Previews

Wolfenstein

Third time lucky for the Third Reich

Let's get the important, fundamental, epoch-defining questions out of the way first. On the line are Kevin Cloud, from id Software, and Eric Biessman from Raven. Kevin is executive producer at id, the boss of all. Eric leads the programmers and artists at Raven responsible for bringing their occult take on World War II to life.

This is a direct continuation of the legendary Wolfenstein series that started back in 1992, and that alone makes it a big deal. (Personal note: I was so obsessed with playing Wolfenstein 3D that I spent £120 of birthday savings on a new soundcard - Creative Soundblaster, nostalgia fans - rather than a console. I have an emotional investment in the next hour.)

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So, yes, there are certain fundamental questions that need to be cleared before we get to the detail of id and Raven's plans.
"Will we be picking up giant chicken dinners from the floor?" Kevin lets out a huge laugh. "No. But that's funny." It's not funny. It is serious business. "Are we going to be attacked by vicious, snarling Alsatians?" "No." "What about giant murals that with a gentle push reveal huge stockpiles of gold and treasure?" He laughs again. "No. We don't want players running up and down our scenery hammering the spacebar." "Hitler and the Robot Suit. Best moment in gaming, ever." "No. We won't be doing that." Man! What the hell is left?

So here's the pitch. BJ Blazkowicz, hero of the original landmark game and Return to Castle Wolfenstein, is back. He's still fighting the Nazis, and as usual, those Nazis are dabbling in the occult. Dabbling isn't quite the word; more like abusing. The last time we met them, Himmler was planning to raise a zombie army to take over the world. A few months later, and the SS have discovered the ultimate occult power-source, something called the Black Sun (fact alert: a black sun symbol was used by the SS). But there's a problem. To reach it, you'll have to pass through dimensions, into an alternate reality overlaid on ours called the 'shroud'. WTF?

Wolfenstein is the latest in a long, long list of collaborations between Raven and id Software; collaborations that have produced a flood of FPS games - shooters that practically templated PC gaming for nearly ten years. That relationship began, Kevin explains, "in Wisconsin. It was the first place that id set up as a developer," near to where Raven had set up their own business. The developers quickly became friends. "But then winter happened," says Kevin, "and id realised that Wisconson was cold. Id moved to Dallas, but the friendship remained."

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The trust extends to id - a far smaller company than many realise - loaning their technology and franchises to their best friends. Wolfenstein follows Raven's work on Quake 4, and, like Quake, is built on id's 'Tech 4' - the code debuted in Doom 3.
But according to Kevin and Eric, Wolfenstein isn't a corridor shooter. Nor is it a straightforward World War II action game. It does what the Call of Duty and Medal of Honour games do, topped by, as Kevin puts it, "a supernatural layer." And then some.

It takes place in an un-named city, where SS units are experimenting with dark energy. Hell is breaking loose: partisan groups and Nazi stormtroopers are in pitched battles for control. The city's skyline is the important part: a maze of chimney pots and gothic tenements dominated by a stone steeple right in the centre.

That brings us to our first major fact to take on board. Raven are paying excessive attention to the thrill of exploration, with semi-free-roaming allowed between story points. When an in-game character tells you to go to one point, you'll be given multiple routes to it through the tightly controlled streets, your journey threatened by Nazi checkpoints and blockades. The straightforward route, heading into the melee until you're surrounded by bodies, is obvious. Less obvious are the routes around.

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