In 2014, Machine Games brought us Wolfenstein: The New Order. It was a huge leap forward for the franchise as it made its moody return. William Joseph Blaskowicz was humanised, given real human emotions and a past. His moody grumbling narrative took everyone by surprise as Machine Games made the decision to take Wolfenstein from silly fun, to serious fun with a deeper message. The New Colossus takes these themes far deeper than the last time around and masterfully presents us with a combination of serious fun and serious messages. Sometimes we forget just how ridiculous the premise of Wolfenstein is due to how real the world feels. “I wonder how much a dollar is worth these days?” – BJ Blaskowicz
The New Colossus is not afraid to explore themes of racism, nationalism, politics, love, hope and fear. As we blast our way through BJ’s internal mumblings and the Hollywood standard cinematics, each of those themes are covered spectacularly. The ongoing mission to simultaneously present Blaskowicz as a one man army and a vulnerable human, tortured by his past is fulfilled brilliantly as we explore who BJ is this time around.
Machine Games want us to remember that BJ is just a mortal, human man right from the get go. As soon as we take control for the first time, we’re whizzing around in a wheelchair, machine gun on lap, as BJ has yet to recover from his injuries sustained at the end of A New Order. It’s an instant reminder of the stakes at play in BJ’s world, the overwhelming odds and the mortality of the small resistance group that he leads.
Familiar faces, liberated by BJ last time around will return and reprise larger roles. They each have believable personalities and converse with BJ in wonderful ways. Early on in The New Colossus, players will explore a submarine hub world between levels. As the story progresses, new faces arrive and succeed in being just as likeable as the ones we’re used to. Aside from all the frills we’ve come to expect from hub worlds, players will want to explore this massive intermission area just to speak to these old familiar faces and hear what they have to say. It’s rare these days to see developers create such memorable characters that players will absolutely care about. A certain twist at the halfway point will prove that fantastically.
As the story progresses, the player will enjoy a consistent unfolding of unpredictable events.
Where most games have their conclusion sitting clearly in the distance, only to unfold as expected by the end, Wolfestein 2’s journey to its own end is like an incredibly well written book that you can’t put down. Along the way, that fact in itself assures fantastically written villains and plenty of comic relief. Although not so much that it ever feels forced as if you’re watching Marvel’s one millionth movie, falling back on laughs for its continued support. Expect storytelling up there with the very best that videogames of today have to offer.
As you may have seen in the many trailers leading up to Wolfenstein 2’s release, the core gameplay here is all about killing Nazi’s. Make no mistake, this is no simple run and gun game. Similar to DOOM, we are encouraged to get up close and personal with an enemy that is well and truly “the badguy”. Through BJ’s intense hatred for all things Nazi, we as the player are so invested in his character that like him, we want to decimate every Nazi we find.
For example, we have mechanics that encourage us to do this. The most memorable moment for me, where combat is concerned was atop a flying fortress. I stepped out into an open rooftop area with no cover, littered with Nazis. I had to act fast. It was do or die. So I dual wielded triple barrel shotgun revolvers and rushed them. The first head popped and my aim turned a little so the next victim lost a leg. A couple more chest shots put the next few down until I had to reload but – no time. Only the commander was left so a masterfully thrown hatchet ended up in his skull. I turned around to witness the aftermath of BJ’s brutality and the one Nazi was left, hopping around on one leg, screaming in pain until eventually he collapsed and bled out.
All of that in about ten seconds. Machine Games have not been afraid to incorporate ribbons of blood and disintegrating limbs, punctuated by the spine chilling screams of your foes. All under the sheer force of BJ’s weaponry and how he uses it. It is so grotesquely beautiful that the visual treat alone is enough to incentivise a player to go for the guns blazing approach.
However, they won’t be able to play in that way very often. You see, Wolfenstein 2 is really really hard. I played on normal difficulty and often found myself holding up in a boxed off room, funnelling my victims through the door. While Wolfenstein 2 looks spectacular, its level design and placement of enemies, combined with a “rush the player” kind of A.I makes the running and gunning of the trailers very difficult. The aforementioned event on the sky fortress is a rare thing indeed. Perhaps that’s a good thing as it makes those moments all the more memorable. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help feeling, as I sat crouched in a box room, painting its walls red, “am I playing this as the developers intended?”
