Review: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus — A bloody good time

Capping off a remarkable marketing campaign, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus delivers on Bethesda and MachineGames’ promise of a brutal world full of Nazis just waiting to be slaughtered. The New Colossus was teased at E3 2016, but it wasn’t until this year that we received our first look at it. Wolfenstein is back and better than ever with this newest entry.

Wolfenstein II releases at a time where its message—that is: Nazis are evil—is badly needed. Actual neo-Nazis and white supremacists are walking our streets, emboldened by hateful, dangerous rhetoric. No matter how small the groups may seem, even one Nazi is one too many. The New Colossus takes a hard stance on these types of people by unequivocally saying they don’t belong in America, even if they are portrayed as over-the-top caricatures at times. Nazi ideology shouldn’t be prevalent enough to make this a controversial stance, but sadly it is. While some of the game’s promotional material heavily played into our current political climate, the game itself touches upon the specifics less. Whether or not white supremacists were openly rallying, Wolfenstein II was always going to showcase sadistic Nazi villains and vicious ways to kill them. To act like this is some sort of timely reactionary political statement—though it certainly is political—is to forget that this has been the series’ identity since the beginning.

The level design of certain areas is breathtaking, with large set pieces that really draw you into the game. One of the first levels has you travel to Manhattan, which looks like it was pulled straight out of Fallout after the bombs dropped. Another mission has you go to a secret Nazi facility in Roswell that looks industrial and pristine. Fully exploring these locations will reward you with a number of hidden collectibles and upgrades. Ladders and crawl spaces can also lead to secret passageways that can be used to avoid clusters of enemies. It’s a linear game, but it’s designed so it doesn’t feel like it.

Whether you go balls to the wall and mercilessly annihilate everything in your path or sneak through levels to quietly take out your enemies, you’ll find that Wolfenstein II accommodates your preferred playstyle. An arsenal of weapons is at your disposal, from silenced pistols to laser cannons, all available to upgrade. Even better, any combination of these can be dual-wielded. Ample supplies of ammo can be found everywhere and looted off of dead bodies. I personally like to stealth through games when possible, and it was extremely satisfying to do so in Wolfenstein. Enemies can be distracted with a silenced pistol shot and then snuck up from behind and beaten with a hatchet. It’s more time consuming and methodical than just running through, but I like taking out the enemy without them knowing I was even there. There aren’t a lot of first-person shooters that offer this type of variety in their gameplay.

After his near-dearth experience at the end of the New Order, B.J. Blazkowicz has been in a five-month long coma. The game begins with the stakes raised incredibly high as Frau Engel has found the Kreisau Circle’s submarine and dealt a major blow to the resistance. To honor their fallen members and liberate America, Billy decides to light a fire that will ignite a revolution within those too afraid to stand up to the oppressive regime. Travelling across the country, from the ruins of Manhattan to Southern Texas where KKK members freely walk the street in a dystopic rendition of your everyday American town, B.J. is on the front lines bringing some of the most powerful weapons to the Nazi’s doorstep. While some scenes later in the game shocked me, there is clever foreshadowing in the beginning. Without spoiling it, take note of Shoshana, the cat/monkey hybrid, and how it came to be.

Flashbacks to Billy’s childhood are also important parts of the plot as he wrestles with his past while contemplating his future. Blazkowicz is indeed Jewish on his mother’s side, and had an incredibly abusive father. It’s clear that this relationship shaped who he is as a person, though he didn’t let his father’s cruel behavior destroy him. B.J. receives an opportunity to resolve this conflict, though its conclusion is bittersweet.

Games that explore war and its fallout, especially under tyrannical rule, often attempt to provide an experience that captures the horrors of its evil and the humanity of those it affects. Where other games fail by sending mixed messages or not balancing this right, Wolfenstein II succeeds. Nazis are vile monsters, though as Grace points out in one cutscene, they’re not real monsters, they’re men, and that makes their actions so much more appalling. You’ll murder your way through hundreds, even thousands of them, on your quest, but as much of a Nazi killing simulator as this is, there are tender, heartfelt moments between its heroes that briefly pull you out of the action and make you empathize with B.J. and the rest of the group. One such scene was between B.J. and Anya, who is carrying their children. Both discuss Billy’s mortality and how he’s pulling away from her in an attempt to shield her from the pain in the event of his death. There is enough comic relief so the scenes don’t feel too doom and gloom, but they provide genuine moments of fragile humanity that feel authentic.

It’s rare when a game makes me care about a large supporting cast of characters, but Wolfenstein II manages to do it. While I typically encounter characters that I don’t have strong feelings towards despite being written well-enough, MachineGames has added so much life and personality to their characters that you can’t help but care for them. Through stunning cutscenes with witty dialogue, we get a deeper glimpse into much of the supporting roles. The voice actors deliver their lines perfectly, and though the lip syncing felt off in a couple of scenes, every aspect worked together to create believable characters.

I wasn’t able to test out Wolfenstein II running on an Xbox One X, but I can only imagine it looks gorgeous because it is already beautiful running on a standard Xbox One. Though the textures on a few characters models aren’t as detailed as I would have liked and at times objects in your peripheral or the distance will look slightly softer and less crisp, overall the graphics are impressive and do a commendable service to the atmosphere. Once in a while I experienced negligible lag, even during less chaotic moments, but otherwise the game ran well in my time with it.

In a year full of phenomenal games, Wolfenstein II sits among the best. MachineGames crafted a game with intense, vicious combat that is always fun, no matter how you play. The story is a superb tale of the start of a revolution with all of its triumphs and tragic defeats, complemented by well-written characters on both sides of the battle. Minor performance issues aside, I had a blast playing The New Colossus. If you can only play one game this fall, make it this one.

9.5/10

Xbox One

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