Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review
The New Colossus beings with a flashback of the series hero’s childhood. It is unflinching and shocking in its brutality and cruelty. It sets the scene, and the themes that will feature throughout the entirety of the lengthy campaign; that is that humans can be vicious and cruel, and that true horror isn’t monsters hiding under your bed, but rather the things that people will do to other people in the name of their ideology.
The New Colossus begins where the former, The New Order left off. It isn’t crucial that you have played the earlier game though, as there is a quick résumé of the events from The New Order to bring you up to speed. The recap goes even as far as letting you decide which of the two timelines you wish to pursue in The New Colossus by recreating one of the pivotal events that occurs early on in the first chapter – to save Fergus or Wyatt. I chose Fergus, the cantankerous Scot that accompanied me through the previous game.
William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is in grave shape, the events at the end of The New Order have left him broken, both physically and emotionally. We are reminded quickly though that he isn’t called “Terror Billy” for nothing, he is a ruthless and relentless killer. In the opening moments, destroyed and suffering internal injuries he despatches the Nazi enemies invading the Resistance U-Boat with cold efficiency, all while being largely incapacitated in a wheelchair.
Blaszco is a symbol of the Resistance, a guiding light for all that oppose the oppressive Nazi regime that saw them win the war in the alternate timeline that is Wolfenstein. Much like the term “nazi” has become a catch-all for anything considered evil in this world, so too is “Terror Billy” for the Nazis. He is a cipher for them, a symbol of all the resistance despite the game making it clear that he is merely the weapon deployed by a varied and eclectic band of people. He literally is “The New Colossus” for ally and enemy alike.
Blazkowicz’s very physicality is an affront to the nazi ideology, he is tall and powerfully built, blonde haired and blue-eyed. He is the archetypal Aryan, and indeed gets mistaken for a “true German” at one particular moment of the game. The fact he is against them further underpins the rage that Frau Engel has towards him. However, rather than building on the idea of B.J. as merely an empty vessel within which all the rage and fury against the nazi ideology can be placed, MachineGames works hard to imbue William with some humanity through his many soliloquies, despite all the horrifically violent things he does to keep his friends and loved ones safe.
Each mission takes a similar format. You are deployed to an area and tasked with retrieving something that will aide the resistance, be that codes or another group of people. Most areas will contain officers that can be located via their radio signals that upon detection will call in reinforcements so you have a choice whether to sneak your way around each level, taking out the officers quietly or go in guns blazing. Each option is satisfying, although at times I felt that the game deliberately pushes you down the guns blazing route with guards that alternate their paths suddenly, or inexplicably have eyes in the back of their head. The array of weaponry at your disposal varies between recognisable weapons like pistols, SMGs and assault rifles and more experimental weapons that run on diesel or electricity that can dissolve a nazi enemy in front of your eyes. Each is weighty and incredibly satisfying to use, especially when accompanied by the meaty melee attacks at Blazkowicz’s disposal.
The shooting is a lot of fun, you can duel wield which vastly increases your firepower at the expense of accuracy, or you can take a more measured approach and pop in and out of cover taking out the enemies one at a time. The AI, for the most part is highly effective, flanking and getting in behind you which can cause issues, particularly as the feedback on whether you are taking damage is very poor. On several occasions, I died because I wasn’t aware that I was taking quite as much damage as I was. True to it’s old school roots it is a difficult game at times with health and armour as well as ammunition littered around the battlefield to pick up. Most of it can be collected by just walking over it, but for some unknown reason health has to be manually gathered which is a harsh design choice for a game that doesn’t feature regenerating health.
Levels can be large with multiple routes through them that invite several replays to try something different. In addition, there is an obscene amount of collectibles littered around each level to encourage exploration. The sheer number of these is overwhelming with concept art, musical tracks, gold and a huge variety of letters, missives, postcards and newspapers that further enrich the character and world building.
Wolfenstein II is essentially a corridor shooter filled with brutal and unflinching violence. Each environment funnels you through alternate narrow and open spaces packed with enemies to shoot and hack at. But it is the quieter moments in the game, told through the exceptionally written cut-scenes that fill it with humanity. In these we get to see Blaszco interact with his friends and Anya, his pregnant lover. The scenes are filled with humour and fierce determination and bring alive this crew of people devoted to resisting the nazis at every step of the way. Our hero may well be the weapon they deploy, but each and every one of them will fight tooth and nail alongside him and nothing and no deed is too horrific to stop them doing so.
One of my favourite moments wasn’t during one of the many times I successfully managed to sneak around a level, or blasting Nazis with the over powered weaponry lying around, but with a long form joke that had taken pretty much all of the game’s running time to reach its final conclusion. The joke, I suspect, is dependent on the timeline choice you made at the beginning of the game, and I would hope there was a similar one choosing the other option, but it was laugh out loud funny and totally unexpected and yet another example of the excellent crafting of a world and characters that MachineGames has created.
Wolfenstein II is by far the best first person shooter released this year, perhaps one of the best in recent years. It is often brutal and totally unflinching in its depiction of the violence people do to each other, but it is also hilarious and moving and tells a very human story. Furthermore, it demonstrates very clearly that punching Nazis really is fun. Who knew?
Story & characters well written and often hilarious
Array of weaponry is fun to use
Hit detection and feedback on taking damage is poor
Slightly overstays its welcome