Review – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
In 2014 MachineGames did what seemed impossible and rebooted Wolfenstein into a viable modern franchise with good critical reception of Wolfenstein: The New Order, largely erasing the bad memories of a failed 2009 reboot by Raven Software. Solid sales led to a standalone expansion entitled The Old Blood, which wasn’t quite as well-received, with critics almost uniformly noting it didn’t exceed the original’s action and had a weak story. MachineGames took the criticism to heart, with a sequel to The New Order that turns the gameplay and story dials all the way to max – Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Set in an alternate timeline where the Nazis won the Second World War, the story starts with franchise hero B.J. Blazkowicz recovering from the injuries sustained during the first game. During the opening sequences, B.J. is tested to his admittedly somewhat reduced limits before rising to the occasion. It’s hard to discuss specifics without spoiling major plot twists and ‘you won’t believe what just happened’ surprises, but the story is equal parts ridiculous and amazing, and contains many of my favourite moments in gaming from this year.
Well-written and acted characters help the game shift from all-out action to laugh-out-loud comedy in the blink of an eye. The flashbacks to B.J.’s youth are particularly unsettling, and lends strength to the way he struggles, at points in the game, with his role in the entire franchise. I found many of the non-combat sections, where you spend time walking around listening in on the incidental conversations others are having, to be just as engaging as the storyline’s dialogue.
MachineGames needed to nail the story and gameplay, as there’s no multiplayer or co-operative play component to fall back on, and they nailed it to perfection. Keep in mind this is a title with old school sensibilities, one that allows gamers to dual wield giant machine guns with impunity, so don’t expect a lot of handholding modern game design ideas. Stand and trade shots with an enemy with a better gun and you’ll find yourself respawning to try again, and again, and again… Fortunately there’s little to no delay in respawning, which clears the route for trying new ways to approach difficult battles.
Also helping is the return of the perk system, which provides upgrades for finishing off enemies using specific methods like headshots or stealth kills. It’s possible to radically boost your power level without changing how you play, but gamers might find themselves encouraged to try new playstyles to get specific perks.