A wonderfully insane story.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus on PlayStation 4
In a year when the first-person shooter genre has been dominated by an ever-evolving, multi-player focused world, some questioned the need for more linear, narrative-focused adventures. Does a game with a story to tell, with writing, characters, music, and a fascinating setting that promote particular emotions at precise moments still attract those that love loot and constantly shifting personal targets? With Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Machine Games has showcased everything that is great about single-player titles by creating an interesting world, telling a cinematic story about unique characters, and making it an absolute joy to play.
The New Colossus picks up soon after the point where The New Order finished, with B.J. Blazkowicz crippled, dying, and captured by Irene Engel, one of the series’ main antagonists. Once he escapes, he is reunited with his crew of revolutionists as they attempt to team up with other groups to infiltrate the Nazis and provoke an uprising from the American people who have been forced to accept the ways of their new government. It may sound like a rather generic alternate history story about defeating the Nazis but Wolfenstein II has more heart and humor than any other first-person shooter this generation.
The emotional and genuinely laugh-out-loud moments could feel out of place at times, occasionally making The New Colossus seem tonally confused, but the strength of the unique characters and the impeccable voice acting make those moments vital to the tale. Blazkowicz himself is struggling mentally, worrying about how his impending death will affect his partner Anya and the twins they are expecting, Fergus is attempting to come to terms with an unruly robotic arm, yet is still loud and confrontational, and Maz Hass is still around to help and frustrate in equal measure. There are a few new characters added to the mix as well, including a Nazi defector who wants nothing more than to be known as something other than a Nazi, and a sniper who loves shooting bad-guys to the sound of jazz clarinet. They’re a wonderful band of misfits that have created a family of sorts in their new, twisted world. Their escapades and general personalities make for both hilarious and heartfelt moments that break up the Nazi killing action, making for a perfectly paced shooter.
Wolfenstein II’s world and the story Machine Games tells is ludicrous but immensely fun throughout. From crocodiles in the flooded Manhattan Subway to trips to unexpected locations, the adventure is thrilling. Some of the scenes along the way will be hard to forget as well, with one, in particular, being intense, compelling, and perfectly written and performed. There is no filler and The New Colossus’ unique personality shines throughout its more than respectable ten to twelve hour running time.
What you’ll spend most of that time doing, however, is killing Nazis and it is as insane and fun as you’d expect. The gunplay itself remains largely unchanged. It’s fluid and light, with only the huge heavy weapons slowing B.J down. The shooting still feels satisfying though thanks to the sound and power of the game’s arsenal. There’s the standard selection of pistols, machine guns, and shotguns, but the Nazi tech weapons, such as laser rifles that disintegrate enemies, are the standout. Picking up an enemy mech’s laser cannon and unloading at a room full of Nazi soldiers is immense fun.
Also, since Blazkowicz is unable to stand up in the game’s early moments, concessions are made that make him even faster and more unstoppable than before. When up close and personal, B.J. is able to snap necks and remove limbs from bodies at a stunning pace. The way you can sprint through levels, chaining kills as you go, is reminiscent of Bethesda’s recent Doom reboot and Wolfenstein II is just as disturbingly brutal. The game poses quite a challenge as well, with the enemies being more than happy to fight on the front foot, hunting you down if you hide and overwhelming you in groups. Don’t be afraid to turn the difficulty down if you’re struggling because the pace of the game when you’re powerful is thrilling. You can always go back to the one life, game over if you die, difficulty for your second playthrough.
The New Colossus also manages to keep the action fresh with a new mechanic, whether that be environmental factors such as heat or the chance to ride a fire-breathing robot dog through a Nazi-controlled town, being added once every few levels. There’s also the opportunity to approach the standard levels in a variety of ways, just as was the case in the previous game. The action is often split into smaller areas, each with a selection of guards and one or two commanders that have the ability to call in reinforcements if they’re made aware of your presence. Thankfully though, while running in all guns blazing is a fun and viable option, stealth is often the sensible approach. Enemies can be a little too eagle-eyed at times but creeping through the narrow corridors, brutally killing the Nazis one by one works excellently and allows you to avoid larger waves of enemies. The perk system also returns, alongside weapon upgrades, prompting you to perform particular actions in an attempt to level up B.J.’s abilities. The way it works automatically keeps the focus on the action but also encourages different play-styles to those that wish to level up every ability.
Machine Games has also clearly made a concerted effort to address the issues with The New Order that frustrated many. The opening section of action features a mechanic that alters the gameplay dramatically and it is bookended by gruesome cut-scenes. The New Colossus doesn’t suffer from a bland opening that turns people away from an otherwise excellent game.
While there isn’t a multiplayer mode for you to delve into after finishing the story, there is more to see than a simple linear story. You can return after the credits roll to decipher enigma codes and take out Ubercommanders that are controlling districts throughout the United States. It is nice to have something to return to and it is fun while it lasts, but it is also far from substantial.
The game is mostly a joy to look at as well. The lighting is impressive, especially in the more open environments, and the facial animations help make the characters so effective. It also runs well considering the pace of the action, aside from one or two minor issues. The transitions between gameplay and cut-scenes are far from smooth, with the image freezing for up to five seconds before the cut-scene begins, making you fear every time that the game is about to crash. It was an odd, double-bluff of sorts then when the game did indeed crash once, momentarily corrupting a save file. Those two issues were as far as the problems went, however, with the game generally being a smooth experience throughout.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a fluid, brutal, and challenging first-person shooter and one that is insane and over-the-top from start to finish, but it is the unique cast of characters and the story they’re a part of that shines. B.J and his crew of revolutionaries add heart and humor to the otherwise bleak world and help create some of the most memorable moments in single-player focused games this year. Machine Games has built on what made The New Order great to produce one of this generation’s finest shooters.
Score: 4.5/5 – Great