Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review – We’re Not Gonna Take It
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus27th October, 2017
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus somehow manages to be the perfect mix of grindhouse and seriousness. Tough subjects like racism, sexism, fascism and even good parenting are all tackled. This is the same game where a pregnant woman tears off her top and continues shooting the two assault rifles she's using. Just how Wolfenstein handles and manages to work with two completely opposite ends of any spectrum is impressive. It's done so well because the game is genuine in everything it does.
Wolfenstein II never pulls its punches. The first thing you do is relive a few horrible memories of BJ Blazkowicz. As a child, his father literally beat and terrorized him and in one incident his father knocked his mother unconscious, grabbed BJ and took him into the cellar, tied him up and forced him to shoot his dog dead. The first mission is interesting as you control a broken and battered BJ, wheelchair-bound. He can't save the day in his current state. This is made all the clearer as he's helpless to stop the murder of one of the games major heroes.
It's the wide variety of characters that really push Wolfenstein to the next level. It would be easy to simply write the vast majority off as being one-dimensional. As you explore throughout the game, particularly during the downtime you get, you come to understand the characters. From BJ himself, already having accepted his own death and just striving to create a better world for his unborn children. To the interminably racist Sister Grace, a black lady who does nothing but terrorize and bully the daughter of a Nazi general who defects to your cause at the very start of the game.
Your supporting cast of characters are multifaceted. Particularly special is the writing that allows these characters to shine through. From the utter demolishing of the phrase "has some balls" by one of the game's leading characters to the talking-to that BJ is given by Anya, who literally forces him to think about his future, not just his children. The women of the game are incredibly strong and never there to titillate. Indeed, it places the female cast of characters into a role generally filled by generic alpha-males of the genre. This includes the core antagonist, Frau Engel, who is as brutal as any before her.
More than just the characters, the world is exceptionally well-built too. This is a surprise in itself for a genre that is nearly completely devoid of interesting world building. One mission around two-thirds into the game exemplifies this. Set in Roswell, during a military parade for V-Day (Victory Day), you can see the world as it would be. There's an undercurrent of terror though. KKK members openly walk around the streets. An American woman sucks up to a soldier but ultimately says the wrong thing and gets herself added to a watch-list. It's a world in which we could realistically find ourselves in, if not because we're halfway there already in some countries.
It's actually the first FPS since Bioshock Infinite that has left me wanting to explore its world further. The seemingly well run and idyllic cities like Roswell. How about the wasteland that is Manhattan, where the ground level is teeming with radiation. There's also the city of New Orleans, encircled by a great wall, effectively under siege. Throughout these cities, and seemingly more you never get to visit, there are people ready to rise up. I want to meet these people. I want to be these people.
Particularly, I want to explore the smaller areas of the world. There are multiple pickups that hint as to the coming and goings elsewhere. Newspaper articles and diary entries fill in the world and how it led to this. Posters, signs and more further accentuate how different this USA is. The leading film in the box office is "America - The New Order" by Lady Helene. Lady Helene also happens to be making a film for the Führer about the capture of 'Terror Billy' himself.
I'm grateful that I persevered with Wolfenstein through one big technical issue. The game crashed no fewer than twelve times very early on. This was both during gameplay and in cutscenes. I attempted everything, from lowering graphical settings to even playing the game in windowed mode. None of this, nor the new AMD drivers worked. Until, through tedious trial and error, I found the one setting that literally broke the game. Turn off deferred rendering. Had I not found that you would have read a completely different post about how Wolfenstein II was simply broken.
Fortunately, I did find it. That allowed me to experience the gameplay in all its glory. There's little doubt that Bethesda have published the best two shooters in modern times in both DOOM and now Wolfenstein II. This is for two different reasons completely, though. Where DOOM found itself in that perfect spot with its action, Wolfenstein II falters here and there.
There's something a bit off about the pacing. The game seems to want to reward you more for stealth, but that's unforgiving in so many ways. Enemies can spot you in almost impossible situations and a fairly large number of levels to be restrictive. While there are nooks and crannies that feature a number of pickups, be they health, armor or collectibles, I never found exploration as rewarding as it could be. At least that's the case in about two-thirds of the levels.
