Developed by Machine Games
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on PC (reviewed), PS4, and Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
You know what shouldn’t be controversial? Killing Nazis. More so than any other group, Nazis are the placeholder badguy for when you need to murder without consequence. Deranged terrorists, tyrannical communists, South American cartel hitmen, Russians, none of them can hold a candle to the guilt free-catharsis of Nazi murdering. If real Nazis are unavailable, just make space-Nazis (Helghast), underground-Nazis (Locusts), or Tiberium-Nazis (Brotherhood of Nod). They are like zombies with free will that shoot back. Combine the two and you have the superfood of good gory shooter fun.
Somehow, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has found itself smack in the center of a new series of arguments between Pro and Anti-Social Justice Warriors. Oh goody, apparently killing Nazis is now controversial. Before I get accused of not getting the arguments, I do understand that most people’s issue is with the clearly pandering cast of social misfits sticking it to the man with the power of minority representation. They’ve got a strong independent black mother, a strong South African man with accent, a Jewish scientist with access to magic future technology, a pregnant Polish lady that can do anything a man can do, an obese German lady, a communist preacher and moonshine distiller, a conspiracy theorist that thinks it’s all aliens, a crippled lesbian, and a mentally disabled man with half a brain. If this was minority bingo, I’m pretty sure New Colossus has all the boxes filled.
I will admit that it does feel forced, considering that all the actual heavy lifting goes to B.J. “White Dude with a Square Jaw” Blazkowicz. It would all be fine if they were each contributing in their own special way, but one of the dudes on the war council is Max Hass, who is missing half his brain and can only say the words “Max Hass.” What a tactical genius. Now in the first game, Wolfenstein: The New Order, the diverse cast served as the emotional core for what life was like under a regime that wants them dead. It was serious, dark, and the moments of levity served to humanize the oppressive and grim world. In The New Colossus, the diversity only serves to have different ways to deliver witty one-liners about killing Nazis. One liners like, “MAX HAAAAAASS!”
Now this might sound like an insult, but it isn’t. None of this matters, because unlike The New Order, The New Colossus is not a serious game. It’s a grindhouse movie. If you go into this expecting the serious, gritty story of the first, you are going to be in for a big surprise. The game starts with a flashback of B.J.’s dad beating his mother for allowing his son to hang out with a “n-word girl” (hint hint, he didn’t actually say “n-word” in the game), and then forcing him to shoot his dog in the face. The first playable level has you shooting Nazis in a submarine while rolling around in your wheelchair. If this doesn’t sound ridiculous enough, then *SPOILER ALERT* you get your head cut off before infiltrating Hitler’s space station on Venus. If you think I just had a stroke and am typing random words, you’d be wrong.
When you stop taking it seriously (which happened for me somewhere between the dad forcing BJ to shoot his dog and the cackling villain decapitating your crippled friend), the wild ride becomes far more enjoyable. It makes sense for a game where you chop Nazi legs off with a hatchet and blow up evil robotic dogs with dual-wielded machine guns. If you’re going to be fighting super-Nazis, you might as well go whole hog.
Overall, the game is fun. Similar to The New Order, The New Colossus plops you into semi-open maps and lets you go about murdering all the Nazis in the manner you see fit. You can sneak around Dishonored style and try to take them all out before they see you, or you can just whip out both of your shotguns and do it like a real American. There are plenty of alternate paths to plan your attacks and look for collectibles, but it never feels so open that I didn’t know where to go. This is still a single player, linear shooter, just with more freedom in how you plan your attack.
Unfortunately, it isn’t a significant improvement over The New Order. Mechanically, it’s basically the same game. There are only six permanent guns this time around (there are four heavy weapons you can carry for some time before having to drop), none of which are very interesting. You’ve got the assault rifle, SMG, pistol, shotgun, grenade launcher, and fire-gun-thing. It’s effective, and the guns all look and feel good, but nothing special.
There are a ton of collectibles and a series of optional side missions to pad the otherwise short runtime. If you’re just blasting through the main campaign, you can probably be done in 5-6 hours. The side missions are just altered versions of the main campaign maps, giving you a chance to collect the items you missed and approach new challenges from a different angle. It’s fun as a distraction, but doesn’t add anything substantial to the main campaign.
Mind you, none of this makes the game bad. Running, sliding, and blowing up Nazis is still as fun as ever. It’s not as bombastic as Doom, but it shouldn’t be. It does a great job of balancing your feeling of power with the fact that you’re still just a guy. A guy that murders thousands of Nazis.
Where the game loses major points for me is in the plot. General Engel (whose jaw you half blew off in the first game) just isn’t as compelling as Deathshead. Deathshead was an aloof, deeply disturbed, brilliantly capable madman. His advanced creations were the stuff of nightmares, and his ingenuity is what won the Nazis the war. He’s cold, calculating, and completely insane. General Engel is just… mean. She’s really, really mean. That’s her character. She’s super special extra mean.
There are also times where the story isn’t really sure what it wants to be. To recap, The New Colossus is a grindhouse movie. But at certain points, B.J. gets all teary eyed about his inevitable mortality and the frailty of human life. He seriously has an internal monologue about how tragic it is for a life to be snuffed out in an instant right after slicing the heads off of at least 30 dudes. It would be funny if it weren’t so confusing. Still, the way they flesh out B.J. works. I liked learning more about his past, and his emotional journey was a good one. I just wish it was wrapped in a more serious package.
Overall, The New Colossus is a fun middle child in what is clear to be a new Wolfenstein trilogy (which is weird, since technically The New Order was a sequel to 2009’s Wolfenstein, meaning this should be “Wolfenstein III,” but whatever). Engel is decent enough of a bad guy to push the plot along, but not evil enough to overshadow whomever comes in the third game. Which will probably be Hitler. It’s distinct in tone, while still being definitively “Wolfenstein.” For me, it just doesn’t evolve mechanically enough to really be memorable. I preferred the grittier tone of the first, and the goofiness really got in the way of how much I cared about the characters. You’ll surely have fun with it, but don’t expect the groundbreaking relaunch that was The New Order.
*End Note for PC Players!* Do not play this game on PC. The review copy I received was on PC, and it was a horrible mess. The game would crash every time someone messaged me on Steam, and whenever else it felt like it. I had to watch the same cutscene 4 times before I got the game to chug through it with the right graphics settings. I don’t run a powerhouse, but I was able to run Doom on high settings without any problems. I ended up having to run it on 1200×800 windowed mode, at which point everything was visually fine. I haven’t had to jump through hoops to play a game on the PC this hard since Dishonored 2. Uh oh… I’m detecting a pattern…
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus just doesn’t evolve mechanically enough to really be memorable. I preferred the grittier tone of the first, and the goofiness really got in the way of how much I cared about the characters. You’ll surely have fun with it, but don’t expect the groundbreaking relaunch that was The New Order.
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