Wolfenstein Updated Impressions

We step back into the boots of B.J. Blazkowicz and take him for his annual checkup as we investigate the latest Nazi experiments.

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Our last look at Wolfenstein gave us a hint at what developer Raven Software is going for with the long-running franchise, spinning it off into more of a supernatural meets sci-fi shooter. Though today’s demo took a slight step backward, putting us back in the passenger's seat rather than the driver’s seat since last time we saw it, we did get a look at a new level dubbed Hospital.

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About a third of the way into the final game, the hospital was set up for us as being a military installation where some pretty nasty medical experiments were taking place. Part-clinic, part-office building, the building's hallways twisted and turned, occasionally dovetailing into a small laboratory and consulting rooms. Our job was to stay alive long enough to discover what nefarious experiments were being conducted onsite and subsequently shut them down.

Unfortunately, it looks like someone tipped off the Nazis to B.J.’s “Veil” alternate reality controlling powers with enough notice for them to have developed and deployed Veil blocking towers. These prevented B.J. from shifting into the world where he draws his powers, removing his ability to slow down time with his Mire ability, put up a Veil shield to protect himself from incoming damage, or see foes in the dark using his Veil Sight. The latter two abilities were demonstrated for the first time during our session and became particularly handy when the power was cut. We snuck around using a silenced assault rifle and picked off prey as they scrambled in the dark. Luckily for us, despite their forward planning, Veil blockers can be destroyed with simple damage, including bullets and melee attacks. Doing so removes an onscreen shader effect not unlike the Veil’s monochrome black and green hues.

To date, we’ve mostly gone up against humans in the form of Nazi soldiers, but our E3 demo also showed off two new enemy types. Assassin are blue-glowing phase-shifting characters with a penchant for hooks and blades. One snuck up on us as we traversed a darkened hallway, slashing at us and landing the odd hit. Landing a blow left bloody fingernail style scratches on the screen for a few seconds (think House of the Dead) before fading away. The other new adversaries are called Scribes, and they are mutated versions of what we can only imagine used to be soldiers but are now a lot greener and angrier. Their ace is the ability to protect fellow attackers from harm by deploying a shield. This makes them pretty nasty when they travel with groups of other Scribes or armed guards because you’ll need to pick them off before you can actually start dealing damage to them and their support. It was fairly easy to dispatch both new enemy types using our assortment of machine guns.

The level concluded with a cutscene showing a lab-coat wearing scientist and a high-ranking Nazi officer standing on a raised platform beside a glowing green portal. B.J.’s appearance obviously surprised them and interrupted their conversation about how the experiment results were unstable. Not wanting to go down without a fight, the officer knocked the scientist into the portal, only to be greeted seconds later by what we can only assume was the same scientist in now heavily mutated form. Protip: The giveaway was the still tenaciously clinging but ripped lab coat amongst the giant muscles and snarling teeth before the demo ended with a fade to black.

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Wolfenstein is due out on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC platforms in July this year. Stay tuned for our continued coverage from E3 2009.

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