Ignite a revolution in Nazi-occupied America.
PC Release: October 27, 2017
By Ian Coppock
It’s surreal to see people stoking moral outrage against a video game that’s about fighting Nazis, but them’s the times we live in. Wolfenstein II‘s announcement sparked no shortage of excitement from fans, but America’s emboldened white nationalists shed tears over the idea that anyone would want to fight a Nazi; y’know, those gravely immoral, racist fascists who plunged the world into a horrifying war. Those Nazis. Unfortunately for the racists, video games about killing Nazis are always in vogue, and no less so with the release of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus.
Announced with great fanfare at E3 2017, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the hotly anticipated sequel to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order. The New Order was itself a soft reboot of the legendary Wolfenstein series, in which series protagonist William “BJ” Blazkowicz stabs, shoots, and beats the crap out of Nazi foes. Despite inadvertently implying that Jews really are the secretive puppet masters that the Nazis believed them to be, The New Order was one of the best shooters of the decade. It makes sense to hope that The New Colossus is similarly momentous.
Like The New Order, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is set in a world in which the Nazis won World War II. Picking up immediately where The New Order left off, The New Colossus starts with BJ getting rescued from Deathshead’s tower and the entire anti-Nazi rebellion taking off in a stolen U-boat. Even though BJ triumphed over his arch-nemesis, the injuries he sustained were so severe that he has to borrow a high-tech suit of power armor just to stay alive. Meanwhile, the Nazis continue their worldwide oppression with an army of masked fascists and their robotic killing machines.
With Deathshead down for the count, BJ and his pals plan their next move: revolution. The group decides to head to Nazi-occupied America and encourage the populace to rise up against the Nazi regime. From there, they hope to use the United States as a platform to free the rest of the world. If this game is be believed, only Americans love freedom enough to dare rise up against the Nazis, so only it can be the rebels’ freedom platform. “America, f*** yeah” indeed.
As BJ, players can travel to various locales around the former United States, undertaking missions to get the American people up in arms against the Nazis. BJ has his work cut out for him: the Nazi war machine numbers in the millions, and they’ve even leased governance of much of the country out to the Ku Klux Klan. BJ’s faced insurmountable odds before, but between his desire for a peaceful life and being confined to a suit of armor like Darth Vader, he’s starting to feel his own mortality.
Like all the Wolfenstein games, The New Colossus is a first-person shooter with heavy arcade elements. BJ can take the fight to the Nazis with an expanded arsenal of weapons, including all of the guns from The New Order as well as some new toys like a grenade-launching hand cannon. While The New Order also allowed players to dual-wield two weapons of the same class, The New Colossus lets players dual-wield whatever they want. Power to anyone who wants to charge in with a shotgun in one hand and a sniper rifle in the other.
The New Colossus is just as kind to sneaky maniacs as it is to gun-toting ones. Players who don’t feel like loudly kicking the door down can sneak around and take the Nazis out quietly with BJ’s good friend Mr. Hatchet. These kills aren’t as audacious as firefights, but they’re no less gory. Unlike The New Order, which had an unfortunate tendency to divide its levels into strict firefight-only and sneak-only zones, The New Colossus takes the limiters off and lets players play whole levels however they want.
Anyone who enjoyed The New Order‘s silky smooth gunplay can breathe easy, because The New Colossus has all that and then some. It’s refreshingly easy to move through levels, stabbing or shooting each fascist that pops his head up. Though BJ is a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, the Nazis make short work of players who charge toward them recklessly, so some caution is called for. Just like in the last game, players can find health kits and put on scraps of armor to stay alive.
The New Colossus does freshen things up a bit by re-balancing its foes and the player’s health. Individual Nazi soldiers are more alert than their New Order predecessors, but go down a bit easier than they did in the last game. The New Colossus also throws more enemies at BJ, including the Supersoldaten seen in the last game and new, insidious machines built to kill. BJ’s health system has also changed to reflect the grave wounds he sustained in The New Order; players can now equip twice as much armor but have only 50 health instead of 100.
The New Colossus likewise steps its predecessor’s game up on grit and atmosphere. One of the things that made The New Order so noteworthy was its brutal honesty in depicting a Nazi-run world. Whereas in so many games the Nazis are merely bots draped in swastikas, The New Order brought the Nazis’ racist ideology to the forefront in creative, horrifying ways. The New Colossus is similarly bare-faced in its imaginings of a Nazi world, as BJ tours gruesome prisons, concentration camps, and other facilities. That these locales are stateside makes the game all the more gruesome for American players.
