We live in strange times. For some reason the degenerate ideology known as Nazism and its followers seem to be crawling out the shadows, and we’ve seen a rise in public demonstrations for racial superiority. At the same time, the long running series of Wolfenstein has become bafflingly politically relevant, despite being set in an alternate universe where the Nazis won the Second World War. In reality physically assaulting anyone because of their beliefs, including Nazis, will likely get you in trouble despite how morally righteous it may seem, which makes Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus a fascinatingly cathartic shooter.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus begins moments after the end of The New Order, but if you haven’t played that there is a recap to bring you up to speed with the events so far. Players once again take the role of William J. Blazkowicz, scourge of the Nazi regime and defender of all who oppose them. Underneath the tough exterior lies a soul who is nearing an emotional breaking point as his battle against the Nazis takes its toll on him.
Sure on the surface he is shooting, exploding, and stabbing Nazis, but in the quieter moments Blazkowicz contemplates his own mortality, his worries, his history and his sadness. While the overall plot of the game is to take the war to the Nazis that now control the United States of America, there is the sub plot of Blazcowicz’ own turmoil, and it is presented very well. It comes across as an honest portrayal of a man who has been to hell and back again several times over, and it can cut a bit deep at times.
That makes it sound like that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is all doom and gloom, but MachineGames know how to put together a narrative. To counter some of the darker moments in the game there are moments of absurd comedy which can make you laugh. These moments help to show the bond between Blazcowicz and his crew, making the lowest ebbs stand out a lot more. The supporting characters are well portrayed and wandering around home base to see them getting on with their own tasks brings a humanity to the them that the Nazis lack.
Yet Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus goes to great lengths to show that the Nazis aren’t monsters from a fairytale, but men and women who have embraced humanity’s worst traits. You’ll go through levels where Nazi soldiers will talk about their own families. adventures or films they’ve seen. A couple may also come across as almost likeable until they mention something abhorrent like the murder of millions as something to be proud of. It’s those beliefs that lead Blazcowicz to dish out his own form of justice.
There’s a number of ways to take on the Nazis, though fans of stealth may be a bit disappointed as that approach is very hard to accomplish with some of the level designs. Instead you’re encouraged to go in all guns blazing. You’ll have traditional weapons like a machine gun, shotgun, pistol, and a hatchet for brutal melee attacks, but you also gain access to more sci-fi style weapons that can turn enemies to ash in an instant. Then there’s the option to mix and match dual wielding weapon combos to really take it to the Nazis.
The weapons can be upgraded to deal more damage or hold more ammo, but in terms of feel they do come across as quite light. You’ll see the bloody result of a shotgun blast, but you don’t get that hefty feedback you’d expect from it. Even with the arsenal of weapons at your disposal, you’re going to have a tough time even on regular difficulty mode.
Wolfenstein II does not pull punches when it comes to difficulty. You will die a lot as enemies swarm from various positions and try to overwhelm you. There are even a couple of areas with lots of Nazis and minimal cover which means you need to be constantly moving to avoid the barrage of bullets. It’s in these moments that you need to think about your approach, learn the areas you’re in and utilise it for taking on the Nazis – killing the officers that can call in endless reinforcements should be high on your priority list. The AI isn’t dumb and while some enemies will charge at you, many will remain in cover and change positions to get a shot at you. You can’t rely on them to come to you and have to go on the front foot.
There’s a few stand out moments throughout the game, such as one particular mission set in the transformed city that New Orleans has become. The environments switch between areas where the KKK and Nazis are strongly supported to areas where Nazis have rounded up those they see as undesirable, as well as places outright destroyed which show a little inspiration from the Fallout and Metro series of games. One issue I did come across was that some of the paths open to you were a little hard to make out at times, leading to moments of running about looking for an opening to progress.
Outside of the story missions you will eventually unlock the side quest of hunting down elite Nazi commanders in different districts, but you’ll need Enigma codes for that. Enigma codes can be collected from commanders in the main missions, and these can then be used on the Enigma machine at base with a small mini-game to beat. Once their locations are revealed, you can go and take out the the commander as well as collect items you may have missed in the area during a story mission.
On top of the gameplay and visual spectacle on offer, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has a really good soundtrack to accompany the action. The aural experience ranges from intense beats that elevate the action to more chilled out backings that are partnered with some of the more lighthearted moments within the game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a great follow up to The New Order, though it isn’t necessarily that much better. The gameplay presents a solid first person shooter while the narrative gives us a protagonist who bears scars of battle outside and in. There are some issues when it comes to how difficult the game can get at times, but fans of first person shooters and compact single player titles should definitely give Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus a shot.
Version tested: PlayStation 4