I never thought I’d be sitting here writing about how my favourite thing about the new Wolfenstein game was that it had a fantastic story and characters. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the follow-up to 2014’s The New Order, and while the tradition of fantastic, well designed shooter gameplay is to be expected, The New Colossus elevates the narrative above and beyond all expectations.
The New Colossus picks up straight after the events of The New Order. Set in 1961, you’ll follow series protagonist B.J. Blaskowicz on his journey through a horrifically realised Nazi occupied America. There’s some surprises here and there – including a very well realised development of B.J. and his past – but the crux of the journey will be spent shooting up Nazi occupied locales. But while it sounds a bit ho-hum or whatever, Wolfenstein II is almost always memorable.Wolfenstein II does a fantastic job at delivering stellar writing with some immensely likeable characters that are humanised and developed rather well. Perhaps even more impressively, the writing team manage to artfully balance the harsh realities of a world of war and Nazi idealism brings with playful and yet engaging effective humour. The story does err onto the side of ridiculous at times (though not without being cleverly foreshadowed prior) but make no mistakes – The New Colossus presents one of the strongest narratives I’ve seen in a game.
Where I had the most fun with The New Colossus was when I was darting between all kinds of projectiles. Whether it was searing and glowing lasers or a dazzling barrage of lead or actual dogs; there is some great moment-to-moment gunplay. At all times, enemies will actively work together to flank you and rarely let themselves be lined up for an easy takeout. Even more importantly, the weapons themselves are satisfying to use. You’ll always feel on your toes.Perhaps this is owing to the fantastic level design. One of the simplest yet most memorable moments of the story is when you’re introduced to the shotgun in an area perfectly suited to teach you how to use it – the narrow corridors of a train. The satisfaction as B.J. dual wielded those bad boys and literally minced the enemies that began to pour in, the feel of these weapons, is perhaps why The New Colossus is such a joy to play.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for those who want to go for a stealth approach in The New Colossus. As with the previous game, commanders will appear now and then on the battlefield in each level – defeating them silently means no more reinforcements will be called while alerting them means more enemies to shoot down. I thought this with the last game and still maintain that opinion here – it’s a great concept that encourages stealth but is unfortunately let down by its rather lackluster execution.The stealth segments simply don’t give you enough tools to play around with to make it a truly viable option. There were times where I’d mix up my approach and be as stealth as possible until I was discovered, and that’s because a lot of the time I felt it boiled down to pure luck. You can’t move bodies and there’s no map to help navigate where guards are. Sometimes I’d step plain into guards view and not trigger a gunfight. Other times the complete opposite would happen. It’s just a little bit too inconsistent to be a truly viable approach to use one hundred percent of the time.
A mix of gameplay approaches is encouraged, however, as it’s the best way to build up your perks. Returning from previous games, completing certain tasks (ie. Headshots, grenade kills, stealth kills) improves B.J. and his weapons. Increased magazine size, improved crouched movement speed and quicker health regeneration are just some ways to improve B.J. using perks.When B.J. isn’t out in the field exterminating the Nazi forces, he’ll be given free roam of a reclaimed U-Boat. Acting as a hub world of sorts, this is where a large majority of the world building happens and to great effect. The supporting cast of the game really shine here, and it’s easy to just get lost while you sit back and listen to their random thoughts on the events that are transpiring, and how they’re dealing with the state of the world. You’ll also be able to undertake side missions from time to time as well, though these can feel rather cheap given they reuse some environments from the main missions.
Single player only games often must vie for your attention, as they don’t often have a lot to do beyond the original playthrough. Thankfully, The New Colossus feels like quite a substantial package from the get-go, though this comes with some asterisks. Most players will be able to breeze through the story in about ten or so hours, though my play took about fourteen.There are technically two timelines to play through as well, depending on a choice at the beginning of the game, and this time it affects the interactions between characters to the point that I’d recommend playing the game twice. The worst part? An abundance of collectibles that feel like padding to make the game feel longer. I’ve yet to bother committing to finding over 200 of the collectibles strewn throughout The New Colossus, but I do feel like it’s just too much.
While The New Order was a pretty good looking game, with some great art taken from an alternate history, it was incredibly grey. The New Colossus does it’s best to remedy this with some colourful and varied locales. Sure, a majority of the game still takes place in the same country, but even just walking the streets of America feels more refreshing than the sterile concrete of The New Order. Much like the original, the game runs at a sleek 60 frames per second on all setups; but the abandonment of the old generation of consoles means the game all around looks much better than its predecessor.A noted improvement from The New Order is the sound design, where sound is mixed properly in The New Colossus. Voice work is similarly fantastic; Brian Bloom brings a gritty realism to B.J. and his introspective musings while Nina Fransozek breathes even more terrifying life into the villainous Irene Engel. Debra Wilson’s portrayal of newcomer Grace Walker is a character I’ll never forget, especially her loaded commentary on balls as a symbol for courage.
As you’d expect, Mick Gordon delivers an absolutely electrifying soundtrack that not only complements the action beautifully but elevates it to new heights. Having music and sound so intrinsically tied to the gameplay is something the composer is renowned for and The New Colossus only seeks to cement his place in the industry as a veritable legend.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has a better idea of what it wants to be when compared to The New Order, and feels like a slightly better game because of it. The action is solid, the set pieces are memorable, and the visuals are a delight. The stand out here is the story and writing. The New Colossus humanises B.J. Blazkowicz and his comrades in a way I’d never expect and is easily a game worth playing because of it. An amazing, unique shooter that does its own thing without compromise.