My time with Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has been an unexpected journey, to say the least. I’ve watched the trailers, read about the plot, and even got some hands on time with it a couple of months ago. However, the first half of the game kind of messed me up. Not in the typical sense that you would expect from Wolfenstein — no, it wasn’t the gory torture scenes or witnessing a comrade’s death. It was simply the narrative.
What comes to mind when you think of playing Wolfenstein? I think most casual fans and series enthusiasts will probably agree that before Wolfenstein: The New Order, the Wolfenstein franchise was fairly one-dimensional. Nothing was wrong with it by any means, but it seemed to thrive on a single facet: a hyper-masculine military caricature killing Nazis.
It was fun, simple, and straight to the point. Why is protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz so hellbent on killing Nazis? Because they’re Nazis, duh. What more motivation do you need? It was a simple catalyst that didn’t need to focus on story so much as it did gameplay.
All the Feels
When MachineGames took over the franchise for 2014’s The New Order, they added a narrative component I didn’t know the series needed. Giving the main character some actual… well, character. Plus, a multilayered cast, a compelling story, and a single-player focused environment. Fast-forward to this year’s The New Colossus, in which Machine Games took their narrative prowess to another level.
The New Colossus picks up where The New Order left off. Our hero Blazkowicz and the Kreisau Circle of resistance fighters are aboard “Eva’s Hammer,” a stolen U-Boat considered the crown jewel of the Nazi party. However, B.J. has been in a coma for five months and is paralyzed from the waist down. The injuries he suffered from the ending of The New Order make him a shell of his former self. While in his coma, B.J. experiences short moments of consciousness and lucid dreaming.
In the first 15 minutes of the game, there isn’t much typical Wolfenstein action. Actually, it’s mostly just watching. But it’s perhaps some of the most compelling, uncomfortable, and oddly appropriate video game cinematography I’ve seen in a while. The opening cut-scenes do a masterful job at setting the mood for the game to come.
B.J. begins to recall memories of his childhood. More specifically, we learn why B.J. is the way he is. These interactive cinematic scenes make you experience some very difficult, yet authentic instances of life. Domestic violence, racism, verbal abuse, and animal cruelty are all depicted in a manner that you would usually reserve for a dramatic film. It was shockingly captivating and devoid of any shock value that may be assumed by more cynical players (such as myself).
I wasn’t really ready for this. I had turned to games like Wolfenstein II in the past to escape the problems in the world, not to be reminded of them. The first half of the game could be described as a nihilist shooter full of melancholy. B.J. Blazkowicz is weak, afraid, and dejected. His inner-monologues are beautifully poetic and tragic. I found myself having to persevere as well. B.J. will find a way. He always does. All I can do is just keep shooting Nazis, right?
Same Old Song and Dance… Mostly
And shoot Nazis I did. A lot of them. In a ton of different ways, too. MachineGames has made big tweaks to incorporate more options for stealth and verticality, a much different approach to an on-rails experience — a la Dishonored. These simple changes made it more fun to vary play style on the fly while not making it feel forced.
Everything about The New Colossus’ gameplay is a slight improvement on it’s predecessor. The level designs, attention to detail, weapon customization, and perks are more robust. However, I can’t help but feel a bit disappointed that they’re simply improvements.
Nothing much more innovative was introduced in this game. But then again, I can’t really think of an obvious suggestion. Perhaps a more varied arsenal? I found myself only using probably three of the eight or so weapons. Upgrading guns can be somewhat of a pain, too. You’ll have to search the world for upgrade kits, and they’re not the most obvious things to find. Some weapon upgrades are painfully better than others, while others lack any imagination.
The perk system is actually pretty dang smart. It’s a cumulative system that gives you bonuses based on a statistic you accumulate. For example, collectingheavy weapon kills will increase that weapon type’s effectiveness. There is a max cap, but you can keep track of all your perks in the game’s menu to see which ones you’re close to leveling up and those you’ve been neglecting.
For those who have played Wolfenstein: The New Order and it’s mini-sequel, Wolfenstein: The Old Blood, gameplay remains largely unchanged. Three new core components are introduced for The New Colossus: The Ram Shackles, Constrictor Harness, and Battle Walkers. Each have their own gimmicky construct — destroy doors and armor, squeeze into ducts or tight spaces, and reach elevated platforms or areas.
The levels were designed with these tools in mind, so it makes them very valuable. I’m not disappointed at the similarities between its predecessor, but I can understand if some fans were looking for The New Colossus to be more inventive.
Is Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Any Good?
However, it’s clear the creative resources that weren’t used on overhauling the gameplay systems were used on a strong narrative. The writing, cinematography, and acting in Wolfenstein II have elevated the franchise from humble beginnings as a first-person-shooter reliant on compelling gameplay. Now, Wolfenstein is synonymous with enthralling storytelling, along with it’s invigorating gameplay.
If you ever played a Wolfenstein game in the past and enjoyed it, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus might be the best one so far. Don’t expect the gameplay to be much different from it’s predecessors, but do try to immerse yourself into the story as much as you can. You won’t regret it.