REVIEW: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (no spoilers)
Platform: PS4, X1, PC
Hours Played: 22+
Developer: Machine Games
Back in 2014, Machine Games surprised many people, including myself, with the clever writing and memorable characters that showed up in Wolfenstein: The New Order. Set Roth, Bombate, Caroline, Anya, and Max Hass made for great side characters to accompany our hero William J. Blazkowicz through his Nazi-killing adventure. Machine Games built a fascinating universe in the New Order, one where Nazi Germany won World War II and conquered the allied forces. I’ve always been a sucker for alternate history stories in media (for example: the Resistance games on PS3) and the intriguing premise hooked me immediately.
Gunplay and level traversal work similarly in Wolfenstein II to the previous game. You run forward, dual-wielding machine guns, blasting away Nazi’s and enjoying a cutscene at the end of each level. There are plenty of opportunities for stealth, but I only used it sparingly, instead opting to charge head-first into a firefight. Those are the parts where Wolfenstein II shines; when you can dual-wield your preferred weaponry and successfully take down enemies, the game feels great to play. Unfortunately, these instances aren’t quite as common as I’d hoped. Especially when compared to last year’s Bethesda shooter Doom, BJ Blazkowicz feels like a wet sponge when he takes hits from enemies, with little hit indication showing where the player is being shot from. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at any Call of Duty or Battlefield title. When the player is damaged, their screen violently shakes and red splatters appear on all edges of the screen, indicating that they’ve been hurt. It’s a clear indicator that, hey, you need to get to cover! Wolfenstein II doesn’t shake the screen violently to let you know you’ve been hurt, which is a good thing because I always disliked how violently Call of Duty handles it, but the feedback letting the player know they’ve taken damage isn’t strong enough. There were a few points in my playthrough of Wolfenstein II when I abruptly died upon entering a new combat zone, not realizing that enemies quickly chipped away at my health. This occurred even when I had full health and armor. The game didn’t describe what killed me or how, which made each area when it happened a bit frustrating. Even worse is when BJ can be hit-stunned by particular enemies, ensuring the player has no way out of an untimely death. This is why I’ve heard many others echo a similar statement: during your first playthrough of Wolfenstein II, play on a lower difficulty setting. The gameplay is at its most enjoyable when you’re successfully throwing hatches at enemies, dual-wielding machine guns and running through a level feeling like a goddamn badass. The lower difficulty ensures these instances of what often felt like unfair deaths are an outlier in an otherwise very satisfying shooter game.
Now, we reach my favorite part of the new Wolfenstein games, specifically the story and characters. Especially that second part, the characters; I can’t stress enough how great I think the cast of Wolfenstein II is, featuring plenty of memorable faces, each with an interesting personality that makes them unique. The cast’s performance is top-notch, rivaling the industry greats like Naughty Dog’s acting talent, making every cutscene an engaging watch. The game doesn’t explore the past of each character greatly, instead including optional conversations and events to occur when you’re exploring the new game’s hub area. Speaking of the hub area, I can’t say I like it as much as the resistance hideout from the New Order. The new hub is rather complex and easy to get lost in, and I only got a handle on its layout upon finishing the game. Even though it’s more interesting than the last hub area, I think the developers could have taken extra steps to differentiate each area, perhaps by colored walls or some such. BJ Blazkowicz himself is fleshed out further, providing a look at his childhood, and some horrific events that shaped the man he has become. Despite some initial worry about the tone of these flashbacks, I think they fit into the narrative nicely, giving the player even more reason to appreciate the monologues that BJ gives throughout the action-packed (but also appropriately quiet) story.
As it’s been widely reported, there are some absolutely crazy scenes that play out in Wolfenstein II. So crazy, in fact, that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a few of them since completing the game. The first that pops into mind is about halfway through the story, in an extended cutscene that *literally* caused my jaw to drop. It is so over-the-top, so absurd, that I think it’s one of my favorite moments of 2017. There’s even a tease to this scene earlier in the game, lightly foreshadowing the future event. It’s handled incredibly well, and I absolutely adore this insane moment’s inclusion. It’s tough to say anything else about the halfway point without spoiling anything, but I will say this: Machine Games have done an incredible job at differentiating their first person shooter from other shooters on the market, and this specific sequence reinforces that fact. There are some grisly moments throughout the story that hammer home the brutality of life, but there are enough scenes peppered with glimpses of hope and humor that even out the experience.
In a surprising omission, there aren’t any boss fights in Wolfenstein II, which is a shame because there are a few battles from previous games that were very enjoyable. After all, this is a game series that is famous for one of the craziest boss battles from 90’s video games in the form of Mecha-Hitler. As you could probably guess by now, at no point in Wolfenstein II does BJ Blazkowicz fight Mecha-Hitler. However, the story moves in what we’ll call a satisfying direction, making me all the more excited for the eventual Wolfenstein III. I think the ending of this game ended abruptly, yet I’m still yearning to play more in the form of the game’s challenge modes. I will be waiting patiently for Machine Game’s next dive into the Wolfenstein universe, and you can bet I’ll be there day one to jump on their next thrill ride.
Score: 4 out of 5
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I’m finishing up Stardew Valley for Switch at the moment, and I’d like to write a review for that game soon. It’s an extremely charming game that has helped stave off my hunger for more Animal Crossing (c’mon Nintendo, bring on that Switch AC!). Anyway, thank you for reading, and have a great week.