"Have you ever played an Xbox first-person shooter before?" says the man supervising the Wolfenstein hands-on demo. "You know, like Halo?"
He's not asking any of the other people in the room this question. But unlike them, I am not sporting a t-shirt emblazoned with a videogame logo, or a SEGA record bag, or a penis. "Yes," I tell the man. "Yes, I have."
Penis or no penis, I've played a fair few Xbox first-person shooters - and at first glance Wolfenstein looks just like all the rest them. You play as a gruff white man in his thirties who is too hard to shave. He runs around old train stations, archaelogical sites and abandoned churches shooting Nazis in the face.
Grey and brown abound, as do crates, windows and doorframes which happen to be ideally positioned for taking cover behind. There are lots of abandoned rifles, boxes of ammo and machinegun nests lying around. In fact, I'm even starting to think I've played this Xbox first-person shooter before.
However, this is a Wolfenstein game. So that's not some nameless gruff white man; it's William "B.J." Blazkowicz. Those aren't just any old Nazis; they're zombie Nazis, which as everyone knows are the worst kind. Apart from real-life Nazis obviously. There may be plenty of grey and brown, but there are also weird luminescent greens, and bright neon blues. And along with all those carelessly discarded and familiar guns, there are some unique weapons unlike anything you've seen before. Unless you've seen Ghostbusters.
In short, because this is a Wolfenstein game, it's a first-person shooter with a supernatural twist. The story begins where Return to Castle Wolfenstein left off, and you can expect the usual hokey nonsense. B.J. discovers a mysterious amulet with special powers and hands it over to his superiors. Turns out the amulet contains crystals which only originate from one place on Earth - the fictional German town of Eisenstat. B.J. is dispatched to find out just what those naughty Nazis are up to, and wouldn't you know it, they're attempting to access a supernatural energy source known as the Black Sun. Probably not as a means to charge their laptops more efficiently.
Between the Black Sun and our own reality is a bridge known as the Veil. B.J. discovers another amulet which allows him to tap into the Veil and access various powers, the first of which is called Mire. It slows down time, which is great for dodging bullets and lining up perfect shots in the heat of battle. But that's not all, as Sokal explains.
"We wanted to make sure all the Veil powers enhance the combat in the game because Wolfenstein is about shooting, it's about running and gunning," he says. "But there are also some puzzle elements to the game, and that's another area where Mire can be useful."
To demonstrate this we're shown part of the archaeological dig level. It looks more Tomb Raider than Call of Duty, all carved stone pillars, flaming torches, ornate statues and strange symbols glowing on the walls. There's even a pressure pad-operated switch. B.J. activates Mire while stepping on the pad, then races through the door as it closes in slow motion. Mire is also used to get through the giant spiky blocks pounding against each other in the corridor to the next area. And finally, the slo-mo effect enables B.J. to hop his way across a stone bridge even as parts of it crumble into the chasm below.
Other Veil powers include one which changes your perception of the world around you. For example, it can reveal hidden doors and pathways you might otherwise have missed, or highlight enemies' weak spots. In the level I got to play you face off with a heavy trooper - a giant armoured robot, in other words, who's tough to defeat. Switching on the perception power showed up two elements on his shoulders and one on his back in bright red. Sure enough, shooting these was all that was required to take the trooper down.
But it was easier said than done on account of the trooper being armed with a huge particle cannon (imagine the Ghostbusters' proton gun, except with a bright blue and even more powerful stream). In situations like this, success often lies in experimenting with the weapons and powers at your disposal. The heavy trooper became easier to defeat after I switched to the shotgun and flicked on the Mire power, allowing for more precise aiming. The chap supervising the demo also suggested standing in the nearby Veil pool while attacking. Stepping in the pools instantly fills up your Veil meter, so by standing in one you never run dry.
Your reward for defeating the heavy trooper is his weapon. The particle cannon is highly satisfying to use, as the turquoise beam burns right through anything and anyone you care to swish it at. It's also upgradeable, like every other weapon in the game. You can stick a recoil supressor onto your MP-40, for instance, add a bayonet to your Kar-98, or use a silencer and scope to create your own sniper rifle.
So how do you get hold of these upgrades? "Treasure hunting has been a big deal in the Wolfenstein series since the beginning. It's a really big part of what the game's all about," says Sokal. "This time we incorporated an economy system so there's gold to find throughout the game, along with military intelligence and magic tomes. The more you collect, the more upgrades you'll have available to you. Then you can purchase them on the black market."
The black marketeers are one of three factions you'll have to deal with in Wolfenstein. The others are the local resistance force, who will often fight at your side, and a group of scholars studying the occult and the supernatural. There's plenty of backstory to uncover if you want to go looking for it - or, "If you just want to smash up some Nazis, you're more than welcome," says Sokal. "If you just want to run through it all as quickly as possible, you don't have to bother talking to anybody."
There's no need to spend time and money on upgrading your entire arsenal simultaneously. If you have a favourite gun you can invest all the gold you find in making it as powerful as possible, so it doesn't become a throwaway weapon. You might as well spread the wealth, though, as you can carry as many guns as you like at once.
If you can't be bothered to go treasure-hunting all the time, there are ways to make earning gold easier. At the end of each level you'll be told how much of the available treasure you've found. You can go back and replay earlier levels with a more powerful weapon, such as the particle cannon, using it to cut right through the Nazis and get straight to the gold. Plus, upgrades which turn out to be rubbish can be sold back to give you more cash for buying new ones.
The full range of weapons and upgrades is yet to be revealed, as are the other Veil powers you'll be able to experiment with. It'll be particularly interesting to see how these affect the multiplayer experience, but Sokal will only go so far as confirming they will play a part.
"I can't expand on that," he says. "But I can say this: if you're a fan of what made Return to Castle Wolfenstein a great experience, we've taken a lot of those elements and put them in this game. We don't want to disappoint fans. We know what they're looking for, so we've got all that in there, plus we're throwing in the Veil."
This is a series with serious history and a strong fanbase behind it, so multiplayer is not the only area where Raven and id are keen to meet players' expectations. But what do they see as the essence of Wolfenstein, the most important elements that need to feature?
"It's about fast-paced combat, finding unexpected stuff around every corner, and making sure it's anything but just another World War II shooter," says Sokal. "We want it to feel sci-fi and supernatural. Not to be clichéd, but... Expect the unexpected," he adds, not doing a very good job of not being clichéd.
The question is whether Wolfenstein has enough innovative elements (Veil powers, super-cool weapons, giant robots) to make up for all the familiar ones (crates, machinegun nests, Nazis). The game is out "when it's done", so there may be a while to wait before we find out. In the meantime, I'm off to play Diner Dash while thinking about cooking and flowers.
Wolfenstein is due out for PS3, Xbox 360 and PC later this year. Okay, "when it's done", but let's be honest.