Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a game that should be ridiculous fun the whole way through. The story is at times impressively written and very bold for the subject matter.
But that subject matter is still a Nazisploitation B-movie. Your hero B.J. Blazkowicz is a hulking action star who makes Nazis look like clowns. Yet, Wolfenstein II is a very hard game. Why does a sci-fi schlock fest become an intense struggle for survival? These two tones don’t match.
I played Wolfenstein II and had plenty of trouble on the medium difficulty. Maybe I just suck. There’s a reason I’m a writer and not an eSports star. Yet I’m typically of the opinion that difficulty is not bad. Many games are improved by being hard and bringing out the best of their players.
Wolfenstein II is not that. Wolfenstein II is a cheesy power fantasy decorated with buckets of blood. But on the easiest difficulty, the game is the brisk silly adventure that it should have been.
What Makes It Hard
Wolfenstein II is a tough game on most difficulty levels for a number of reasons. Similar to 2016’s DOOM, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is about constant action. Where modern FPS games are slow thanks to regenerating health and cover systems, Wolfenstein is all speed. Careful stealth is an option, but when firefights begin, you need to be loud. If you take it slow, you will die.
At its best, Wolfenstein II is the same explosion of action that made DOOM so great. However, this game has a lot of resource management as well. Your health disappears very quickly and that isn’t communicated clearly. Finding health packs is tough especially in chaotic firefights. Sci-fi Nazis also take a lot of hits, often whole clips, to drop. So you will die a lot in this game. Wolfenstein II is a harder game than DOOM and not always in a very fair or fun way.
That’s all fine if you’re a gamer looking for challenge. If you’re a big fan of classic-style FPS games, you’ll find plenty of that in Wolfenstein II. There’s nothing wrong with liking your games hard. If you loved Wolfenstein II for its difficulty, then don’t let me talk you out of it. However, that experience doesn’t match the narrative it wants to tell.
Getting in the Way
If you were sold on the Nazi-slaughtering story, you might actually find the challenge gets in the way. To see the next moment of B.J. Blazkowicz stomping National Socialists, you might have to repeat the same section over and over.
Wolfenstein II has incredible things happening in its cutscenes. The stuff that goes on in the narrative is nuts. This game is relevant to our current time in a way that games almost never are. Between that, though, is gameplay that feels like a chore in comparison.
Difficult games can be some of the best titles on the market today. Cuphead last month was one of the best games of the year. Wolfenstein II‘s difficulty is also nothing compared to that nightmare platforming. But Cuphead was a game about challenge. It had very little else but that. Mastering levels is a real achievement and tons of fun. However, difficulty is not the only thing games are good for. There’s also narrative and in Wolfenstein‘s case, pure escapism.
The gameplay in Wolfenstein can actually be more fun when its a dumb action simulation rather than a serious FPS. I was loving every moment of sloppily charging up and hacking White Supremacists to pieces with a hatchet. Sure it was easy, but there’s a dumb joy in overpowering your foes and watching them squirm. If you want a violent fantasy using two shotguns to paint walls red with blood, Wolfenstein II is that. Failing repeatedly doesn’t really match the fantasy. Does it?
The experience of being comically way over-powered fits the tone of this game more. The Nazis of Wolfenstein II are psychopaths but they aren’t scary. They fear you more than you fear them. And their evil is more often played for dark humor rather than actual horror. The story for all its social commentary and dystopia is actually very positive and uplifting. Between the racism and murder, there’s a lighthearted community you build with other characters.
The great thing about Wolfenstein II is that it gives you plenty of options. You can play it however you want. If you want precise action, you can have it. But that wasn’t right for Wolfenstein II. When difficulty doesn’t match the content, the game suffers. Sometimes the cheaper thrills are the better ones.