The phrase 'staying true to the franchise', and its many variants, is thrown around a lot by developers. Especially those new to the franchise in question: there's no easier way of calming fears, reassuring fans, and generally trying to make everyone love you.
When MachineGames says it's staying true however, it wants to really mean it. There's an old-school flavour to the game: you, a trillion Nazis, and many, many guns. It moves, constantly driving you forward, giving you new toys as you wreak gunishment on, well, everybody. Certain shooters of the last few years have been so bland that in my memory, instead of images, there's just a picture of grey. At least Wolfenstein knows that one of the appeals of the genre is shooting first and asking questions never.
Like the current vogue in action movies however, FPS games of the non-po-faced variety are playing the irony card, sharing a wink with its audience. Shh. Everything's fine. Remember the past? Kickass, wasn't it?
Wolfenstein is trying to do this, in a big way. It knows everything it does is stupid. It embraces it. At one point, upon seeing that the Nazis (having won the war – we're in the 60s now), have landed on the moon, BJ Blazkowicz mutters 'Fuck you, moon.' As if it made the decision. There's also a 'psycho-sexual boy toy' called Bubi, who is flanked by a domineering Aryan SS officer. And why not, eh?
Both of these drew big laughs when creative director Jens Matthies played it on the big screen. As for the rest of what I played, there was enough there to convince me that Wolfenstein could be a fun shooter, but it's hardly going to set the world alight.
Concessions have been made to the fact that it's not 1992 anymore, which although saddening is unfortunatley how these things go. The alternate-history story – which sees BJ Blazkowicz waking from a 14 year coma to find the Nazis won the war and they're being real dicks about it – is meant to 'put the player in his shoes', or some other such marketing-style noise. The maze-like structure of the original game – which looked like Hitler had got Albert Speer to design the Wolf's Lair out of exclusively blue Lego bricks – was also gone. In its place is, of course, linearity, with a new laser cutting tool chucked in for when BJ needs to open a grate or something. Which he does, a lot.
It's a fairly obvious way of letting the player know that they don't have to worry about any of those pesky Nazis for a while, but at the same time it's not exactly a whole lot of fun. That said, there were instances of physics-based interactions in the game, so there's hope that MachineGames will expand it into something bigger than shooting the brakes off a lift.
But it's the gunplay that is important, and Wolfenstein's is decent. There's an almost pornographic level of shoot-bang nonsensery going on here. Masonry flies, ribcages are torn apart, and mechanical dogs with Giger-esque maws are there to have lead pumped into. There seems to be a gun turret on every corner. Scratch that: YOU are a walking gun turret. The level I played was set in London, with what's left of the resistance attempting to pull off a show of force that could convince everyone they're back, blah blah. The usual. You're the good guy, they're the bad, you know what to do. Navigating the London Nautica – a monument to German space age pioneers – is like endlessly watching Commando with the volume set to MASSIVELY LOUD.
Wolfenstein's problem, at this point, is that although it is staying true to its heritage in some regards, it's also not moving on enough to be considered world-class by today's standards. Enemy AI wasn't the best – the last boss fight against a mech was won by me standing far enough away that it couldn't readch me. Also – boss fights.
Wolfenstein's systems, at least in this preview build, are all perfectly serviceable. But they're nothing special. And if MachineGames want to live up to that heritage as much as it says it does, then it needs to start being so. Because that's Wolfenstein's true heritage: the moment that essentially started a huge revolution in gaming. I'm not sure I can say the same of this.