Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC
It came as no surprise when Bethesda revealed that Machine Games would be developing a sequel to their popular first-person shooter Wolfenstein: The New Order back at E3 earlier this year – it had been a long-rumoured release, plus the original was a success with gamers and critics alike so it just made sense. What was unexpected though was that it would release this year, adding to the publisher’s already bumper catalogue of stellar 2017 releases.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has finally launched though, bringing with it the all-out action-packed Nazi-killing gameplay of its predecessor. This time though, the narrative feels a lot more vocalised, with the game embracing a more emotional tale that’s never afraid to sadden, shock, or simply freak out the player with its ever-changing approach to storytelling.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus follows on directly from the last game, with B. J. Blazkowicz surviving the assault that had most gamers suspecting that he had been left for dead. Following a rehabilitation period where he was left in a coma, he awakens to find that his group’s submarine base is under attack from the Nazis, with the villainous Irene Engel from the last game leading the assault. Following a few shocking scenes, Blazkowicz ends up on another gruelling mission where he has to venture across war-torn American cities as he looks to find the support needed to help defeat the Nazis, and maybe even a few personal demons along the way.
Whilst the first game took some peculiar turns at times and wasn’t afraid to do some strange things, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus amps it up a lot more. Whether it be through some trippy drug-induced visions, paranoid conspiracy theorists, or just some outrageous scientific experiments, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ almost realistic vision of a Nazi-led world feels a little too unbelievable at times thanks to the absurdity laced in between each event. It’s not a bad thing by any means and it certainly gives the whole experience a lot of character, but there’s definitely a bizarre touch to proceedings that might not be for everyone.
That doesn’t mean that the game doesn’t find time for some serious moments within its narrative though, with B. J. Blazkowicz going through a troubled period early on in the game. Some of the scenes you’ll witness can actually be quite touching and with an emphasis placed on both his past and future, it’s much easier to see Blazkowicz as more than just the Nazi-killing super soldier he seems to be.
Some of these scenes you’ll encounter are portrayed in an almost poignant way that breaks away from the game’s traditional shocking style (and believe me, there are some really shocking scenes) – it seems that Machine Games have mastered the art of blending together meaningful storytelling with action-packed shooting sequences. Still, those looking for something that’s consistently serious and focuses solely on harrowing events might be left a little baffled by the approach that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has taken. But then again, given that the series has included ‘Mecha Hitler’ in its past, those looking for a serious first person shooter might’ve been barking up the wrong tree to begin with…
One interesting thing that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus does is humanise your Nazi enemies. It’s easy to see them just as vicious villains, and yes, there’s no denying that for the most part they are, but the game actually tries to represent them as actual humans who believe in their cause. You’ll come across postcards, letters, and documents throughout levels that show that you aren’t just facing off against dirtbags who you’re going to shoot, slice, and charge through, but actual humans with families, hopes, and dreams, and whom actually believe that what they’re doing is right – regardless of whether or not anyone with an ounce of decency knows that their regime is a twisted and cruel one.
The Nazis really think they’re the good guys, and the fact that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus clearly portrays this proves that the game is more than just the ‘Nazi-killing shooter’ that the marketing would suggest it is, but rather an experience that isn’t afraid to embrace your enemies beliefs too. It’s a difficult thing to really represent in a video game, especially given how they seem more prominent than ever in real-life right now, but I think Machine Games managed to do it in a way that shows off the Nazi’s human side whilst still making the killing of them more than justifiable (and, of course, satisfying).
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus takes a fairly flexible approach in its gameplay, with the player able to go all-guns blazing or alternatively try to stealthily sneak their way around enemies and silently take them out. I actually found the stealth elements to be a little underwhelming though; whilst I’m not denying that it’s a feasible approach to take, the sheer size of some levels and the volume of enemies that filled them makes it incredibly difficult to make your way around without getting caught. I only managed to complete a handful of areas in the game without getting spotted, with almost every other instance of the game turning into a massive, all-guns blazing showdown. Don’t get me wrong, the level design itself caters to both playstyles and I’m sure that those who are a bit more patient or careful than I was may find a lot more success, but it definitely isn’t going to be easy.
Thankfully, that ‘all-guns blazing’ approach that I’ve mentioned just so happens to be incredibly satisfying and fun anyway, with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ gunplay not only feeling great but looking silky smooth to witness with the game’s constant 60fps framerate. Your weaponry is well varied and weighty too, whilst you’ll be constantly inundated with enemies so the action never slows down.
You’ll find yourself using a good mixture of weapons, with a standard arsenal made up of rifles, submachine guns, shotguns, and pistols joined by high-tech offerings that includes a laser than can literally vaporise your foes into dusty remains. The game is definitely designed to make you feel like an empowered Nazi-killer, so the fact that you’ll constantly destroy them in a variety of ways just makes for a more satisfying experience. Your weapons can be upgraded too, so you’ll slowly see them get better as you progress through the game – I must admit though, once I powered up my rifle and shotgun I rarely switched to anything else thanks to how effective they were. I’d be remiss not to mention that you can dual-wield your weapons too, though shamefully it’s something I neglected for the most part.
