Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review – Slick, solid and oddly current
For a game in which players spend most of their time blasting Nazis to smithereens in an alternate-history timeline, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus feels oddly current.
Imagine it: the United States is ruled by a right-wing demagogue who views anyone other than whites as disposable refuse and promotes rule through jackbooted pugnaciousness. In the meantime, white supremacists and Nazis walk arm-in-arm through the streets, empowered by both their country’s leader and their own desire to see whomever they view as the undesirable eradicated.
Naturally, the nightmare scenario in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t anywhere near representative of the USA today, but there are worrying parallels one can draw. When Nazis start complaining that they’re the bad guys in videogames, you have to wonder what the hell is going on these days.
Dumping the social commentary to one side, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an impressive followup to MachineGames’s 2014 reboot of the venerable franchise. It builds solidly on its predecessors’ foundations in the action and story departments and, even though it still struggles to find the right balance in the narrative’s overall tone, players are in for a far more satisfying experience this time round.
The game’s campaign – and that’s the game, sorry, multiplayer fans – kicks off a few moments after the end of Wolfenstein: The New Order. BJ Blazkowicz has miraculously survived the explosion at the end of the first game and wakes up emotionally and physically battered (the first level is fought in a wheelchair). As time progresses he and the rest of his ragtag gang start looking into recruiting the USA’s resistance against the Nazis, and BJ is sent from pillar to post blasting the Third Reich’s forces.
Between lengthy conversations with both allies and enemies in the present, players get a deep look into BJ’s upbringing, in which they find out his father was an awful, awful human being.
Turns out Blazkowicz Senior was a white supremacist who only married his Jewish wife for her money, and wasn’t averse to knocking the hell out of his son for making friends with a black girl, as well as his wife when she tried to defend BJ. The game begins with a young BJ being forced to shoot his dog dead for… reasons. Reasons only really clear to his pig of a father.
It’s horrific stuff, but it also goes a long way towards explaining BJ’s zero-tolerance attitude towards Nazis. The scenes of domestic violence are hard to watch, but they make the viscera of BJ’s present-day exploits explainable. In the world of Wolfenstein, heroes and villains are fully rounded; the former understandably bruised by their pasts and the latter are fundamentally loathsome.
Painting with such broad and bloody strokes, there was always the chance the writers could make the proceedings look cartoonish and, at times, this is a trap they fall into. One particular segment, which I won’t spoil (let’s just say it involves an execution) veers crazily from impactful to ridiculous and then back again within the space of a single cutscene.
Wolfenstein: The New Order struggled with finding the right tone for its story; the series has always been known as pure bloody cheese, but given its subject matter and its more realistic presentation, some of its content can seem numbing. For Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, MachineGames mostly gets it right and to be frank, when the action is as good as this, players are likely to forgive a few narrative clunkers.
Away from the cutscene drama, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is as tight as any shooter out there. Players are tossed an arsenal of ever-increasing nastiness and given ample opportunity to get on with the business of killing. There are upgrade kits scattered around the numerous levels offering features such as scopes and increased magazine sizes, as well as a perk system based on the types of kills players make and the weapons they use to make them.
The overall structure is somewhat looser and more open than the first game. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus feels less like a rigid corridor, and upgrades and collectibles encourage players to explore every inch of every map they encounter. On top of that, players can adjust the difficulty on the fly, lowering it if they become particularly frustrated with one section, and then cranking it up again if they feel they’re just breezing through the levels.
Incidentally, the jump between each difficulty level is pretty big, ensuring the committed have plenty of meat on the bones to pick through here. Once the game’s completed, players even have the option to go after targets that eluded them during their first run through.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus – Verdict
Like its predecessor, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is flawed, but a lot of fun. Unlike its predecessor, however, it’s a far better-realised and more enjoyable game. MachineGames has done an impressive job building on its first outing; Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus expands on both the franchise’s world, its protagonist and its mechanics in satisfying ways.
Between the bullets and the giblets, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus tells an engrossing and, if at times uneven, story, which raises uncomfortable parallels with the present. The strength of this game is that you can take all of this cultural baggage and embrace it… or leave it at the door.
It doesn’t matter; Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is one of the best shooters of this year. Or any year, for that matter…