A large reason for this feeling, I’d venture to say, comes from the stealth element of the game. If players so choose, they can sneak around chopping up Nazis with their hatchet. The goal here is to eliminate the commander so reinforcements cannot be called in. Like going loud, the stealth gameplay is extremely rewarding in its high level of difficulty. Enemies will catch onto dead bodies that cannot be dragged away and if their suspicion is raised, life will instantly be harder for you. They can’t see very far but without a radar, players will need all their wits about them when turning every corner. What’s great about Wolfenstein 2 is that it never forces stealth or guns blazing gameplay on you. The choice is always yours in how you tackle a problem.
What really surprised me was a part of the game that cemented it as a true sequel. Not a title that regurgitates all elements of its predecessor. Wolfenstein 2’s hub level offers side missions. Occasionally these can be completed within the hub level. But the real surprise came with the War Map. This acts as a kind of level select for optional pursuits. We can select previously visited areas to hunt down Nazi commanders and this plays heavily into the end game content.
More than that, completely new areas can be explored with the War Map. At the halfway point in the game (without spoiling anything) certain gameplay modifiers become available. Choosing one of the three, your gameplay will subtly change for the rest of the game. It’s never such a change that would pull you away from your established playstyle so far. The other two modifiers can be unlocked through side missions, making the player feel more powerful the more time they invest into Wolfenstein 2’s optional content.
The list goes on, so I’ll do my best to keep things brief. But expect plenty of collectibles that relate to different characters. Plenty of upgrades for your weapons that physically change their appearance and add an alternate fire mode. Lastly, like the previous Wolfenstein, two separate alternate timelines that drastically change the way cutscenes play out and how characters interact with one another. This incentivises a second playthrough wonderfully, doubling your average playtime to twenty four hours. Frankly I would have played a second time without it!
Graphics & Sound
Wolfenstein 2’s wonderfully optimised iD engine remains ahead of its time as it runs at 60fps in 1080p on PS4. A rare thing for the PS4 indeed. It runs equally well on other platforms. Visually, Wolfenstein 2 is like a wonderful painting that catches your eye in a pile of hundreds of other paintings. Those trailers you’ve seen? They’re not enhanced at all. That’s literally how the game looks.
Despite the incredible particle effects we see while disintegrating Nazis with the Lazerkraftwerk or the moody depth of lighting, I never once experienced any slowdown. I never noticed any flickering shadows or popping textures and no screen splitting. For all its visual prowess, Wolfenstein 2 offers a graphically sublime experience that insists on searing itself into your brain. So beautiful in fact, that taking screenshots for this review was a challenge. Time and again, I’d be so sucked in by the pristine presentation of the game that I forgot to take screenshots at all.
Finally – sound. From the same composer that brought us DOOM’s angry beats, Mick Gordon does the same for Wolfenstein 2. Only, sound design surrounding the music in Wolfenstein 2 has built upon the foundations of what Gordon learned with DOOM. This time, music is so much more reactive to player actions. Enemies in the distance will be made known to us with a quiet and moody bass riff. As we get closer, it intensifies while we sneak from Nazi to Nazi. Then we get spotted and the music is cranked up to high intensity synth distortions and glitchy crackling madness. Every single time combat broke out, Mick Gordon made damn sure you were pumped to get stuck in. When the fight was over – a quick flurry of electric guitar twangs to put the final punctuation on the moment.
A fusion of what we see in the game and what we hear has never been married up so well. One without the other would only provide you with half of the Wolfenstein 2 experience. Voice acting is second to none as we see characters convincingly argue, joke around and get serious. Again, we have a marrying of two things – cinematic direction and voice acting. One without the other would come nowhere near to the sum of two spectacular halves.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has no multiplayer. So what! Who cares! What we have here is absolutely an experience that sits proudly atop a tower, looking down on other titles that only dream of delivering a story this memorable. Do not let your addiction or expectancy of having multiplayer in a game cheat you out of the experience Wolfenstein 2 is offering. Think back to titles like Deus Ex or Bioshock. Or the first time you experienced Dishonored. Remember how that made you feel. Wolfenstein 2 brings that feeling back where I began to think games could no longer do it.
The campaign may last around twelve hours, sure. It’s incredibly difficult, yes. But some of the greatest games of the last generation were the same. The time and effort and thought that has gone into creating a Nazi occupied, post war America is astounding and absolutely deserves your attention. Support single player, story based first person shooters and buy Wolfenstein 2. Heck, if you didn’t play the first one, buy that THEN get number two. Not only are you letting yourself in for an amazing story, but you’re also up for some sublime game design and second to none shooting mechanics
|+ Best of the best in storytelling||– Stealth and going loud gameplay at odds with one another at times|
|+ Delivers everything you should expect of a sequel|
|+ Nazi killing methods that never get old|