"Everybody hates Nazis so they're just more fun to kill," beams Peter Sokal, id's community manager. That notion has, in essence, been at the pumping heart of the WWII shooter genre's popularity since Wolfenstein 3D took aim at the Führer in 1992.
The palsied debate over 'WWII fatigue' in gaming is mind-numbingly dull - a great WWII game is a great game, blah-di-blah - but Wolfenstein, the great-granddaddy of FPS games, always had the 'zombie Nazis' trick up its sleeve. (One which Treyarch most recently borrowed for the game-completion bonus in Call of Duty: World at War).
The more pertinent debate, particularly during E3 week, is how any shooter commands attention when all scopes are zoomed in on the Halo 3: ODSTs, Modern Warfare 2s, and BioShock 2s. This is a question Raven Software will feel more acutely than most, at the helm not just of Wolfenstein, in id's stead, but also its own original IP, the time-warping Singularity.
What Wolfenstein has in its favour, of course - other than the gleeful slaughter of Team Swastika - is heritage. "We obviously know how there's a huge fanbase there for Wolfenstein," says Sokal. "We love it, and we know the old school fans and what they enjoy in the franchise, so it's a matter of keeping those things intact but also evolving the franchise."
The rhetoric may be as old as the series itself, but the "pillars of the franchise", as Sokal refers to them, entrusted to Raven are as carefully constructed as Hitler's 'tash. "Fast-paced first-person shooter combat, that is the most important thing about the Wolfenstein franchise. Then you also have the dark occult, the supernatural, the unexpected stuff.
"Wolfenstein is a franchise where there's something unexpected around every corner. But for every one of those unexpected things we give you a badass gun to shoot it with."
As we've observed before, after a while the endless grey walls and brown crates of first-person formality have a tendency to blur in the mind into one long shotgun-wielding corridor-run to anonymity. So a stiff dose of the unexpected helps enormously. And in Wolfenstein, Raven hopes Veil powers - afforded via the supernatural conceit of an appropriately ridiculous plot involving the occult power of something called the Black Sun - are it.
We've already been teased with a couple of Veil powers. Time-slowing Mire's useful if you're running head-on towards a manned turret. And Sight can highlight enemies in dark areas, give you a visual grenade trail to assist aiming, and - crucially - provide the ability to see through walls, and identify alternate paths.
Raven's now discussing the full set. "Then you've got Shield," Sokal explains, "which initially is like a bubble in front of BJ that absorbs damage. But you can also upgrade your Veil powers so when you get your Shield upgraded, it can bounce bullets back at enemies and hit them in the throat. And it also serves as a battering ram when it's fully upgraded, so you can just charge into a group of guys and they'll just fly back and disintegrate."
The fourth and final Veil power is Empowerment, which basically lets you shoot through stuff. The more upgraded, the stronger the material you can penetrate: so you may start by being able to pierce boxes (wow!) to take down enemies in cover. At full power, you can blast through solid stone.
Moreover, you can chain powers together. The example Sokal offers is of BJ armed with fully upgraded Sight and Empowerment. Using Sight he can look through a pillar to spot an enemy; then by switching to Empowerment (all accessed via the d-pad), he can blast the clueless drone to smithereens without exposing himself.
Sokal is keen to stress another greying-at-the-temples mantra: "We really allow the player to choose how they want to play the game." Join the queue, mate. But in practice this means if you'd rather play the game traditionally without all the supernatural claptrap, you can stick to regular guns and upgrade them to Commando-like levels of absurd destruction. But if you want to take a walk on the weird side, you can give an occult spin to standard fare like an MP40 or Kar-98. "Once you buy all these upgrades, they suddenly become unconventional and they're these super-powerful weapons that are a lot of fun to use," insists Sokal.
"Wolfenstein is a giver," he adds. We'd often wondered. "All the weapons you find in the game, you can hang on to them throughout. You don't have to have two at a time or anything like that. So we give you your whole arsenal and every weapon in the game is upgradeable, so even the supernatural weapons that you'll be holding you can upgrade."
The upgrade system is built on the classic Wolfenstein treasure-hunting mechanic, which Raven has now "made an economy system out of". "Back in Wolf 3D you run down the wall hitting space bar, and it was such a great moment when the wall opened up," Sokal chirps.
"So that's all of the gold you find in the game, and there's also military intelligence and tomes you'll come across. The more of that stuff you pick up, the more upgrades you'll be able to get for your weapons and your Veil powers." Cowardly corridor creeper? Buy a silencer and scope for your Kar-98. Rampaging run-and-gunner? Go for a drum magazine, slap on a big bore and go mental. It's for the best. Remember, kids: play it your way!
The single-player only E3 build we try out at Activision's pre-E3 event features the Hospital level. By this point in the game BJ has Sight, Mire and Shield powers unlocked. Starting the level, we're left in little doubt that, yes, this is a first-person shooter. Corridors! Crates! Dark and light bits! But Raven - and id, which is closely overseeing development - know how to make a solid, satisfying shooter.
And in raw gameplay terms so it proves. Immediately, the feel of firing off a weapon, the delicious ballistic burst in enemy face feels exactly how you'd want it to. That should be a no-brainer, but it's worth noting given how many other shooters can lack that basic, nailed-on sense of impact.
Beyond weapons we've seen before, BJ is armed with a Tesla gun in the demo, which emits a spluttering, fizzing burst of electricity when engaged. Veil Nullifiers feature in the Hospital. Every now and then the screen turns black and white. When this happens, BJ is unable to use any of his Veil powers until he has located and destroyed the offending Nullifier, usually tucked away in a foe-packed room.
If deployed cleverly this could provide some compelling moments of tension, snapping the player out of a reliance on supernatural 'cheats', if you like. We certainly found ourselves bingeing on them as frequently as possible, like performance-enhancing crack. And you will need you Veil powers here, since Sight is essential in navigating through the tight corridors, with secret passages only highlighted when it is employed.
The level is mainly corridor-based, with lots of duck-and-cover, and enemies springing out on you from all sides. Frenetic and fast-paced it most certainly is. Short, too, as we found ourselves approaching what promised to be an engaging boss encounter, only to have the 360 controller snatched from our paws by a mean-spirited Activision rep.
If you're wondering about multiplayer, by the way, there wasn't a sniff of it during our session so nothing to report just yet, sadly. But based on this short, latest playthrough, Wolfenstein is unquestionably a solid and entertaining shooter. We never doubted that.
What remains to be seen is whether it can raise its game to create a genuinely memorable experience, and the interplay of Veil powers over the course of the experience will largely determine that. Although shooting zombie Nazis always helps.
Wolfenstein is coming to PC, PS3 and 360 on 7th August.