Reviews// Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Posted 13 Nov 2017 09:37 by
I first came to Wolfenstein back in the early 90s on my Dad's 486 monochrome Toshiba laptop. Doom was already out by this point but the machine we had wasn't quite good enough to run it so I had to make do with Wolfenstein 3D instead.

'Make do' is probably not the right way to describe my relationship with the game. I loved it, the music, the atmosphere, the weapons, the imaginative boss fights, amazing! ID Software had initially intended Wolfenstein to be a much more complex game as the hero would have stolen the clothes from guards and effected a much more cinematic style escape from the titular castle.

I came to MachineGames's reboot of the Wolfenstein series, The New Order released in 2014, a little late. Previous attempts to restart the series had mostly focussed on the action and had ignored the narrative possibilities that the series offered. The New Order took a different approach and took advantage of the possibilities offered by stories based on alternative histories.

As a consequence, the 2014 reboot not only felt closer to the original design concept of Wolfenstein, but was also able to expand its own vision of storytelling in an alternative universe where the Nazis had managed to win the Second World War. This backdrop provided an opportunity for MachineGames to explore the character of William 'BJ' Blazkowicz (or 'Terror Billy' to his enemies) and the way in which his character had been shaped by the world around him and his actions, 'killing Nazis.'

The New Colossus continues BJ's story directly where The New Order left off as the fight turned to the United States and the attempted liberation of the continent. MachineGames clearly has a great deal to say about the morality of war, the nature of diversity and the fight between good and evil. The game is densely packed with anti-Nazi imagery, newspaper articles and not so subtle references to the current incumbent of the White House, drawing parallels between the alternative history nightmare of a Nazi occupied United States and the state of the American political system.

These references, although not exactly heavy-handed are noticeable and generally thought-provoking. The Nazis depicted in The New Colossus are naturally presented in an extremely over-the-top manner to reinforce the extreme unpleasantness of the ideology. There is little doubt that the enemy is indeed evil and that the war being waged by 'Terror Billy' is necessary and justifiable because of the inhuman nature of the Nazi regime.

Some time is given to exploring the effects of Blazkowicz's extremely violent actions, both on his own psyche and also on the population and those who have suffered loss as a result of his activities. However, this exploration focusses to a large extent on the nature of intolerance and submission to evil rather than the consequences of war in general. The message throughout The New Colossus is consistent, that some ideas are inherently wrong and must be opposed no matter the consequences.

Narratively, The New Colossus most certainly works and MachineGames manages to pull together all of the narrative threads by the end of the game and it reaches an extremely satisfying conclusion. I found myself repeating certain parts of the game because segments of the story were so enjoyable, a rare experience, particularly in an action game.

However, other elements of the game are less well executed. Although the overall story is well plotted, action sequences can sometimes become a little monotonous. Enemy design has hardly moved on from The New Order and although visually the game is obviously more impressive, too many areas are variations of 'Nazi lab A' or 'bombed out city.'

The time spent in the Nazi-controlled United States offers a different experience, although it was rather more brief than I would have liked. The game is at its best when it is exploring the alternative history and it is very interesting to see how the developers present individuals collaborating with Nazi forces.

It is through an exploration of Blazkowicz's family background that justification for his actions becomes more apparent. The violence in The New Colossus most certainly is extreme, but it never feels completely inappropriate given the context within which it is presented. Combat is extremely enjoyable, although I found the game to be significantly more difficult than The New Order. This can be problematic as the enjoyment from combat in Wolfenstein comes more from the over-the-top action than any strategic planning during battles.

Weapon customisation provides a little depth, although I found myself relying mostly on one or two of the featured weapons throughout my time with the game and found experimentation to be rather limited. That being said, combat is still enjoyable and encounters with larger mechanised enemies are particularly satisfying.

Although the main campaign for The New Colossus isn't exactly lengthy, there are a number of other side missions and collectibles for players to engage with providing a great deal more longevity to the experience. Following the game's concluding scenes, I was keen to get straight back into the action and spend some more time with 'Terror Billy' as he continues to bring down the Nazi empire.

Narratively, The New Colossus is an ambitious game and MachineGames should be given credit for continuing in its attempt to tell interesting stories in this format. In places the game begins to feel like a 'walking simulator' broken up by combat sequences. This is not a criticism as the slower and more contemplative moments of The New Colossus are undoubtedly the game's main strength. I do, however, wish that less time could have been spent traversing environments that were rather too similar to the game's predecessor.

In addition, more varied combat mechanics would be have been welcomed. However, despite these rather minor complaints, The New Colossus is an excellent statement on why well-executed narrative matters in games. The closing moments of The New Colossus hint at more adventures
for Captain Blazkowicz and I only hope that we don't have to wait too long until we get to play them.

Pros:
+ A rich and engaging story.
+ Truly memorable characters.
+ Solid combat, a great deal of content.

Cons:
- Visually a little uninspiring.
- Combat mechanics could be more varied.
- I've got nothing!

SPOnG Score: 9/10

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