The aforementioned Roswell, Manhattan and New Orleans? They did offer some interesting ways to move forward and vary your attacks. Particularly so when you come up against enemy commanders. Once alerted, these raise the alarm and you'll be fighting wave after wave of Nazi's. What makes attempting to kill these without them raising the alarm even more important is the inclusion of perks.
These perks track your actions and, thankfully, don't require you to pay any attention. While naturally playing, you're going to fill most of these up one way or another. Either you're going to be stealthy and fill up the sneak attack and throwing hatchet related perks. Or, more likely, you're going to go out there, guns blazing, and quickly rack up the required number of headshots and dual-wield kills you need. Hitting the milestones in a particular perk rewards you with something that inevitably makes playing that way easier.
Other bonuses to improve your combat abilities come in weapon upgrades. A limited number are found littered across the world. Pick one up and you can use it to upgrade one of three particular areas of a weapon. All but the heavy weapons you can pick up on the battlefield have three available upgrades, from silencers to extended magazines. Or you can upgrade your grenades to let off a localized electromagnetic pulse. In addition to this, towards the end of the game, you're given one of three special abilities. I won't go into too many details as to how, but one lets you compress yourself into a smaller space, another lets you charge with a lot of force and the third lets you reach higher places.
I will say that, towards the end, I was finding myself getting bored with the shooting. Partly this is because you revisit some areas and others end up looking very similar to ones you've already been in. All too often I was wanting to get back to the home base and listen to the background chatter of the characters. That or play Wolfstone 3D, the alternate reality Wolfenstein 3D where Blazkowicz is the main bad guy.
There's no doubt that I'll go back to the game. If only to collect everything I haven't yet collected. After the end of the game, you can explore certain areas to your heart's content and also perform a number of side missions. These include decrypting enigma codes that point you towards the location of Ubercommanders, which you will want to take out. While nothing too extreme, it's something to add to the value of an already packed title and also allows you to collect the other two of the three special abilities I previously mentioned.
Fortunately, as repetitive as the gunplay can and eventually does get in Wolfenstein II, it never loses its oomph. It's a testament to the design that when you're shooting away at the Nazi's you can see the effect your every bullet and blast has. Pieces of armor are ripped away from their bodies. Arms and legs go flying. Even your hands get covered in the gruesome grime of war as you impale yet another Nazi in the skull with the pointy end of your axe.
Everything is so well designed and detailed it's hard to not be impressed. Again, particularly in the more open and varied of areas. This also applies to the audio, where the bone-crunching weight of melee attacks can be heard over the rapid-fire of bullets landing around you. It all sets a perfect tone that helps carry the game through. In addition, the voice acting is just great. From the maniacal Frau Engel to the solemn tone of BJ himself at parts. Of course, some of it is over the top, but that just how it should be.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a true testament to the fact that not every game needs a tacked on multiplayer. Not every game needs some shoe-horned in loot box system. Not every game needs to compromise itself to appeal to a broader audience. Like Wolfenstein: The New Order and DOOM before it, Wolfenstein II shows that being the game you want to be is more than enough. What is certain is that I'll be revisiting the world and for those who haven't yet, I heartily recommend a trip to Nazi America.
Reviewed on PC (code provided by the publisher). You can purchase the game on Amazon.
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus subverts the old-school shooter tradition by featuring an incredible cast of characters with varied personalities in a world that makes you want to explore more and more of the society it features. The gameplay is very engaging, though can sometimes outstay its welcome at parts with a mixture of levels that range from the extremely interesting to dull and repetitive. Whatever its flaws, Wolfenstein is a great game that's well worth playing and will keep you coming back for more as you purge the US of Nazis.
- Excellent cast of characters that are incredibly well developed
- Fantastic voice acting that brings the characters to life
- Great world building that makes you want to explore more
- Very strong visual and audio design that greatly adds to the game
- Engaging combat that has a lot of weight to it
- Though it can sadly outstay its welcome, particularly in some encounters
- Limited level design that doesn't support stealth as much as the game would seemingly like
- Areas that are either reused or so similar to others they feel identical