by Brian D. Wegner
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a game I expected to dislike. I did not like Wolfenstein: The New Order, I thought the story wasn’t interesting and I thought the gameplay was repetitive, boring, and way too unforgiving. So… when heaps of praise were laid at the feet of Wolfenstein II I was originally skeptical, then, after seeing it on sale, I decided I should take the plunge. I had already heard about the incredible story and how brilliant all the moments were that Machine Games had crafted, I just didn’t think they would nail the combat. I had heard about how difficult most of the game was, so I decided to play it on casual, also known as, “Don’t Hurt Me.” Thankfully, this was an excellent decision. The combat was challenging enough, but I also felt powerful when dual-wielding shotguns and machine guns. The glee that I found while running through corridors blasting away dozens of Nazis in a matter of seconds was something that I haven’t felt in a shooter for years. The recent Doom, also published by Bethesda, never captured that feeling. Sure the combat felt good in that game, but I didn’t have as much fun as I had decimating all these Nazis.
Now, parts of this review may sound like a defense against what other critics disliked. That is because I want to let those who are out there and enjoyed the combat know that they are not alone, and that is totally a valid opinion to have. I’ve got your back brother. Speaking of critics’ complaints about the game, one of the parts most reviled is the stealth. Like I mentioned previously, I was not a fan of the first game. I only made it three or four missions in before giving up. I had heard that it allowed for many different play styles, and I had used the stealth mechanics a few times. However, in The New Colossus, whenever I saw a broadcast signal on my screen, I went silent.
I had a blast sneaking around and throwing hatchets at Nazis and save-scumming my way to each of the commanders. I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed stealth this much – probably in an Assassin’s Creed or Far Cry game – because games like Dishonored and Metal Gear Solid always lose me because of how much they penalize the player for failing. As I grow older, I lose patience at punishing games that do not allow the player to enjoy the experience. It is this forgiveness that makes The New Colossus a joy to sneak through. Now the AI is not “dumb” by any stretch of the imagination, so do not mistake forgiveness for simplicity. This, in fact, a very challenging game. There were many sections that I had to attempt dozens of times, especially near the end of the game, but because they made the stealth sections short – no longer than a few minutes at a time – they were pure bliss.
Now, I’ve talked about the gameplay, but the big draw, and the reason I was compelled to pick it up, is the story. As someone who bounced off the first one I was concerned that I wouldn’t know what’s going on, but thankfully they play a recap video at the beginning that fills you in on everything. And while it doesn’t go into the minute it does fill you in on everything up to where you begin, and it allows you to make the game altering decision, Wyatt or Fergus. The story starts immediately after the first one: at the point where you should’ve died. However, instead of dying, which is what the cliffhanger ending of the first game suggested, your friends come and save you.
The first level you start in a wheelchair, but ironically, because of tragic events, you end up very quickly in a super suit. Now, before you become a killing machine, exacting revenge on the Nazis who nuked New York and took over the United States, you get to see some of BJ’s past. You get to meet his father and see his family life. To say that BJ’s father is not a good guy would be similar to saying that Hitler is not a good guy. It’s a huge understatement, and one of the darkest scenes early on comes from your father making you shoot your own dog to teach you a lesson. I can’t remember which lesson, because all of the lessons your father taught you were trivial. Some kids beat you up and stole your watch, so you are locked out of the house till you beat them up and get the watch back. That’s an example of one of the lessons your father taught you. Games rarely detail the previous lives of their characters unless it has something to do with the story. So as you could imagine, these memories are there for a purpose.
Back to the present. You are running around different places in a super suit, killing Nazis, making friends with resistance members, and generally destroying everything that comes in your path. The game gives you a compelling story that rewards you for every level that you complete, and after New Mexico (about halfway through the game), things start to get crazy. Big Spoilers ahead! You end up taking a detour on your way to the next mission to go to your old family farmhouse. There, you relive memories, mostly showing how terrible and cruel your father is, even though there is one memory where your father helps you confront your fears in the basement. It’s quite heartwarming. After about six or so memories you get to your parents’ room, and your searching for the ring that you want to give to your pregnant girlfriend – the character from the first game, Anya – and while searching for the ring you find that your father is sitting in the room waiting for you. Now, in the beginning of the game and through the memories at the farmhouse, you learn that your father physically abused your mother as well, not just you. You confront your father to find out what happened to your mother. He tells you that he sold her to the Nazis, because she was Jewish. He did this so that he could get a slightly larger farm. This idea alone, of how little it takes for people to betray one another could easily be rhetorical essay length. So for the time being, we’ll ignore it. You inevitably kill your father, and that is when the game starts going berserk.
I don’t want to go through the whole story here, but there is death and resurrection, a dream sequence, a trial, an off world acting audition, and so much more. Generally, every part of the story is interesting and well-acted. If I was to level one critique, it’s that the climax is kind of cheesy, it’s a lot of breaking the fourth wall, and characters talking to the camera, set over the dumbest “hardcore” cover of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” I think up to those last few minutes it had probably one of the best stories I’ve ever seen in gaming, definitely in a first-person shooter.
There is so much more to discuss, like the characters: Grace, Super Spesh, Sigrun, Frau Engel, and so many others, but most of these characters need to be seen and heard. They are well-acted and compelling. The score is equally fantastic, and while I’m not rushing out to buy it, it really propelled the game forward. If it didn’t have that god-awful cover at the end, it might have been as solid as a Halo soundtrack. Overall, this was a game that I expected to be trash and put up with to get to spectacular moments, but it ended up being a game where I was as excited to play it as I was to see the story. It’s made me a believer in this franchise, and I cannot wait for Wolfenstein III.
I give it 90 dead Nazis over 100 grenades.