When I initially finished Wolfenstein: The New Order, I felt compelled to watch through the entire credits sequence. It’s an odd tradition of mine that if a game has really impressed me, the people who worked on it deserve recognition enough to see their names scroll by to music. I had time to muse over my heroic sacrifice after being struck down by the duplicitous Nazi Deathshead, feeling more than a little disheartened that it would be difficult to make a sequel to such a game.
Tragedy comes thick and fast in The New Colossus
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus wastes no time, putting you literally at the moment of BJ Blazkowicz fate from Wolfenstein: The New Order. Broken and bleeding, it’s hard to believe he’d survive to be the protagonist of this game – but the cover art has assured me that this is the case. Astoundingly, your supporting cast prove to be more than fleeting characters in the series, and take the time to scoop up what’s left of you, and stitch and staple you back together.
For a ‘what if’ series that focuses on killing robotic monster Nazis, Wolfenstein has a huge amount of heart
If the first game served to introduce Blazkowicz as an all-American hero, this game exists to flesh him out. The internal musings of our roughshod Nazi-killing cowboy are given terrifying new depth as flashbacks in The New Colossus, with one of the first being an introduction to BJ’s father – exploding onto the screen in a shower of racism and abhorrent domestic abuse. It’s stands to be an incredibly powerful first impression, with one of the first user input moments of the title asking you to shoot your childhood dog, with your father intending this practice to ‘toughen you up.’
This does nearly set an odd wavering tone for the game. The sheer seriousness of parts can at times feel quite dark alongside the absurdity of being a Nazi killing machine, even making the comedic elements in the game feel a little like lights in the darkness. I am thankful that the creative team at Machine Games have been quite deliberate with their delivery of serious narrative – allowing me to enjoy a Nazi cartoonishly creeping into a trap and exploding into a wet mist without feeling any guilt.
The spectacle of the game takes the incredible aesthetic of the New Order and cranks it up way past 11. This is a game that has established its visually stylings beautifully, and now serves to see how far it can develop them. Environments are stunning, and treading so much new territory gives agency to the art team to continue delivering amazing level design. Narrative set pieces are particularly well crafted, with standout examples such as the burnt out husk of Manhattan or the New Orleans ghetto easily rubbing shoulders with great past examples like the Moon Base from the original game.
Gunplay has also been dialled up – easily a standout feature from the first game. The bullet delivery methods in that title were tight as a drum, so imagine my surprise when they manage to feel even better in New Colossus. The Laserkraftwerk (beloved wire cutting and Nazi removal tool) may have had carte blanche with the upgrades previously, but now everything with a trigger can enjoy a generous smattering of upgrade kits littered throughout the game. I initially expected a Doom-esque mechanic of only having access to a duo of upgrades per gun, swapping between them as need be – but instead they are all at your fingertips to easily weapon wheel your way to wanton waste laying. Did I mention you get a weapon wheel per hand, so you can mix and match your duel wielding death dealers to curate precisely what kind of hurt you wish to deal? Because you can. But does this new gun-gasm come at a cost?
Stealth seems less viable in this game when compared to its predecessor. It almost feels as though the gunplay improvements were sufficient enough for the focus to drift more into that territory – I’m not saying that stealth is no longer an option, but it does feel a great deal more difficult, and the larger open areas feel brutally unforgiving. One particular section that prominently features the KKK (because Nazis obviously weren’t filling the xenophobia quota enough) had me effectively dump my attempts to dispatch people quietly, and instead I spun my weapon wheel like a roulette to find my tool of mass demolition. Did I still enjoy myself? Absolutely. But it was noticeable that my choice felt a little forced.
To be honest BJ, I don’t think you can pull off turtleneck, glasses AND a mustache
A minor gripe may come in the odd implementation of character health early in the game. From a narrative standpoint I can understand why a freshly woken, physically devastated BJ might have a paltry pool of health, but the abrupt spike to 200 (effective) health did disorientate me. I realise now that it too was an effect of the narrative, communicating the sudden change in BJ’s situation (the exo-suit from the first game making itself useful), however I was again taken for a swerve when the health pool again dipped to a far more normal 100. It became immediately apparent that the second change to my health pool was normalcy setting in, but the yo-yo’ing player strength (especially for someone as bad as I am) meant I started to question my strategy quite quickly.
Overall any niggling issues you could encounter in the game are easily forgiven, because the sheer unbelievable amount of good easily outweighs it. The game is developed to a particularly impressive polish, and the characters are all treated with such respect you can’t help but care about all of them. At times story can feel shallow in a game, where the gameplay may be a focus to the point of detriment to the narrative, but for a ‘what if’ series that focuses on killing robotic monster Nazis, Wolfenstein has a huge amount of heart.
Did I watch the credits for New Colossus? You bet I did.
You wish you partied this hard
BJ Blazkowicz’ second tour of duty is one of driven determination, heartfelt sadness and red-hot revenge. The New Colossus manages to weave its incredible scope together in brilliant new ways, offering a plethora of player choice between the gunplay, level design and narrative – with believable characters and strong writing handily supporting everything else. It’s a title born of passion and pride, easily sitting comfortably as one of 2017’s very best releases.
Reviewed on PS4