Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, developed by Machine Games and Published by Bethesda Softworks, is another unrelentingly brutal, satisfying, insane ride through an alternate-reality where seemingly anything is possible. This is a game where tearing Nazi’s limb-from-limb, diving into the psyche of a damaged man and his struggling friends, and shooting your way through some unimaginably terrifying, awe-inducing locations is a continuous experience – one you don’t ever tier of. The game almost never lets up, and is always finding ways to shock you or get you laughing. As a lover of the first game, I was excited for the sequel, but does it match up to its predecessor? Does it justify a sequel? Let’s hack our way into the review and find out.
William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz – voiced by Brian Bloom – is back and the Nazi threat is still alive, powerful and well. You pick up from where The New Order left off, and set out to cripple the unstoppable Nazi machine and hopefully spark the threads of a revolution in the United States (which is well and truly under Nazi rule). With the help of old friends and new, you will take on some of the most evil and terrifying looking things that the Nazi’s have… and it will be one hell of a ride!
It’s difficult to know where to start with this game, because so much of what it has on offer is rich in detail and deep in what it says and does – both from a gameplay standpoint and a narrative/character standpoint. I’ll definitely try to touch on everything as much as I can, but it’s just figuring out the best jumping off point, when it comes to this game.
I suppose I’ll tackle the element of the game that grabbed me immediately, and then never let go: Its great storytelling and its complex, challenging characters – something the first game had in abundance, and this one very much adds on too.
From the first words spoken, to the last, I was continually gripped by the stellar writing in the game. There’s an extensive list of people who crafted the brilliantly structured story and dialogue in the game, but there is much more beyond those, that are well done. The environmental storytelling or collectibles that you find around the game; notes, postcards, messages between departments in Nazi strongholds, etc. There is a wealth of words to take in and process and none of it ever fails at what it is trying to do.
Take Blazkowicz’s inner monologues for example: which are like haunting pieces of poetry, where he contemplates his mortality. Or take the notes you find scattered around levels, which tell contained little stories of people who you don’t know and will never meet, but you are still consumed by the little narrative that reveals something more about the world in which you are a part of. It’s a game that is full of things that are always adding; they add to a character or to a plot point or the city you find yourself in, or even a specific area in a level where a disgruntled officer complains about something seemingly insignificant. It all feeds into the game as a whole.
But where the writing comes is at its strongest (in the beginning) is with Blazkowicz. He is very badly hurt after the events of the previous game and his road to recovery in this one goes beyond simply healing his body. His mind is also in great need of healing, and that is no short or easy journey for him to make. On missions, you and Blazkowicz are usually alone together, fighting your way through hordes of Nazi horrors, and in that time, you really get to explore where he is at, you get a clear but haunting window into his state of mind… and it’s not a good place. It makes for a really powerful statement, to start off your game with a protagonist that is self-destructive, bordering on suicidal and have that be where you set off from. But there’s always that hope that he can come back from it. I found it to be far more compelling and different to play as Blazkowicz, rather than another ‘Ooh-rah’ jarhead who saves the world without any hint of a personality.
You go on a genuine journey with Blazkowicz and you are there for every moment of his recovery. It is handled really well and is allowed the time to develop – that’s the benefit of having 10+ hours to explore your main character and their story. The game is infinitely bold in what it tackles and at times really powerful in the themes it explores within Blazkowicz.
And that isn’t the only way in which the game is powerful, when it comes to its approach with its characters and its story (but more on that in a wee bit). Wolfenstein: The New Order was a game that stepped outside the box of conventionality, and now this time, The New Colossus has well and truly left the box in its rear-view mirror – it is a tiny blip on the horizon at this point. The game at all times goes the full-on route and is never afraid to show you the horrors of its world and the people who inhabit it.
So the game doesn’t just confine its impeccable character development to its protagonist. Wolfenstein II has an eclectic cornucopia of fascinating, humorous, and disturbing characters (old and new) who all feel fleshed out in such a deep and enriching way. I jumped at any chance to have an interaction with a supporting character, as I knew it would produce something memorable, enjoyable or worthy (and sometimes all of those qualities in one).
Each of your friends on the ship are given chances to shine, given chances for you to connect you to them, meaning later on you care about them, you want to see them make it through the difficult times. Because while the game certainly has a lot of fun with its supporting characters, it’s also not afraid to shine a light on their scars. You get to experience a spectrum of emotions from them, which feeds into making them feel like more than just background noise that every so often makes you chuckle. They give purpose, they feel integral to the world and you journey… they are by your side and you want to fight alongside them; it really is a great motivator in the game. It’s so rewarding to see and experience a game that not only handle its protagonist with care and attention, but its supporting characters as well.
