id y Raven nos hablan del nuevo Wolfenstein

La revista PCGAMER nos ha preparado una interesante preview del nuevo Wolfenstein.  Se basa en una entrevista a dos pesos pesados de id y Raven. Kevin Cloud, productor ejecutivo de id Software, y Eric Biessman, quien lidera la programación y decorados de Raven Software. En la entrevista se tratan temas como qué tipos de armas estarán disponibles, qué nos tienen preparado los nazis esta vez, y la nueva habilidad de B.J.Blazkowicz para transportarse al “shroud”. Os dejo con la preview.

 

“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.)

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.”

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.

You can try clambering onto the rooftops to sneak or snipe your way past, or dive into the sewers to bypass them entirely. Exploration has other rewards: as in Wolfensteins of old, secret passages might reveal bullion and treasure. The difference this time: treasure can be spent on better weapons, and ‘shroud powers’.

In the demo we saw, Eric was cornered by a horde of Nazi stormtroopers, using cover to advance up a road. With his AI friends – members of a resistance organisation – outflanked and outgunned, Eric retreated through an archway and up a flight of stone steps. There he had access to the roof. Ducking behind chimney pots, he was free to snipe away at the exposed soldiers, and drop grenades into their path. They were quickly scattered.

The weapons available are a mix of genre favourites: sub-machineguns and scopeless rifles, gatling guns and (ugh) mounted machineguns. But as the game progresses, and the scale of the Nazi occult meddling becomes clear, hi-tech impossibilities powered by ‘shroud energy’ become staples of combat. Take the electric death ray we saw stolen from an armour-plated soldier: it fires an electric beam of limited range, akin to Quake’s old lightning gun. Fire it, and it will evaporate flesh. It also tears through the barrels and crates that the troopers use for cover. It’s comic book hilarity through and through: screaming soldiers vanishing in a cloud of green smoke.

As is now traditional, the action is all pleasingly ragdolled and physics-ed up. Corpses tumble from their sniper positions like their strings have been cut. Running soldiers backflip when taken down with an artfully placed headshot. Clicking on men’s faces produces exactly the right pleasing reaction; that of painful whiplash.
But this still points to tradition; the kind of game that any veteran FPS developer could make. Where’s the magic?

“The thing that sets Wolfenstein apart from other shooters,” says Kevin, “is the strange voodoo that we can layer on top.” Which brings us back to the shroud, and another demo, later in Wolf’s story.

It is night, the city is on fire, and the spire at the centre has gone. In its place, a green beam of light that appears to be sucking up the buildings and spewing them out as light and energy. The shit, in this case fluorescent green and wobbly, has hit the fan. And the fan has mutated into a death ray.

BJ has a new role. He needs to get to the centre of the city and fix stuff. Hit it with the gun hammer until reality stops breaking. Thankfully – although Kevin and Eric won’t explain exactly how he gained them – BJ has new abilities that should help him pass through the city without losing limbs. The first, and most important, is the ability to jump in and out of the shroud at will.

Press a single button, at any time, and you’ll see the other side of reality: a green and violent dimension that’s filled with strange creatures and whirling tornadoes of energy. Just being in the shroud gives you options: floating above the ground are ‘collectors’ – fleshy heavy metal album cover worms that are scavenging electrical energy. Pop them, with a single rifle round, and they’ll blast apart, damaging enemies in the real world. They are essentially exploding, hidden, organic barrels. Blammo.

In shroud mode, too, occult symbols etched into the masonry are transformed into holes in walls that BJ can simply step, shoot, or lob a grenade through. The resultant mess of ragdolls and splintered scenery is quite a surprise. There’s even a bullet-time-esque shroud power that lets BJ step around bullets; useful for scarpering between machinegun nests, through ambushes, or sidestepping explosions.

Pause for a moment. Bullet time. Hidden doors. Explosive barrels. Mounted machinegun nests. There will be a portion of our readership who are making gagging noises right now. Do Raven have a single original idea for what must be their biggest project yet?

Two points. There is more to come: Kevin and Eric both remain silent when pressed for details on further shroud powers, weapons, and the inevitable multiplayer modes. For fans of Return to Castle Wolfenstein’s multiplayer, Kevin says Wolfenstein will “build on the success of previous multiplayer titles” – which we hope includes Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory. For fans of occult powers that twist and shape time and space, there are three further gaps in the interface next to the bullet-time button. And as for the guns: it’s an id game, you know. Rocket launchers and gatling guns are all but inevitable, rest assured. But I’m not convinced that it needs more: this is Wolfenstein.

As I watch Eric play – bouncing stick grenades off walls, diving behind ruined tanks and taking careful aim at a malevolent Nazi’s head, I start to get into this. Wolfenstein plays like a return to the kind of shooters that have become unfashionable; a gun at the bottom of the screen, dozens of enemies up front, ammo drops and explosions ahead.

Bosses? Sure! Kevin talks about characters from Wolfenstein 3D and Return to Castle Wolfenstein making cameos. We’d pay good money to see the robo-armoured Bavarian milk-maid from the first game. And even if Raven deny it, we’ll still hold a candle for Robo-Hitler. We’d even take second best with Mecha-Himmler.
We see one boss at the very end of the demo. He’s the metal monster you see on our cover – six feet of iron and anger. Bullets just ping off his armour and shield: he’s using the shroud to ward off any damage.

The solution is relatively simple: slow down time and aim your shots at the sparking generators mounted on his shoulders. As he stumbles around the city, bumping into the masonry and bouncing off a ruined car, we start giggling. This is what shooters were like years ago. We grew up playing this type of game – shooters like Wolfenstein warped us into the facile imitations of humanity we are today.

The boss is dead: his electric shoulder-pads are on fire. He waves his arms like a robot in a mosh-pit before falling to the ground defeated. Maybe the robo-Nazi is a good analogy for Wolfenstein as a whole. Technically ambitious. Funny. Silly. And a little bit stupid. We can live with that.

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