“Lot of things you can do with a hatchet… and a Nazi.” Oh boy, do you thoroughly explore a wealth of ways to dispatch Nazis with this hand axe, and countless other devastating weapons. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus brings back the hyper-violent William Joseph Blazkowicz, the man who’s been dispatching Hitler’s crew since ’92, and sets him lose on the Nazi regime following the events of The New Order. The journey that unfolds is a grand spectacle of gore and gripping storytelling that excels in all aspects from start to finish. I won’t even leave you in suspense about what to expect from this review. MachineGames have outdone themselves, and nearly every other FPS on the market, with this one.
The New Colossus picks up right after the 2014 installment, bringing the action closer to home than ever before. BJ Blazkowicz not only has to go toe-to-toe with the Nazis again, he has to do so on his home soil. America, the land of the (no longer) free, has been engulfed in violent oppression that proudly wraps itself in swastikas. Pure evil has occupied the United States and it’s up to BJ to fan the flames of revolution while also acting as a one man army. The sequel brings some terrifying imagery and discussions to light in the wake of this enslaved US. The Nazi-infused Red Dawn premise is peppered with moments displaying the endurance of the human spirit as it faces the relentless realities of war’s many horrors, especially when fought in your very own backyard. In between the barrage of brutal events and one man’s refusal to stay down, we are given a glimpse into the origins that molded our unstoppable protagonist. Wolfenstein II opens with one of the most uncomfortable and disturbing moments in recent history. Some may be turned off by this fact, but I found its hard-hitting start as a proper introduction of what to expect over the course of the next 10+ hours.
MachineGames have certainly not shied away from delivering a truly impactful gameplay experience by daring to push the boundaries of their chosen medium. This is one series that hardly ever holds it punches in regards to violence, but now it is applying the same mentality to the narrative. It succeeds in delivering its message by diversifying its approach. One moment you may find yourself wincing at an unspeakable act of savagery and then laugh at the game’s absurd humor shortly after. On more than on occasion, Blazkowicz’s inner monologues had me quietly reflecting on the weight he continues to carry from his tumultuous childhood and the bleak situation in which he’s now found. Wolfenstein II manages to evoke a wide range of emotions that span the entire spectrum. It is a notable accomplishment in storytelling and its triumph is partly due to its stellar cast, and the wonderfully detailed facial animations that help express them.
BJ and Anya, who is now pregnant, are a constant source from which the story draws its power. The struggle of a couple surviving insurmountable odds is heightened in the moments where BJ contemplates whether he will be alive long enough to meet his children. The remaining cast is filled with remarkable personalities, such as the lovable yet childlike Max Hass and the eccentric conspiracy theorist Norman “Super Spesh” Caldwell. Even the game’s returning antagonist, Frau Engel, stands out as she makes her appearances throughout the campaign. One of many memorable scene sees Wyatt, who lived in my timeline from The New Order, experiencing an extremely powerful drug trip that involves a cartoon reptile. Of course, much like the rest of the game, the comedic nature of this scene is followed-up by one of stark contrast. The story touches on several areas to flesh out the blood-fueled journey, making Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus as good a movie as it is a game. The only detriment to the narrative being told is how weirdly relevant it feels today, framing current events in a way it likely never intended. But that’s hardly the developer’s fault. The crew has been decidedly anti-Nazi well before now.
At this point you may be wondering about the actual gameplay. It didn’t take this long to reach that topic because it’s underwhelming. No, not at all. But it isn’t often we see an FPS of this nature carry such a commanding story. Fortunately, the gameplay serves as an equal partner in making the campaign enjoyable. BJ Blazkowicz is a walking tank, deserving of his “Terror-Billy” nickname. The man has been through Hitler-created Hell and back numerous times. The years of experience have made him extremely efficient at killing, especially when the targets are Nazis. He has a full arsenal of death-dealing toys at his disposal, all of which are satisfying to wield. The guns are meaty, shiny contraptions that deliver a sense of weight and impact as they dole out lead, or whatever the source of their ammunition happens to be. Adding some new and non-antisemetic red accents to various corridors as you drown enemies in a wave of bullets is a pleasure that is hard to match. It acts as a power fantasy through its liberal use of violence, which is over the top like the rest of the game.