Whilst the game’s shooting mechanics are satisfying and undeniably effective, you can still expect to die a lot; Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is no push over and even on the normal difficulty I suffered plenty of deaths. Levels are often large in design with multiple paths to take and full of different buildings to explore, so enemies can and will come at you from everywhere. They’re a powerful bunch too and armed to the teeth with deadly weaponry, so you’ll quickly see your health dwindle down to zero if you’re caught out in the wrong place.
Of course, one of the things to counter this difficulty would be to take the stealthy approach, but as mentioned it’s not always that effective. It means you’ll end up in lots of gunfights where you absolutely must take cover, carefully pick your shots, and keep an eye on every inch of your surroundings where enemies can come from. I can imagine there might be plenty of gamers who aren’t used to the genre that might find themselves turning down the difficulty quite quickly when the game overwhelms them, whilst those higher difficulties may well be reserved exclusively for those with masochistic tendencies. When you do finally nail those sections that initially saw you die over and over again though, there’s an undeniable satisfaction to be felt that’ll keep you motivated to progress right until the end credits.
The game takes you across a wide variety of locales, most of which are based around war-torn American cities, though you’ll also visit some areas that surrendered to the Nazis and have instead tried to embrace the new culture. It was quite interesting to see a Nazi scolding some KKK members about their lacking German language skills whilst walking through the streets of what looked like a traditional American city that was now laced in Nazi propaganda, but it also showed how levels utilised the narrative in their design.
A lot of levels are broken down into a selection of smaller missions, which is something that works quite well – it helps keeps the story progressing and makes sure you’re not in any one area for too long. The game should easily take you around twelve hours to complete, so the fact you’re playing across so many different locales with plenty of different scenarios in place outside of just shooting Nazis will just help keep you hooked in for longer and adds variety to the experience.
Outside of the main story missions, there are quite a few side quests to complete. These typically consist of partaking in a small task for one of your companions or hunting down the head Nazi commanders through previously completed levels. The side quests themselves are interesting little additions, though the fact that most of them took place in areas I already cleared meant I didn’t really find myself investing too much time into them – there was nothing I hadn’t seen before, plus the fact that levels are naturally tricky to get through left me focusing more on completing the main story instead.
Each level is also laced with collectibles to find, be it toys for the lovable yet simple Max, gold ornaments, vinyl records, star cards, or documents to read through. There’s a lot to find and see, so you’ll really need to keep a close eye on your surroundings if you want to find everything that each level has to offer. It adds a lot of replayability to the game, especially if you hunt down the collectibles whilst completing some of the side missions.
Another thing that adds replayability to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the fact that it carries over the branching paths of either saving Wyatt or Fergus from the first game. You’re able to make the choice when you start the game regardless of whether you played the predecessor or not, so you’ll be able to see the game play out in either timeline. Whilst it doesn’t change the gameplay of the game up too much, seeing how events changed depending on who you saved is definitely interesting and provided more than enough incentive from a narrative standpoint to justify a second playthrough of the game.
One thing that definitely needs mentioning is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ banging soundtrack, with the fast pace of the background tracks really adding to the tension of each showdown with enemies. Sometimes, the music won’t kick in properly until you’re in a gunfight with your foes, which actually worked really well to emphasise that a big showdown was about to take place. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus simply choreographs the soundtrack with the gunplay perfectly, making the experience as a whole feel a lot more exciting.
I’ve got a lot of praise for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, though I did stumble across a few issues whilst playing. Reading the text of documents could be difficult, with the white font often being hard to decipher when read against a light background. It would’ve been better if the game at least had a darkened background for the text as opposed to simply showing whatever environment you happened to be exploring.
I also noticed a few graphical glitches, with textures sometimes flickering or not loading in properly. Whilst this wasn’t an awfully common issue, I noticed a significant case of it early on in the game when looking across a vista over the sea. It took me out of the experience a bit and was disappointing to see so early on, especially when everything else in the game looked so impressive up until that point. Fortunately though, it wasn’t something that plagued the game on a regular basis.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus delivers an action-packed first-person shooting experience that knows exactly what gamers want: to have a ton of fun killing loads of Nazis with a high-tech arsenal of weapons. It delivers just that, and it does it stupendously. From a gameplay perspective alone, it’s a highly entertaining shooter that’ll keep you hooked in right from the start up until the very end.
It’s within the narrative that it takes an interesting turn though, with the game mixing up poignant storytelling with some outright bizarre moments. There are emotional scenes, shocking scenes, surprising scenes, and scenes that’ll leave you utterly flabbergasted at what you’ve just witnessed – seriously, it has it all, and whilst that might be fine for some gamers, some might be left a little baffled at the unhinged approach it often takes.
Overall though, it’s another mighty effort by Machine Games that shows they really know what to do with the Wolfenstein franchise. It might be overly difficult at times and the stealth mechanics might go by the wayside most of the time, but it won’t stop you having a blast with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.