When I look back on the story of the game, in a broad sense, I do see one that is simple in its structure, but it’s the deeper elements that help to fill in the gaps and expand it into something more. What at first seems like a simple revenge story, becomes more than a simple revenge story where you eviscerate every Nazi in your way, by injecting meaning… heartbreak, and also gloriously satisfying achievements. The reason this game made such an impact on me, was that it never played it easy, it always went balls-too-the-wall and I loved that.
And of course, you have your villains, which I know are well done, because of the genuinely intense emotions they elicited in me. I wanted nothing more than to end them, to hurt them. It’s not difficult to hate Nazi’s… they’re Nazi’s, hating them is what they’re good for. Running through waves of them, cutting them down with bullets or hacking them apart, is utterly satisfying. But chasing the big kill; Frau Engel – voiced by Nina Franoszek – was what always drove me. She is everything that is evil and wanting to fight your way through the more difficult sections of the game was worth it, because I knew it got me a little closer to making death a permanent state for her.
If you played the previous Wolfenstein game, then I’m sure you’re aware of how bat-shit insane the game can be. Well, The New Colossus buries the first game when it comes to insane moments. There were a number of times where I was left in awe by what I had either just seen or just done. The developers really put no restrictions on themselves, when it came to what they wanted to do, which as you can imagine, makes for a really crazy ride for us, the players. Sometimes you just have to sit back in your chair and laugh, because it becomes the easiest way to begin to comprehend what you were just a part of. There was one particular moment where the game allowed be to do something that was so unbelievable, that I lost my composure for a little bit and started uncontrollably laughing. This game never stopped surprising me.
But it wasn’t all crazy set-pieces and ridiculously whacky situations. The game also takes a surprisingly deep dive into some serious topics. Topics you wouldn’t expect a game like this to take on. But it not only takes them on, but it also has some meaningful things to say about them. Challenging topics such as: racism, homophobia and sections of America that accept Nazi rule. These are issues that America has dealt with for a long time, and at this very moment is still battling them. So it came as a surprise when the game would shift away from its more over-the-top moments and actually had some potent, enlightened things to say about these topics. That’s a really difficult balance to try to achieve, but somehow, The New Colossus pulls it off, and does it well… like, exceptionally well. I don’t understand how they managed it, but hats off to them for having the balls to do it.
I suppose when I look back over the time I spent playing the game (it took me around 11 hours to complete the main story, and I’m someone who likes to meander around levels, so you might finish it faster than that) the only main gripe I have with it is that: it is clearly the middle part of a trilogy. There are of course benefits to that: they have already established their world and characters, etc. So now they’re free to play with them how they want (and as I think I’ve pointed out in this review, they very much do that) but for me the game ends on a bit of a dud note. It didn’t have the same punch, that the rest of the game had. For me, it was a bit anti-climactic. I was in the rhythm of the madness; killing Nazi’s and drinking up every drop of story and characters… and then it just ends. I wasn’t that satisfied by it. But one thing I do know, is that I am really excited for the next game in the franchise. So for now I’ll just have to wait… and wait I will.
But! Nothing of what I’ve said matters, if it’s not supported by solid, enjoyable gameplay. I’m so happy to say that Machine Games continues to deliver a classic feeling FPS (first person shooter) that is void of many of the overdone, irritating mechanics that consume most FPS games these days. The previous game, The New Order, felt like a gameplay call-back to what single player FPS games were once like, and The New Colossus continues that (but for both good and bad reasons).
The game is unforgivingly difficult, yet still satisfying. People looking for an easy, enjoyable ride through the alternate reality setting will be shocked at the challenge that lays before them. As someone who has played many FPS’s, I was surprised at just how unrelentingly difficult the game was. I had it on medium difficulty but what still getting my teeth continually kicked in, and my stubbornness wouldn’t allow me to turn it down. The game never holds your hand and never takes it easy on you.
This is a game that expects, no, demands that you keep moving. Hunkering down behind cover and waiting for enemies to pop their heads out, so that you can then pop them off, is not what you’ll be doing. Each level sees you on your own; there is no irritating A.I. companion who tells you where to go and what to shoot. You tackle every obstacle yourself, which means if you mess up, there’s no A.I. controlled character who’s going to pick you up (or annoyingly stand over your downed body and let you die). It’s you against hordes of varying Nazi opposition, and there is no pause in their momentum. Enemies will rush you, they will flank you, they will inevitably overwhelm you, if you stay somewhere for too long. You are expected to move; to kill as many as you can, and to try to keep your health and armour topped up. It makes for an intense experience every time; one where you should be prepared to die a few times before you find the best way of completing the section – there’s nothing wrong with a bit of trial-and-error.
