Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus Review

Dan Webb

If you would have said to me in 2014 that Bethesda and MachineGames would be leaning on real-world narratives about the recent resurgence of Nazis in the real world in 2017 to promote the follow-up to the explosive reboot of the shooter that took the world by storm, I’d have laughed in your face. Called shenanigans. Basically, belittled you for not having your finger on the pulse. But here we are. Quite whether you agree with Bethesda using that tension and anxiety surrounding current day Nazis in their marketing campaign is a conversation for another day, but it definitely made Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus feel that tad bit more realistic than it probably would have been when the original hit in 2014. I could say it hit a little too close to home, but sanity and realism goes out the window pretty early on The New Colossus and from the opening minutes until the dying seconds, it’s absolutely ridiculous… mostly in a good way. Regardless, it’s fun to scalp Nazis whatever the circumstances and The New Colossus is chock full of that!

"The New Colossus gets off to a hell of a start."

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus picks up exactly where the 2014 reboot left off, with the built-like-a-brick-shithouse, William "B.J." Blazkowicz in a spot of bother after the explosive finale of his debut adventure – well, debut in his rebooted form. With the Nazis left reeling, BJ, his wife Anya, and the ragtag bunch of resistance fighters take the fight to Nazi Germany to inspire the American people to stand up to their oppressors. That’s the crux of the entire plot and almost the beauty of The New Colossus: while it’s really easy to follow, it’s hard not to get swept up with the camaraderie of the zany cast of characters. If you didn’t catch the 2014 title, fear not, there’s a pretty lengthy recap at the beginning of the game – handy for those who missed out, handy for those who played it in 2014 too. Win, win! More game developers should do this, seriously.

From the get-go, The New Colossus packs one hell of a punch and ebbs and flows perfectly throughout its 15-hour-ish campaign. One minute you’ll be laughing, the next minute your jaw will hit the floor, MachineGames really know how to write one hell of a follow-up script. It could be argued that at times though, they almost go too far – one scene in particular had us screaming, “Oh fuck off, really? REALLY!?” at the screen – and that definitely does do a disservice to the rest of the narrative. Yes, we know that MachineGames are shooting for an OTT Wolfenstein series, but there has to be a limit to that ridiculousness and they hit that here about midway through the game – it definitely took the sheen off what was an otherwise excellent piece of writing on the whole. That said, fear not though, the game does recover and normalise after the midway point, and finishes wonderfully with a satisfying conclusion, while also setting up the trilogy finale.

"MachineGames ramp up the tech aspect in the sequel."

It’s a much more personal, emotional story this time around for BJ, and Brian Bloom puts in a captivating, emotional and gritty performance. With twins on the way and his troubled childhood rearing its ugly head, the fragility of BJ is presented rather excellently and his inner battles paint a deeper side to the guy who is known for smashing Nazi skulls and not much else.

Of course, The New Colossus wouldn’t be Wolfenstein if it wasn’t for the super satisfying combat, and that’s back in spades. Dual wielding shotguns, assault rifles, grenade launchers and so on, has never been so fulfilling. Neither has mixing and matching whatever combination of guns you so wish either. The real changes come with BJ’s new power armour, which opens up a ton of possibilities gameplay-wise about midway through the game, allowing for you to acquire stilts to access new areas/shortcuts, slip through areas you might not have been able to go through or my personal favourite, run through Nazis and watch them explode from the inside. That new power and speed, that comes about as a direct result of the power armour, does open up some new issues, like traversal and what not, which can get a little awkward, but the sheer power you can display almost offsets that frustration.

Where The New Colossus outdoes its predecessor with pretty much every step is in its environments and set-pieces. The New Colossus nails it with interesting and vibrant settings, unique and bizarre set-pieces, some pretty impressive NPC dialogue and greater immersion and subtle story-telling than we’ve seen before. Add to that a stellar score, some bloody insanely beautiful cutscenes with bordering on epic cinematography and style at times, and it has the makings to absolutely trounce the 2014 title.

Like its predecessor though, The New Colossus is far from perfect; it’s tainted somewhat with questionable design choices. Whether you’re talking about the game’s weird difficulty spikes, the god-awful hint feature for when you get lost – which will be a lot of the time! – why you only have half of your health for a significant portion of the game, the terrible enemy grenade indicators and how much of a kerfuffle it is to change weapons, especially mid-combat, and it’s clear The New Colossus can be a little rough around the edges at times.

"Roswell downtown is so vibrant and full of life."

There is, however, a ton of content to get your hands-on this time around aside from the 15-hour campaign, including but not limited to the Wolfenstein 3D arcade machine, side missions on the resistance base and perhaps more importantly, the Enigma machine and the assassination missions it opens up. The missions in question allow players to revisit previously visited districts in different circumstances with different enemies to take down one of the big bad, high-ranking Nazi targets. So, while you visit Roswell downtown in the day in the campaign’s story, there’s an assassination mission at night there, where you can shoot the KKK too. It’s bloody bliss!

Because of the original’s timeline choice too – involving Fergus and Wyatt – you might want to play through the game twice if time permits it. If you’re a one playthrough kind of person though, save Fergus, you won’t be disappointed – and yes, you make the choice again in a kind of flashback early on, so you can change your mind from the original if you like. If you’re a sadist, you can even go back and give the Mein Leben permadeath difficulty a run for its money… or at least die trying.

As far as sequels go, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a wonderful follow-up to the 2014 smash hit from MachineGames. Bringing back the electric and gratifying combat and intertwining it with yet another engaging and this time more emotional story was all the Swedish studio needed to do to please the fans. It might be a bit ridiculous for its own good at times, but that doesn’t take away too much from what is a bloody great and explosive sequel. Go get them Nazi scalps, soldier, you deserve it!

Superb soundtrack and some great – I mean, great! – voice acting. Stellar stuff all round.

It’s a bloody pretty game, from start to finish, with some beautifully conceived and hand-crafted environments.

Not perfect, but double shotgunning Nazis or disintegrating them with the reworked Laserkraftwerk has never been more satisfying.

An enjoyable and frenetic 15-hour-ish story that is only let down by perhaps going a little too far sometimes.

Too many bloody collectibles. Developers should really look into more fun ways to artificially lengthen their games than putting in 200 plus bloody collectibles. Such a shame. If you want the full 1K, good luck, you’ll need to complete it on the one-life-and-it’s-game-over Mein Leben difficulty too. Good luck with that!

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a stellar follow-up to MachineGames’ 2014 reboot of the franchise, one with super-satisfying combat and a wacky, engaging story. Sure, it might go a little too far at times, but you’ll have a blast with The New Colossus from start to finish, that’s a promise.

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