “
Starbreeze effect MachineGames effect”. Congratulations to the new team – looking forward to blasting some Nazis!