The last hands on I had with Wolfenstein II showcased a moment that broke up the ridiculous dual-wielding combat, where resistance hero B.J. Blazkowicz wandered around a small American town listening to the residents talking to Nazis — some delighting in the new regime and trying a bit too hard, others getting blind drunk and sitting in an alley, horrified at what was happening.
Before beginning my hands on time with this preview build, I was told, ‘BJ has some upgrades because of his Power Suit, so you can sprint into Nazis and they’ll basically explode.’
It wasn’t all exploding Nazis. There were some fun cutscenes, one involving a bootlegging communist from Tennessee who lead the New Orleans resistance (New Orleans having been turned into a giant, walled slum that the Nazis chuck undesirables like bootlegging communists into). But for the most part it was nuts and bolts, and digging into the combat.
Thus William Joseph Blazkowicz, aka B.J. aka Blazko aka Terror Billy, came outfitted with not one, but two of every gun he could equip, plus a brace of grenades and an order to find the resistance leader and get as many people out as possible. New Orleans was being cleared by Nazis going house to house with flamethrowers and the big armoured Panzerhund robots. Wolfenstein is, at this point, known for its difficulty (plus the difficulty selection screen that puts B.J. in a baby’s bonnet), and it’s easy to default to playing it like a standard cover shooter because, hey, it’s been a while since we saw Blazko. He’s got low health; let’s skulk into this building and wait for the Nazis to come to us, eh?
This is, of course, the wrong way to play Wolfenstein II, as you will swiftly discover when B.J. slumps to the floor, the dream of a free America dying with him. The combat in Wolfenstein II is brutal, and generally the best tactic, rather than waiting for the enemy to find you, is running at the enemy with a maschinenpistole in either hand before they have the chance to get a shot off. Or one maschinenpistole and a schockhammer. Or two schockhammer. Dealer’s choice, really.
Your potential arsenal is quite streamlined, but you can augment it by, for example, killing a heavy with a chain gun and hauling it around for a bit, and you can purchase upgrades to slot on your regular weapons, so potentially you’ll get the illusion of having more to play with than you actually do. One of the options is strapping a silencer to the smaller arms, like your pistol, which allows for a more stealthy approach, although, in many instances, I would forget I was dual-wielding with an unsilenced rifle, press left trigger to fine aim, and then fire an extremely loud shot, thus resulting in the illusion of stealth being irreparably shattered. This is why being able to explode Nazi soldiers like meat balloons by sprinting into them (an ability called Ram Shackles) proved quite useful.
At the same time, New Orleans was chaotic and disorientating. The flames everywhere made it difficult to tell where you needed to go and where was somewhere you’d already been — the half demolished houses and winding tunnels between different points kept it unsettled. It felt less linear than it actually was, because, while the game was funnelling me at several points, a city was being torn down around me, so I hardly noticed.
Wolfenstein II has so far shown off excellent pacing both in and out of combat, as well as revelling in its own ridiculous gratuitousness. The final section of the preview involved B.J. riding on the back of a hacked Panzerhund, spraying all before him with fire.