Nazis in America! No, these aren’t current events, but the latest first-person shooter from MachineGames. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is an over-the-top action masterpiece with an emphasis on narrative that continues the trend set by Wolfenstein: The New Order. Developer MachineGames didn’t exactly set out to reboot the Wolfenstein franchise, but despite their intents it ended up being a fresh start – a hyper violent return to the classic franchise that is the grandfather to first-person shooters. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is just as bombastic as it is meaningful and can be as poignant as it is violent.
Set in 1960’s America under Nazi occupation, it starts immediately after the events of The New Order. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus follows expert Nazi killer William “BJ” Blazkowicz after his near-death experience defeating General Deathshead. BJ has suffered some massive injuries, so he isn’t exactly the man he once was – now crippled and inches from death, he relies on an advanced exo-suit just to be able to walk and fight. The New Order had scenes of captured helplessness as you watch a friend tortured to death or executed, and The New Colossus continues this trend in the same horrifying way as the original. You must again decide which of your friends must be executed or spared by Deathshead in a flashback, thus choosing the timeline The New Colossus occupies. There are two slightly different stories based on a decision of which one of your friends’ lives or dies from the previous game. Not only are you forced to relive Blazkowicz’s trauma of choosing his friend’s death, but you get to see glimpses of BJ’s extremely fucked up childhood at the hands of a racist and abusive father.
The absolute inhuman barbarisms of Wolfestein’s Nazis are on gratuitous display in The New Colossus, and antagonist Frau Engel, scarred from her previous encounter with BJ, is the perfectly monstrous antagonist – relentlessly pursuing BJ in hopes of crushing him and his resistance group. BJ Blazkowicz’s internal dialogue consists of a melancholy, poignant righteousness that gives some insight into the relentless Nazi-killer and highlights how ridiculous the whole ultraviolent affair can be at times, as Frau Engel attempts to capture and execute the newly dubbed “Terror Billy.” The story itself is reason enough to check out The New Colossus, but the near-perfect, fast and visceral first-person combat is the reason to stay – killing Nazis has never been more fun.
For those who played The New Order, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus will feel like putting on a pair of comfortable shoes – really violent, shooty-stabby shoes. A first-person shooter through-and-through with some light stealth elements, there is little to do besides shooting and stabbing – but that’s shooting and stabbing distilled and refined to near-perfection. There is a bit of a progression system – landing enough stealth kills or environmental kills, for instance, gives you small perks, but they do little to change gameplay. Weapon upgrade kits that are found in-game can be used to change the characteristics and effectiveness of weapons sometimes drastically changing their effects. Almost all weapons can be dual-wielded, or you can mix and match weapons – want a grenade launcher in one hand and a machine gun in another? That’s totally possible. Later in the game you are offered Inspector Gadget-like upgrades that allow you to interact with the environment in different ways. You choose between stilts that allow you to get to higher places, a Compressor Harness that flattens you like Eugene Tooms, and the Ram Shackles that allow you to Juggernaut your way through certain doors and gratings. You can only choose one at first, but can find the others while doing missions apart from the main story. The violent action is perfectly punctuated by a soundtrack dominated by tracks by Mick Gordon, who took cues from his Doom 2016 soundtrack to inspire ripping and tearing against the Nazi regime.
Besides playing through the narrative story missions, there are assassination missions you can take on. Once you unlock the Enigma machine on your U-Boat, you can start tracking down and assassinating Nazi commanders. These assassination missions take place on levels that have previously been completed, so don’t expect new scenery, but the time of day and enemy contingent is different as well as the way you approach the level – usually running through it backwards or some other variation. Levels are linear with a little bit of room for exploration. There is no waypoint marker that constantly shows you where to go forcing you to find the way on your own, but as much as a fan I am of this practice usually, it just tends to slow down the pace of The New Colossus which is best when it’s ultra-fast and ultra-violent.
The spectacular nature of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus doesn’t save it from technical flaws, of which there quite a few, especially on the PC version. Despite smooth gameplay and decent optimization (though reports vary) I personally ran into a myriad of technical issues during my playthroughs. Clipping and getting stuck into the floor of elevators as they moved and getting pushed off of platforms during scenes in which I had no control were problems I got used to quickly. Playing the Steam version of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was buggy. The game’s video resolution would change without permission and I was never able to get the Steam overlay to work – so I was unable to take screenshots for this review. Also, without spoiling the ending, I just want to say while it works narratively the ending leaves a lot to be desired from an actual gameplay perspective – I was genuinely surprised when the credits rolled as I was expecting some massive boss fight, only to realize the fight leading up to it was its substitute. Despite how strongly The New Colossus starts, it peters out a bit at the end – but leaves the story wide open for future Nazi-killing fun.
Wolfenstein II: The new Colossus doesn’t set the new standards for action heavy first-person shooters (that standard was set by 2016’s Doom) but it readily adheres to them. Its over-the-top setting and characters add an extra narrative dimension to the crazy action. The storytelling can be as heartfelt and poignant while simultaneously squirm-inducing and upsetting – all while managing to add legitimacy to its ultra-violent nature. Despite technical issues, The New Colossus is a near perfect sequel and an excellent launching pad for the continuing series. Wolfenstein II: The new Colossus is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Windows, and it will be available 2018 on Nintendo Switch.