The granddaddy of all first person shooters returns with the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Available for consoles and PC, we played the game on the platform where it all started.
Once again developed by Machine Games, the new Wolfenstein game might be titled “Wolfenstein II” but it’s a franchise that’s spawned almost a dozen of games over the course of the past 36 years. Starting out as a 2D game for the Apple II, it wasn’t until the earlier nineties that Wolfenstein 3D propelled the shooter genre into a new dimension. It wasn’t the first use of 3D in a shooter (I even experimented a bit with Midi Maze on my Atari ST years earlier), but it certainly was pioneering in establishing a genre that has endured to this day.
The New Colossus is actually the sequel to 2014’s The New Order, which received a prequel in the shape of The Old Blood in the following year. Moving forward in time, The New Colossus sees B.J. Blazkowicz return to American soil – to a country now occupied by Nazi forces in an alternate version of 1961’s reality. While Machine Games’ previous Wolfenstein titles stayed true to the European locales and castles that the series is famous for, the setting has now changed to a very American backdrop – featuring scenes set in iconic locations including New Orleans and New York.
Your mission in the game is to wrangle America free from Nazi oppression – and you’ll have to link up with the various resistance movements that still exist in the country. In that sense, the game felt a little like it merged the classic Nazi theme from Wolfenstein with “occupied America” setting seen in Homefront: The Revolution. As you align yourself with new allies, the local resistance will start to win small victories and eventually bring you closer to defeating Frau Engel, the female antagonist in The New Colossus.
Despite the change in setting, Blazkowicz will encounter a lot of familiar faces, including Anya, Bombate and Set. You’ll run into a fair share of new characters as well, though the old tend to outnumber the new in this regard. Since story and character development is important in a campaign-driven single player shooter like Wolfenstein, this is understandable – it allows for a deeper connection with the existing relationships and lore from the previous games.
The writing is strong, tackling controversial subject matters through cutscenes that are seamlessly interwoven with the gameplay. There aren’t even any load screens when you play through the campaign, provided that you don’t reset the level or skip cutscenes. Because of this, it’s like watching an eight hour long action movie with tons of explosive action and strong dialogue in between. A bit like a mix of The Expendables and a Tarantino project, which can never be a bad thing. I’m not referring to quality of the writing in a literary sense by the way, but rather in terms of how impactful it is with some true “what the ?!?” moments at various points of the story.
Moving the game’s setting away from unfamiliar castles and mountain settings also proves to be a good narrative move, as seeing an America under foreign rule – with a lot of imagery that paints “the free world” in a different light – is a story dimension of its own. Adding an even more human layer to that are the citizens you’ll come across, trying their best to speak a little German to appease their Nazi oppressors. Their suffering is a stark contrast with the punishment that Blazkowicz dishes out, and gives a human face to the often mindless violence that the game’s action sequences have.
The action itself is quite familiar to those who played Machine Games’ previous two titles in the franchise, even though the step forward in time allows for some new technology and weapons to be featured in the game. Many of the weapons can also be upgraded over the course of the game, though that didn’t stop me from generally sticking with the same two weapons the entire time – probably partly a personal preference. There are sections where you’re encouraged to find routes that avoid violence as well, but I found these to be rather crude in their stealth mechanics – and because I didn’t play on hard I also didn’t feel punished for just opening fire. Reinforcements? Sure, let them come!
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus was the shooter I was most looking forward to this year, and it delivers. Sure, I mostly gravitate towards single player campaigns with my shooters and we’ll see how WWII turns out, but I immensely enjoyed Machine Games’ previous Wolfenstein games and this one just seems to raise the bar – even if just by a little bit. The id Tech 6 engine that fueled last year’s reboot of Doom makes for a great-looking new Wolfenstein adventure, with silky smooth framerates even during scenes where you’d think your computer would start to crumble. I’ve read reports that state PC gamers have some trouble with the game though, so it could be worth it to check out the Steam user forums before buying. I personally didn’t have any trouble and once the issues others are having are fixed, this is a no-brainer for single player shooter fans on PC.