How Nazis are eliminated is completely up to the player. For those leaning towards a bit of stealth, BJ is sporting a handy new hatchet (as referenced earlier) for those up-close-and-personal kills. These result is some of the most punishing, visceral eliminations in gaming. You really feel how much the testosterone-filled hero hates Nazis. Although, that hatred usually transitions quickly to run-and-gun with light cover elements due to the wildly alert enemies patrolling the areas. While stealth is provided as an option, with two separate guns including suppressor upgrades, its use is limited by the fact that some soldiers’ peripheral vision seem to extend further to either of their side than you might expect. This leads to the area’s high-ranking official, a Commander, sounding an alarm. It’s a good thing that going loud is so much damn fun. Weapons range from an explosive-launching revolver to an all-disintegrating laser cannon. And, wouldn’t you believe it, each one makes for an excellent Nazi-killing candidate.
Once an engagement has become an all out firefight, and it regularly will, there are several choices in how to come out on top. Not only is there a solid list of weapons to choose from, but each has specific upgrades that can be applied as upgrade kits are obtained. That fully-auto Sturmgewehr assault rifle can be outfitted with a marksman scope (which is bundled with semi-auto fire) and armor-piercing rounds for those that prefer the sniper approach. The Schockhammer X shotgun can be upgraded to fire three barrels at once with ricocheting ammunition for anyone looking to make an absolute mess out of the intertwining hallways. The gradual accumulation of weapons and the development of each keeps gameplay feeling fresh throughout the campaign as new tactics emerge. Whether you are dual-wielding submachine guns with drum magazines or quietly moving around with a silenced pistol that carries magnum rounds, you’re going to have a good time. It is worth noting that, unlike The New Order, BJ is given the freedom to wield a different gun in either hand this time around. That definitely opens up some new combinations.
The slick first-person shooter mechanics span diverse environments, even if most contain a collection of corridors. The environments were crafted with care for each area, ensuring that the country’s devastation is felt no matter where you are or if you are even firing a single bullet at the time. Maybe that feeling comes from the irradiated and desolate remains of New York City. Or perhaps the heavy sentiment is evoked from seeing the gathered masses in New Orleans quietly accept their new world leaders. Coming back to the hub, which is a U-boat named Eva’s Hammer, between missions keeps the currently developing emotions alive by having the crew react to BJ if approached. There’s more to do in Eva’s Hammer while taking a break from the main campaign, however.
The U-boat hub serves as the center for side missions, both on and off the vessel. While exploring Eva’s Hammer, the player has the opportunity to interact with its inhabitants. Some of these people will offer side missions that can be completed within the confines of the submarine. In an early instance, BJ was tasked with finding food for the pig that Max had come to enjoy playing with. In another moment, a member had gone off their meds and needed to be subdued. These missions may do little to advance the overall story, but they do plenty in expanding the colorful personas fighting the good fight. Ubercommander missions can also be initiated from the watercraft, if you prefer the general slaughter of Nazis over learning about your fellow resistance warriors. The Commanders mentioned earlier carry Enigma Codes. Upon their death, these items can be looted and used at the Enigma Machine on the submarine. Solving the mini-game will grant access to Ubercommanders, the best of the best on the opposing side. Conquering them is a difficult task, but it is a rewarding one.
All in all, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an exemplary title that is unflinching and confident in its approach. The expert pacing and top tier voice acting string together a memorable gaming experience that is equally impressive cinematically. These components revolve around hefty, engaging gunplay mechanics that ensure that each confirmed Nazi kill is as satisfying as the last. Put simply, BJ Blazkowicz and his ragtag group of freedom fighters have ascended the series to new levels.
Wolfenstein II is a beautiful blend of classic and modern first-person shooters. It masterfully combines emotional distress and comedic relief with unrelenting violence. You would be hard-pressed to find a more stellar FPS on the market than the comprehensive offering contained here. Single-player is alive and well; MachineGames have proven that.
10 Axed Nazis Out of 10
Release Date: October 27th, 2017
Available Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Disclosure: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Was Provided By The Publisher For Coverage Purposes