The New Colossus is also not for people who get squeamish around gore. It’s almost like MachineGames, the developer, set a five-corpse minimum for how much bloodshed was to be put in each level and every cutscene. It’s probably a given that anyone looking at a Wolfenstein game knows all of this already, but just as a courtesy… this game ain’t no Call of Duty. This be the turf of Id Software, and its games go to great pains to carefully choreograph guts spilling from stomachs and heads falling from necks.
With gameplay and atmosphere in the bag, The New Colossus is also poised to take narrative (another New Order high point) by storm. The answer to whether The New Colossus‘s narrative is good is both yes and no. If all that’s being discussed are the game’s individual scenes, then the answer is a resounding yes. However, those scenes don’t necessarily work well when strung together into a story.
Fans of the first game needn’t panic; Wolfenstein II‘s story is well enough written and pretty easy to follow. The problem, though, is that its tone is all over the place. The game is a dark drama when BJ tears up over memories of his abusive father; then, it becomes a war epic during the actual fighting. Later, the game becomes a dark comedy when BJ drunkenly rides a pig through the halls of the rebels’ submarine. Taken individually, each scene excels at stoking the reaction it’s going for. When those scenes are put next to each other on a storyboard, though, the result is a game that can’t decide if it’s a dark comedy, a campy B-movie, or a serious war film.
The New Colossus‘s tonal inconsistencies make the game’s story feel non-sequitur. It’s weird to jump from a scene that the developers obviously took seriously to a scene in which they throw characterization to the wind and jump the shark (or pig). The New Colossus also lets players decide, once again, which character they saved at the beginning of The New Order, but the resultant narrative differences are virtually inconsequential. When a game fails to make a major narrative decision have an impact, it feels conspicuously half-assed.
It’s a shame that The New Colossus‘s tale goes all over the place, because the characters in it are really interesting. BJ’s new treatment as a weary man who’s afraid of his mortality is bittersweet, especially when compounded with visceral flashbacks of his childhood. The character’s motivations go beyond killing Nazis to envisioning a better future, all while confronting the pain of the past. Frau Engel, BJ’s new arch-nemesis, is one of the cruelest, most psychopathic villains that gaming has ever produced. Her presence in the narrative makes the aforementioned atmosphere thicker.
The game’s supporting characters are similarly endearing, even if they don’t get all that much screen time. Anya returns with her quiet determination to end the Nazi threat, while Wyatt/Fergus attempt to confront their own troubled pasts. The New Colossus also introduces a few new characters to the rebellion, including iron-willed Black Revolutionary Front leader Grace Walker and a priest who slings sermon almost as much as whiskey. These folks make for an endearing band of misfits.
Nothing makes gameplay, atmosphere and narrative come together like decent visual design, and The New Colossus has plenty of that. Indeed, the atmosphere comes as much from how the levels look as what they’re meant to represent. MachineGames spared no effort in building a depressing, morose vision of Nazi-occupied America, adorning Main Street and the ‘burbs with lots and lots of Swastikas. The resulting aesthetic feels Orwellian… and depressing.
So far, The New Colossus sounds pretty great. It’s got interesting characters, a rich world, and some of the best gameplay of any shooter released this year. The problem with colossi, though, is that it only takes a single misstep for them to come tumbling to the ground. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus makes that single misstep, and any PC gamer reading this probably already knows what it is: bugs.
As of writing, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus bears the distinction of 2017’s buggiest big-budget game. Players who purchase this title on PC will probably experience some of the following: constant crashing, corrupted save files, choppy framerates, cutscenes freezing up, and in-game prompts not appearing on-screen. Additionally, achievements may not unlock. The state of The New Colossus is, frankly, shocking, and MachineGames should be ashamed that the title was released in this state.
As if a plague of bugs wasn’t enough, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t run all that well on PC. Even running the game on an AMD card (the card for which the title was built) doesn’t seem to staunch the flow of unstable framerates and texture pop-in. Bizarrely, Wolfenstein II also doesn’t support the Steam overlay. Bethesda has admitted to the problem but hasn’t elaborated on why, which probably means that it’s a bug as well. Even meddling in the game’s awesome options menu doesn’t seem to fix anything.
In the end, Wolfenstein II joins the pile of ambitious sequels brought down by carelessness. It could’ve been GOTY material if someone had thought to check for all the bugs, but quality control seems to come optional at the big companies these days. PC gamers who want Wolfenstein II could want worse things, but wait until MachineGames rolls out a tirade of badly needed patches. Until then, Wolfenstein II‘s endless bugs have helped it achieve what was thought to be impossible: making Nazi-killing repulsive.
You can buy Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.