The Wolfenstein series, this game being just the eighth entry in the series, has had a long legacy in gaming. Right back in the early days of 1980s gaming it was a big name and introduced ground breaking elements that the franchise, and indeed gaming in general, would utilise to this day. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the sequel to 2014’s hit Wolfenstein: The New Order. It continues the alternative history story of 1960s American as a Nazi state following Nazi Germany’s victory in World War 2.
The story continues tracing the eventful life of the indestructible William "B.J." Blazkowicz. Initially this jumps back to his brutal childhood. In a bedroom scene we see his father full of rage because little B.J. has been seen associating with a black child. His father explains how just a mention of this could ruin him and everything he has built up. I took this to be the opening salvo of a brutal, gloves-off discussion of themes surrounding race, hatred, and power and I wasn’t wrong. In just a few minutes Wolfenstein drives downward through even more layers of violence and pain. It’s unforgiving and unapologetic to the viewer. This is both the alternative America of the game and a warning to modern society. Incidentally Wolfenstein has generated a lot of media interest due to its aggressive marketing campaign that has sought to harness current American political tensions. There is no question it noisily stomps on troubled ground but the game does not do it in the interest of cynically whipping up commercial hype but as a genuine declaration of narrative expression. The recent debate over violence in gaming has raised an important question about gaming’s role in tackling important issues. Topics like racism, domestic abuse, and rape are often seen in TV or film but challenged when they appear in games intended for adult gamers.
Carrying over from The New Order, injuries that would have caused certain death for a mere mortal has forced B.J. to recuperate for months onboard a stolen Nazi submarine. He is being hunted by high level enemies and is vulnerable. The game starts with the player having to shoot invading Nazi soldiers while navigating around the submarine in a clunky wheelchair. This is as clever a dynamic as it is jarring. I felt limited and confined.
As you would expect from a frontline first person shooter, the guns are tactile and visceral. Weapon design is at the forefront of everything. I felt a meaty glee firing these stylish, oversized guns at waves of nasty soulless enemies. The gunplay is just simple fun. Going on experience of other games, this is a harder thing to to pull off than it would seem and it requires a lot of playtesting, balancing, and a commitment to a strong vision by the team. Dual wielding and cover are two features that excel in this gameplay environment. Wolfenstein keeps the historical health and armour pickup mechanic in a nice nod to veteran players.
The visual effects are gritty and glaring enough to throw you in the mix. Wolfenstein is a gorgeous looking game. Its interiors are both historically accurate and rich with texture, interesting lighting, and scale. It is set piece heavy and most levels are a dramatic ride with the odd slow patch. Some sections later on are just mindblowing and truly worth the effort at the beginning.
While obviously focusing on its story, I find Wolfenstein a little lacking in any form innovation. It is a template shooter that ticks all the boxes. I mean it is not something unique to the game. Most big budget games are suffering from a fear of breaking the mould. The mould is, after all, what got the game that big budget in the first place. To reach outside and fail, is unthinkable considering the amount of money involved. That can also be a good thing. I knew what I was getting from Wolfenstein. It is not pretentious and misleading.
Definitely check out Wolfenstein if you are in need of a fragfest first person shooter fix or if the hype surrounding the alt history storyline has you interested. Both are valid reasons.