Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Hands-On Preview @ E3 2017
During a private visit to Bethesda’s booth on the E3 show floor, we were given the opportunity to go hands-on with the upcoming Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Running on a beast of a PC rig, our mission was to play through the opening to The New Colossus and get hands-on with BJ Blazkowicz, known as Terror Billy among the enemy faction, and get to see him before he has the chance to become the Colossus. Before I was teased with being able to put on the suit, instead I had to experience the first few moments of BJ waking up from a coma and being a broken shadow of his former self.
The choice of campaign level was certainly an odd inclusion on Bethesda’s behalf. In a series known for brutal combat and diversity in gunplay, stripping everything down to the bare minimums was a risky gamble. As Terror Billy was stuck in a wheelchair, much of his combat potential was stripped away by atrophy and lacking the use of his legs. We weren’t able to see the events leading up to BJ’s coma as that’s all a part of the previous game in the rebooted series, Wolfenstein: The New Order. For those that might only be picking up The New Colossus without playing through the first game, there’s sure to be some over-the-top recap that will only fuel his insatiable rage for murder.
As a man that’s only recently been awoken from a coma, there’s much to the opening hour of The New Colossus that can serve as a way to properly get back into the feel of one of the most infamous men in the American military. Armed with only a single pistol and the few traps scattered around the ship, BJ is forced to play a bit more tactically and reserved than the rest of the game will surely dictate. BJ Blazkowicz is only a shell of his former self, emaciated from the months in deep sleep and the horrors wracking his body from his last brush with the Nazi forces. He is a man that’s in such bad shape that if you looked down, you’d see the telltale signs of a catheter bag strapped to his leg. BJ is in no shape to be a one-man-army and that design choice shows in the gameplay.
Since the ‘incident’ left BJ as a puny shell of a man, sometimes taking an indirect approach to combat is the best course of action. Thanks to the good doctor that’s kept BJ alive for months, various exploding traps can be armed to give BJ another tool in his limited arsenal. How someone in a wheelchair can sneak up on a soldier and take him out in complete silence is beyond me, but I’m glad Bethesda gives players a little creative liberty it comes to realism. Trying to navigate the wheelchair around the confined decks of the U-Boat is an exercise in patience and gives The New Colossus a unique hook to draw the players in. There’s even a minor bit of puzzle platforming where BJ has to navigate through elevator lifts and giant rotating gears to make it up to the upper decks.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’ first playable chapter does give a nice bit of insight into some of the new characters that BJ Blazkowicz has had some run-ins with in the past. Frau Engel is a central character in the hands-on demo and can instantly be recognizable as someone that is going to be a pain in BJ’s ass for as long as possible. Her daughter, Sigrun, is a bit of an interesting character from the short bit I’ve seen, providing a comedic contrast to Frau Engel’s dementia.
The New Colossus’ difficulty could use a bit of balancing in the early levels where BJ Blazkowicz isn’t nearly as resilient as he should be. When I played the campaign, I strived to persevere through the fourth difficulty (of six or seven available) and every single Nazi soldier was an immediate threat. Even with going out of my way to scour the level for an extra scrap of body armor wasn’t enough against an adversary that’s in peak performance. Sitting in the enemy’s sights for more than a brief second or two would be enough time for the enemy to rip BJ to shreds. There was one corridor bottleneck that I was stuck on for a significant chunk of my hands-on time and was forced to swallow my pride and drop the difficulty down a click. Even going down to the third difficulty drastically improved BJ’s chance of survival and I was still able to mow down Nazi forces with that single pistol with the same amount of ease. I’m sure once BJ gets his hands on that colossus suit teased in the reveal trailer, his ability to take a bullet or two will become much more manageable.
I feel Bethesda and Machinegames don’t get enough credit for this, but the sound design in the recent Wolfenstein titles is top notch. Everything from the clarity and emotion behind enemy chatter to the weapons in Terror Billy’s arsenal ring through with remarkable depth. Even the mediocre pistol that BJ was forced to stick with throughout the campaign mission I played had a distinct weight behind its firing. And the grenades. Gosh, I might have melted in my seat the first time I used one to clear out a hallway of incoming Nazi combatants.
Walking out of the demo for Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, I was instantly reminded of what I loved about the first game. There’s a delicate art to infusing your bloody murder fest with plenty of story depth and character motivation and I definitely feel like Machinegames has nailed that balance. I personally can’t wait to check out more and see what new weapons will be added to BJ Blazkowicz’s arsenal; perhaps we’ll finally see something that can top the LaserKraftWerk.
The wait won’t be too long, as gamers can get their hands on Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on October 27th, 2017, coming to PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.