BJ Blazkowicz and the gang are back for another round of zombie slaying in a story that feels like an even darker version of Inglorious Basterds.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is intense, dark, twisted, and occasionally comedic. Add in a touch of adrenaline-soaked action that’s reminiscent of its shooter-genre cousin, Doom, and you have the real deal. Alhough the story overplays its hand at times, the bulk of the game makes for a ride that you don’t want to miss.
The New Colossus takes place directly where its predecessor, The New Order, finishes up. If you don’t know the premise, it’s simple: the backdrop is 1960s America, only this time, the Nazis won the war and have started spreading their occupancy all over the globe. The small band of resistance fighters, powered by the monotone, gritty Blazkowicz, decide it’s time for a revolution and begin seeking other groups like it around the USA. Although the story is intriguing and, philosophically, it’s crazy to think about this alternate reality, The New Colossus’ best moments come on the battlefield.
Read our review of 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, the first game in the newly rebooted series.
The story naturally features some holdovers from the first game, but adds plenty of new central characters that you encounter on your journey across America. Each character is just that: a character, full of personality and individuality. Coming from different walks of life, with different ethnic backgrounds and views, the band of rebels is unfortunately not as lovable as I had hoped. Caroline, love interest Anya, and either Wyatt or Fergus are back, and provide some of the better moments and interactions with BJ. Anya’s progression gives the story heart and truly makes you remember why you’re fighting in the first place. Grace Walker is a newcomer you encounter early in the game in a lowly version of Manhattan, having been destroyed by an atomic bomb in World War II. There’s little to like about Grace and it’s unfortunate, because she plays such a central role in the story. Who put her in charge? Why is she constantly a jerk? The portrayal of this character never came across as inspiring, funny, or even mildly respectable. It was hard to get behind a leader like her, and it ruined some of the “ra! ra!” nature of the game. Sigrun provides a good deal of humor to the overall narrative and evolves as the plot trudges along, albeit slightly.
There are few instances of characters that I wanted to write home about, but the scenery in The New Colossus is crisply detailed, featuring some of the best cutscene graphics in a game to date. It looks absolutely gorgeous on a 1080 HD TV, yet even better on a full 4K resolution output. Travelling across a war-torn and unthinkable alternate reality that includes Texas, New Orleans, and wait for it, Venus, is sobering. If The New Colossus accomplishes nothing else, it makes you think and it reestablishes that we have lots to be thankful for here in America.
The New Colossus features many truly memorable scenes and levels, thanks to its extraordinary sense of imagination. Some of these scenes are intimate, some are not for those who aren’t able to withstand the gory aspect of cinema. Speaking of which, The New Colossus is not for the weak at heart. There’s no shortage of blood, guts, and gore. Rarely was it an issue for me, but there are certain cutscenes that had me looking away with one eye closed. I wish I could go into detail on how wonderful some of the game’s high point moments were, but I can’t without spoiling things. I would venture to say that these moments will stick with me as some of the most vivid and well written, and will probably remain in my mind for years to come. Going to Venus to audition for a movie role was hilarious and intense all at once. It was the ultimate do or die audition: mess up your lines and you’ll see your guts spilled out on the floor. It’s remarkable how Machine Games found the perfect balance between humor and dire urgency, to the point that I had a dream that I was captured by Nazi forces in real life. I also loved walking through the streets of Texas to a diner (the one promoted throughout the lead-up to the game’s release). I passed a Nazi officer discussing the German language with Ku Klux Klan members before finding my way to a conspiracy theorist who is fascinated by Area 51. Oh, and there’s an extremely unique dynamic early in the game where you fight for the majority of the level in a wheel chair. Leave it to Wolfenstein to make things ridiculous. Not bad ridiculous, but rather like a Grand Theft Auto/Saints Row ridiculous.
The mechanics of The New Colossus’s moment to moment combat have improved from The New Order. Little things like not having to press a button when I walk over loot and tightening up the gunplay are things that didn’t go unnoticed. If I had one complaint, it’s that the weapon wheel doesn’t feel completely accurate when making a selection. Time should pause when I go to change weapons on the wheel, but it doesn’t. This was clearly a development choice, but not a welcome one. The New Colossus’ weapons don’t give the player an overabundance to choose from, but that also wouldn’t have been necessary. Imagine appropriately named, German-themed names for the different basic classes of guns. You have your assault rifle, your shotgun, your pistol, etc.
Machine Games strikes a well-balanced approach for upgrading your weapons throughout the game. Your enemies are just as skilled from the beginning to the end, meaning your upgrades make you stronger and therefore evoking a feeling of empowerment. Each gun and grenade has 3 slots in which to use upgrades on. Upgrades are found throughout the game by looting “upgrade kits.” The shotgun class became my weapon of choice in the latter stages of the game, having been fully upgraded. I felt unstoppable at times. The caveat to that is that The New Colossus is no walk through the park. It’s difficult. Even on mid-range difficulty, the game can frustrate you, forcing you to constantly reevaluate your approach. More times than not, stealth is rewarded. At various stages of the game, enemy “officers” will call in back-up if you alert them to your presence. Sometimes, run and gun is the only way to go, though this is admittedly a rare occurrence. One frustrating dynamic in controlling Blazkowicz is that his jumping and maneuvering over objects is inconsistent. I didn’t see any rhyme or reason to what was allowable and what wasn’t, which caused me quite a few profanity-laced deaths.
After enjoying the “hell” out of 2016’s rebooted Doom, I was thrilled to see the amount of influence it seemed to have on The New Colossus. Much like Doom, the pacing was fast, enemies became difficult moving targets frequently, and the in-your-face metal soundtrack had me pumped up beyond belief. Although this was much more par for the course in Doom, it found its place at different times throughout The New Colossus’ battle sequences and made the experience all the more enjoyable.
One thing that detracted from my experience was the portrayal of sensitive social topics. Yes, this is fiction and yes, it’s not my story to tell. However, it felt like Machine Games was trying to pat itself on the back at times instead of moving the narrative forward in a meaningful way or seeking to give the player true motivation. Racism, sexism, and abuse are all underlying themes in the story, and maybe that’s a result of the time period in which the game is set in. Do we really need more reasons to want to destroy some Nazis? I know I didn’t. Lastly, there were a few instances of crude action and unnecessary nudity, with the latter rearing its head in one scene late in the game. This scene should have been altered, as there was absolutely no reason for it to happen. I’m not offended by anything that happened in the game, but I have long said that gore/sex for the sake of gore/sex is weak writing (looking at you, Game of Thrones). I don’t need a spectacle, I need a relevant, well thought-out story. Overall, this did not ruin my experience, but I felt it was noteworthy enough to discuss due to how consistently controversial means were used.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is one of the best shooters of the year. Its torrid pace, tight gunplay, and overall horrifying premise of a Nazi-controlled Earth (and Venus) make for one of the more compelling and unique experiences you’ll find in any video game ever. I’m ready for the inevitable next game, so I can finish what we started and close out the trilogy on a high note.
+ Shooting mechanics and weapons customization are top notch, worthy of the year’s best shooters like Call of Duty: WWII, Destiny 2, & Star Wars: Battlefront II.
+ Fascinating alternate-reality story.
+ Adrenaline-infused soundtrack and action had me showing no signs of guilt for cutting up a Nazi.
— Unnecessary conduct that felt shallow rather than authentic.
— New characters give little reason to root for or get behind.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was reviewed on an Xbox One X. It is also available for Playstation 4 and PC.
Josiah LeRoy is The Geekiverse’s founder and Editor-In-Chief. Maybe it’s just the German heritage in him, but he sure loves taking down the Third Reich.
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