By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Editor-in-Chief
Defeating hate in the world is a monumental task that will take generations, if such a lofty goal can even be accomplished. Smashing Nazis into dust in a video game, on the other hand, is remarkably achievable, especially when it’s Wolfenstein II. At PAX West 2017, I pulled up a seat at Papa Joe’s All American Diner and had a large helping of a demo stage.
The demo began with BJ Blazkowicz waking in a hospital that has come under attack. A dying man offers a gun to the wheelchair-bound hero, warning Blazkowicz that “they have come for him.” From here, our protagonist must fight through the hospital against the Nazis that have hunted him down.
The controls were smooth and responsive, plenty familiar for FPS fans. Aiming is precise, and the action tense. While there was no proper cover mechanic, there was the ability to lean for a shot around cover – and doing so proved important. In the demo, at least (likely the first stage of the game), you simply can’t roll in with a hot barrel and bullets flying. You need to think ahead, and take your targets out one by one in strategic shootouts. The fact that you must do so in a wheelchair with slow movement and limited mobility just adds to the atmosphere.
The stage design was the most brilliant thing about Wolfenstein II’s demo. Blazkowicz can’t take any of the hospital stairs while in his wheelchair, and so he must navigate through the level in other ways that harken back to old school stage design. At one point, he rolled his wheelchair onto a giant turning gear in order to cross the room. Later, he uses conveyor belts to make his way through the facility, which proves a challenge when a Nazi flips the belt on him, sending him sprawling backward and out of the chair. But this isn’t where Blazkowicz learns to walk – instead he’s forced to crawl back to his wheelchair after defending himself.
Traps also played an active part in this stage. There were many insta-kill electric traps set up in the stage by one of Blazkowicz’s allies, and getting through the stage required awareness of which were activated, where switches were to enable or disable them, and how to lure Nazis through to their glorious, screeching deaths.
My primary complaint with Wolfenstein II was the user interface. It’s clean and minimalistic, which is perfect for a shooter. But health is displayed at the very bottom of the screen, meaning you have to drop your gaze to see how badly you’re hurting. While the game does give immersive indicators when you are extremely low on health, I noticed no difference visually between 40 health and 100, meaning I rarely knew I was in danger until I was one hit from death. The map design, on the other hand, was refreshingly simple – detailed enough to serve as a guide, but not enough to hold your hand.
If the PAX demo is any indication of Wolfenstein II’s final version, then Bethesda and MachineGames have managed to successfully bring this franchise back at a time where it’s never been more culturally appropriate. Wolfenstein II is to Wolfenstein what Doom 2016 was to Doom – a masterful re-imagining of a classic FPS franchise done remarkably well. The game launches on October 27, 2017.