Jumping on dial-up with my kickin’ phone modem screaching and chipring to get “this game”. “This game” my friends were raving about called Wolfenstein 3d. From my perspective, this happened practically yesterday. Little did I know then, watching the bytes trickle so slowly (only an early 90s gamer would understand), that this new first-person shooter game would become a bonafide new genre. So try to measure my surprise when nearly 25 years later it’s great-grandchild, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus emerges would still be pushing FPS games to new standards like its ancestor.
Often, such “revolutionary leaps” in gaming are attributed to graphics or new gameplay gimmicks. Wolfenstein II does not bring earthshattering new technologies to the table. While its visuals are noticeably improved, it plays and feels much like The New Order before it. It is, by all means, an FPS game–with innate FPS tropes and rehashed level ideas. That’s not to say this sequel is a slouch in aesthetics. As there are many vistas and action sequences that are just riveting–for either its brutal violence or grim and bleak dystopian outlook. The New Colossus is a great looking game in its own right, showcasing a bottled up nightmarish 1950s America overrun by Nazis and KKK clan members.
The crux of what sets this game apart from its predecessor, other shooters, and most games released in the last few years, is the manner in which developer Machinegames has run headfirst into some touchy subject matter with brute force and an unapologetic demeanor. Further, with the conflicted state of sociopolitical ideas in the United States at present, this game hits close to home. Racism, misogyny, abuse of animals, domestic violence, antisemitism, and child abuse are all subject matters featured throughout Wolfenstein II. But before these matters can bog you down, our hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz gets an itch to blow things up. “I just want to blow up some Nazi’s” echoes Mr. Blazkowicz, and its hard not to concur. There is an undeniable synergy between each mission, cutscene, and interpersonal moment displayed throughout the game. A balance that is wonderfully entertaining, and leaves you pondering the greater picture long after the sounds of war had faded.
In one moment you will get a glimpse into “Terror Billy’s” (what the Nazi officers have nicknamed Blazkowicz) past. A brutal childhood where his alcoholic father would shout profanities, racist ideologies, and then beats his Jewish mother before a terrified son. Followed by some gameplay moments where you are tearing apart legions of Nazi soldiers and their outlandish mecha designs one joint at a time. During those levels, B.J.’s internal monologue adds an emotional touch that you would not expect.
In the opening moments, one of the series’ past central characters is brutally beheaded in front of Blazkowicz. From that point on his monologue meanders between revenge for his fallen friend, and praying to borrow “your wings” and stay alive just one more day. His confessions about being close to death, being afraid to leave his kids as bastards, being afraid to admit to his lover Anya that he is about to die was punctuated by harrowing moments of frantic and difficult combat.
Combat is much better in Colossus as opposed to The New Order because of its reliance on stealth mixed with FPS moments. The original Castle Wolfenstein was a 2D stealth-based adventure game, and this game returns somewhat to its roots. Stealth gameplay isn’t as confined or as perfectly outlined as in a pure stealth based game such as Splinter Cell or Metal Gear. Aside from creeping up behind enemies slowly, you will have access to a couple of long-range tools for taking out enemies incognito. Which is vital because of the radio commanders scattered through the various zones. If you trigger any enemy activity these radio commanders will activate their beacons and floods of Nazi reinforcements will arrive, each gunning right for you (and on higher difficulties, this is just impossible to deal with).
Another reason why being as stealthy as possible is an advantage is because the game’s AI is quite good. When detected, AI will stream towards Blazkowicz in various forms. Some enemies barrel right for you happy to be mowed down. Others hide, snipe, or run and flank your position. While others still move in groups of 2 or 3 more akin to a tactical swat team trying to flush you out of hiding. Some enemies cannot be stealth killed, and instead, you have to fool them with sounds. Other enemies are so powerful it brings new meaning to the phrase “run and gun”. The game’s AI appears to work not only on a local level with these behaviors but also on a global level. You’ll hear radio messages that “reinforcements have been approved” and to “move in and cover us” as enemies pour in from previously unopened doors or ceiling tiles trying to suffocate your escape. If the radio commandant is alive, these reinforcements will never cease, and ammo for your preferred weapon(s) will eventually run out. Thus requiring some intelligent killing before going balls to walls with the Nazi killing.
Level design in Colossus is also very well done. At times giving a pseudo-open world appearance, while others simply providing more than one way to get through to your goals. The Manhattan level opens up to an atomic wasteland in downtown New York. Streets split up, allowing you to travel various ways around the buildings ultimately to the same goal. Within some of these buildings, there are radio commandos holed up in private rooms. Each of those buildings has several entrances, how you approach them, is up to you. There is so much tension and excitement with either stealth-ing through to the commando or just going postal that replaying this game several times is a non-issue, it entertains with each pass through. There are some caveats in level design, however, sometimes levels can be so convoluted you can get lost. The next destination very unclear, even with hints. Even, the radio commandos can be impossible to track down. This can lead to frustrations especially in the harder modes. At times I would just sprint through areas knowing I was going to get shredded, but attempting to get a layout of the enemies and the commando and then go back and try again. This trial and error is far less fun and immersion breaking than a majority of the game. It’s a small complaint, but a complaint nonetheless.
What is evil? Whatever it is, B.J. Blazkowicz will get a chance to corner it in a hallway and pump it full of holes. In the end, that maybe the moral of the story–even if it is intermixed with absurd moments, haphazard toilet humor, and sadistic cruel scenes of mutilation. White supremacy, fascists ideology, and other commonly regarded evils are shot to pieces in a grand FPS spectacle and then pausing to openly breastfeed an infant. Meanwhile, African-Americans, Jews, Asians, special needs people, and other “degenerates” are holed up in hiding aboard the U-Boat stolen from The New Order. These moments where you explore your base and get to know your crew is priceless, and much more engaging than in New Order. Plenty of jokes, comedic moments, and 1960 jargon lighten otherwise depressing moments. Almost as if Machinegames realizes it could be taking gamers too close to some very sensitive subjects, and says “Hahah ok! it’s just a game let’s just kill SOBs”, and that’s fine. There’s plenty said, without being said, and when it is all said and done you will be banging your head to a cover of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and enjoy every moment, name, and the images displayed through the scrolling credits. Because yes in the end, “its time for a revolution”, and Wolfenstein II has just given gamers one.
Should you buy this game? If you want to play one of the best PC games of 2017 you should. Here is a game with no microtransactions, no paywalls, no grind or cheap tricks. It’s a superbly written, and apt for the times, high octane shooter that apologizes to no one. It will leave most gamers shaking their heads in disbelief while cracking a solid smirk of satisfaction. It will make even have you drop a tear or two, before getting back to keeping Nazi tomb makers employed. Wolfenstein II elicits as many conversation topics as it tosses up phenomenal action sequences. Yes, this is one most gamers need to have in their libraries. At the very least, it will be curious to see just how dead single player only adventures really are, when one of 2017’s best is just that.