QuakeCon 2008: Wolfenstein First Look
The veil is finally lifted on the latest adventure of B.J. Blazkowicz.
Deep behind the front lines of World War II, a secret Nazi faction known as the Thule Society is researching its own brand of weapons of mass destruction--those of the occult. After years of sinister research, it has discovered a dark, limitless power called Black Sun, and the Nazis have begun efforts to harness this energy for use against the free world. Unfortunately for the Nazis, they did not count on two things: secret agent B.J. Blazkowicz and his flamethrower.
After a seven-year hiatus, the Wolfenstein franchise is reborn. Id Software, with internal development teams already devoted to Doom 4 and Rage, has again enlisted the aid of Raven Software, which last worked with id on Quake 4. With Wolfenstein, Raven aims to hold true to the themes that made Wolfenstein 3D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein such hits: intense combat, secret treasure, and a story-driven experience. At QuakeCon 2008 this week in Dallas, we sat down with both id and Raven for our first look at Wolfenstein.
The story takes place in Isenstadt, a fictional German city at the height of World War II. When the Allies learn of the Nazis' nefarious discovery, they send in their own weapon of mass destruction, B.J. Upon arrival, B.J. links up with one of the few resistance groups in the city, the Kreisau Circle. Historically, the Kreisau Circle was a group of German aristocrats planning the future of Germany after the fall of the Third Reich. In Wolfenstein, members are bona fide freedom fighters bent on the destruction of Nazism by any means necessary, which usually involve excessive force. Isenstadt is open for B.J. to explore, and Kreisau safe houses are scattered around the city. There, B.J. stocks up on ammo, receives intelligence, and is assigned missions to aid the resistance. In the mission we saw, the Germans have activated a mysterious new weapon, and B.J. leads a team of Kreisau fighters to blow it to pieces.
At first, combat seems like basic first-person-shooter fare. B.J. blasts his way through the German defense using authentic WWII weaponry like tommy guns, emplaced MG42 machine guns, and his trusty flamethrower. There's no dedicated squad-command mechanic; instead, your allies will fight, and sometimes die, beside you. Raven is trying to give you as many choices as possible, so you can take multiple paths to eliminate your enemies. In one instance, Raven had B.J. take to the rooftops and flank a German machine gun nest while his Kreisau allies fought in the streets below. Or, Raven says, B.J. could have descended through a manhole into the sewers and popped out behind a very surprised German squad. Or you could go the traditional route and take cover behind walls and sandbags in the streets, picking off foes one by one.
Standing between the Nazis and Black Sun, besides B.J., is a parallel dimension that is superimposed on our own, known simply as "the veil." The Germans are trying desperately to break through the veil and harness the power of Black Sun directly, which would spell doom for the Allies and, later, the entire world. So far, the Nazis have tapped only a small fraction of the power of Black Sun, but they are rapidly approaching their goal and disturbing the inhabitants of the veil in the process.
Early on in Wolfenstein, B.J. will gain the ability to enter the veil at any time. It's important to note that the veil isn't a separate world entirely. Similar to the shadow world in the Lord of the Rings films (as seen when Frodo puts on the One Ring), the veil is simply an alternate dimension to our own. In the veil, the world is tinted dark green and inhabited by strange creatures that don't exist in our realm. Black Sun is leaking, and pools of condensation of pure energy dot the landscape. Giant blue insects called geists collect the energy like bees collecting pollen. When geists are filled with energy, B.J. can shoot them, igniting the volatile dark energy within them and killing all nearby enemies.
As the Nazis continue to interfere in the veil, the realm becomes increasingly dangerous. Raven says there's a lot more living in the veil besides docile giant blue bees, and you probably won't want to be around to see these creatures. The Nazis too grow stronger as they continue to harness Black Sun. We ran into a German heavy trooper with a suit of impenetrable armor powered by Black Sun energy. None of our traditional attacks had any effect on the trooper as he disintegrated our Kreisau comrades with one blast of a deadly particle cannon, a technology B.J. had never seen before. Luckily, B.J. has talents the Nazis have never seen before.
Within the veil, B.J. gains mysterious new superpowers and abilities. He moves faster, can see enemy soldiers more clearly, and can see secret paths that don't exist in our own dimension. As the Nazis explore the veil, they mark differences between the two dimensions by writing symbols on walls. We watched as B.J. encountered one such marking on a wall, then slipped into the veil. In that dimension, the wall didn't exist. A group of unsuspecting enemies, still in our own dimension, saw what they believed was a solid wall. B.J. then fired off a few rounds through the passage and eliminated the soldiers. While we saw only one such passage, you can bet that Isenstadt will be littered with secret veil routes (in addition to the aforementioned sewers and rooftops).
None of this helped B.J. against this deadly heavy trooper, so he activated one of his veil powers, known as mire. Mire slowed down time so B.J. could quickly get behind the trooper and blast the canisters of dark energy powering the suit of armor. We only saw mire, but there appear to be four slots for B.J.'s veil powers, so we're excited to see what other abilities B.J. will unlock. Whatever they are, he'll need them. Creatures in the veil as well as the Nazis will grow increasingly powerful throughout Wolfenstein. Said Biessman, "The Nazis are developing a lot more than just particle cannons."
After the heavy trooper exploded within his suit of armor, B.J. picked up the particle cannon. Through the next door, several heavily armed Nazis awaited, and he had some disintegrating of his own to do.
Like in the original Wolfenstein, there are plenty of hidden treasures and artifacts in the gameworld. Gold bars and valuable artifacts abound, should you take the time to find them. Biessman remembers that in the original Wolfenstein 3D you had to jump with the space bar over and over to find secret passages through the brick walls. Expect plenty of secrets here, too. All that loot has a monetary value and can be traded for weapon upgrades such as larger ammo clips and more firepower. But there are some groups outside the Kreisau Circle that are, shall we say, more in tune with the occult nature of the veil and will help you upgrade your veil powers, such as mire. There is a recharging meter that limits overuse of the veil powers, but you'll use your supernatural abilities quite a bit.
Online multiplayer is being developed in the same vein as in Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory, which inspired the more recent Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. Expect class-based, team-based gameplay as opposing forces do battle over control points. Only this time, you will be able to play with a whole lot of Black Sun-powered weaponry, supernatural abilities, and the veil itself.
Be sure to check out our interview with Biessman, as well as a brand-new one-minute trailer of Wolfenstein that debuted at QuakeCon 2008.
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