This can of course make for some frustrating times with the game. Dying over and over again – feeling like you’re coming up against a brick wall of enemies that seem unsurpassable can of course get the blood boiling and calling for a breather from the game, for the sake of you controller not ending up in little pieces. But overcoming a particularly challenging section, having that sigh of relief flow over you, is wholly satisfying. A number of segments come to mind where I thought it impossible, but once I found the path to success and completed another mission, I can’t explain just how good; how rewarding it felt. It’s just something you’re going to have to experience for yourself to understand.
In terms of the level design and the structure of the missions within those levels, The New Colossus doesn’t really do anything spectacular, but it is always consistent in its quality. You know where you’re going, it’s clear what you’re to do and it’s enjoyable to do so. There are certainly moments that spring to mind and standout as memorable sections to play through – one level in particular, which I can’t go into detail about as it would be a major spoiler, but the mission begins with you impersonating someone else (people who have played the game will know what I’m talking about). The level was in such a crazy location and what I was tasked with doing in it was equally as insane. I’m still thinking about it, long after having completed the game. So while the game isn’t ground-breaking in its offerings, it is certainly never stale in what it has you doing.
But I do have one major gripe with a particular gameplay decision (one that I also found to be annoying in The New Order) and that is having to look at the ground and press a button to pick up everything; health, armour, ammo, etc. With a game that wants you to be forever on the move and dispatching waves of enemies, it seems really counterintuitive to then force you to look down at the ground and frantically mash a button. I found that it would interrupt the flow of things, when I would have to look down at the ground in a panic and hope that my button mashing would result in the necessary things to keep me in the fight and killing Nazi’s. You can run over them and it might pick them up, but I found that it wasn’t always reliable. Sometimes it would pick up the necessary armour or health and then other times it wouldn’t – resulting in death and then a frustrated outburst from me. I loved playing this game (for so many reasons) but this aspect of the gameplay really hindered things for me, at times.
I also found it strange that the game never clearly communicates when you’re being hit. Thankfully the game doesn’t do what most shooters do: and either darken the screen, making it annoyingly difficult to pinpoint who is shooting you and where from, or fill the screen with blood, again hindering your ability to see. The only indication you have that you’re being hurt is when the numbers in the bottom-left section of the screen begin to go down. In the midst of an intense gunfight, it’s not the easiest thing to be darting your eyes down there, while also keeping tabs on the many enemies around you. What it certainly does do, is add to the challenge of the game, and the franticness of encounters that are always full-on.
Thankfully though, The New Colossus does take many of the good qualities of the previous game and shine them up and keep them feeling good. Gunplay feels solid and it’s still really satisfying to unload a clip into a formidable enemy. And speaking of which, the game throws a varied and challenging number of enemy types at you; from Nazi soldiers, to hulking machines that make you feel woefully outmatched, there’s plenty variety in the enemies you take on.
And while everything is happening; whether it’s a cutscene or an intense gun battle, the game has a fully-charged, forever pounding score that gets you in the mood for whatever the moment may be. Martin Stig Andersen – who has delivered some atmospherically moody musical tones to games (Limbo and Inside for example) – and Mick Gordon – whose work on ‘Doom’ is some of my favourite music in a game in the last few years – both bring the tone of this game alive with the music the pump into it. It always compliments the moment and it always gets you amped for what you’re doing.
All-n-all, the game is a really well polished experience. It’s rich with characters, who are part of a crazy and engaging world, and your main way of interacting with it (shooting a gun) is extremely satisfying and at all times challenging. In a time when the FPS genre is dominated by games that barely ever evolve or try anything new or exciting (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, etc.), it’s fantastic that there is a franchise as good as the Wolfenstein games; where a detailed, quality driven single-player experience is its priority.
I ABSOLUTELY recommend, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. If you loved the previous game, then this is a must play. And if you’re looking for an FPS that doesn’t hold itself to the assembly-line constraints that others in the genre do, then get yourself two of the best FPS games (The New Order and The New Colossus) that have come to the new generation of consoles (also, play Doom! God that game is so good!). I am confident you won’t be disappointed by the brilliance of either of the games.
I’d love to know your thoughts on either of the Wolfenstein games, and my review, so please leave any feedback or opinions, etc. in the comments section down below. If you’re interested, you could go ahead and follow both my blog and my Twitter – @GavinsRamblings, I’d really appreciate that. But now I’ll bring this review to a close by thinking you for taking the time to read my work and I hope that you liked it enough to maybe return and read more of it.