Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus makes sure you know early on that it is not messing around. Somewhere between when the villainous Frau Engel (promoted to General since the first game) mockingly executes a close friend in front of you, and flashbacks to BJ’s abusive, racist, homophobic, anti-semitic father, that the game drives home that Nazis (and the white supremacist ideology that drives them) are the worst. It is a violent game about the downtrodden standing up for themselves against some of humanity’s most brutal and oppressive forces, and it pulls no punches in that regard.
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It’s also a game where you infiltrate a secret base on Venus by auditioning to play yourself in a movie about your capture and supposed execution, while old Hitler pees in a bucket. Like its predecessor, Wolfenstein II is both a character-driven war drama and a breezy, over-the-top sci-fi shooter. Chasing that maximalist impulse, the sequel leans harder on both of those elements, and both are better for it, though the seams are more apparent as well.
The New Colossus is perhaps the most ambitious attempt since BioShock Infinite to take a fast, approachable first-person shooter and inject insightful storytelling to create a “kind of meticulously crafted narrative that perpetually rides the line between unfiltered creative excess and intimate character drama,” according to MachineGames creative director Jens Matthies.
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Just like Irrational’s 2013 opus, The New Colossus is a joyful and masterfully crafted thrill ride that, on review, doesn’t quite manage to square the levity of its gameplay with the weight of its narrative and thematic ambitions. Regardless, it’s 2017 and the world is in a dark place, so Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus completely succeeds in its primary goal of letting you kill Nazis by the hundreds and have a blast doing it.
The New Colossus picks up directly where The New Order left off in an alternate version of the 1960s, where the Third Reich won World War II by beating the U.S. to the punch on the atom bomb. Rebel hero B. J. Blazkowicz has defeated General Deathshead and secured the Nazi u-boat Evas Hammer for the insurgent Kreisau Circle, who are off to incite a revolution in the United States.
All of your surviving allies from the first game return, including Anya, Caroline, Bombate, Max Hass, and either Fergus or Wyatt, depending on your choice from the beginning of the first game. (The choice changes cutscenes substantially, and gives you either your trusty Laserkraftwerk or a new, grenade-launching Dieselkraftwerk, encouraging at least one replay). The story charts your escape from Europe through meeting up with American insurgent groups and making key strikes to disable the North American Nazi regime.
While the ‘60s U.S. setting adds a little more color and flair to the outfits of your allies, you’re mostly fighting through genre-standard drab gray military installations and bombed-out urban areas.
Your enemies range from hapless grunts to jacked-up mecha-monsters, mowed down in droves with a variety of mostly standard arms, wielded either alone or in any combination of two. There are moments of invention, but for the most part the game’s aesthetic feels mired in the monotonous, modern military oeuvre, where as a sequel it could have afforded a bit more vibrancy.
Nazis served three ways
The first game’s clever system of tiered perks that organically reinforce your chosen playstyle (such as more stealth takedowns increasing your crouched movement speed) returns, encouraging three distinct playstyles. The three perk trees — Stealth, Tactical, and Mayhem — are simplified from the first game’s four, and explicitly distinguish each style.