America is completely under Nazi control. No, I’m not referring to our current sociopolitical climate, but instead the “alternate history” of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is back after his near-death run-in with Deathshead and is on a crusade to America to start a revolution that will take down the Nazi regime and make America great again. What begins as a mere continuation of the resistance storyline from MachineGames’ The New Order evolves into something much, much more – a deep-dive into the character of B.J. and what it means to lead a revolution. All with the style and aggression that made MachineGames’ revival of the Wolfenstein franchise one of the best games of 2014.
Beginning with a death and an introduction to The New Colossus’s main antagonist, Frau Engel (returning from The New Order), things are already looking dour. B.J. has never been one to let the odds hold him back though, which provides the beginning of a richly layered exploration into his character that The New Order begin to deal with but doesn’t even compare to the character study found here. It’s funny how a series best known for its setting and gameplay has turned into something more. Something with an emotional core to it that you just can’t shake.
B.J. is a fragile man on the inside, but he leads a hardened exterior. Not only is he a beast of a man anatomically, he’s also bullish and optimistic in how he presents himself. He holds his true emotions extremely close to the heart. Even his now-pregnant girlfriend Anya spends the entirety of The New Colossus unsure of how B.J. is actually feeling as he reels from the game’s opening death, his own weakened body, and the oppression that America is currently facing from Nazi control. This is because he hides all his emotions behind a barrage of bullets and buckets of blood. Which is what most people will come to Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus for but might find more (or less) than they originally thought.
Much of this iteration’s gameplay is just that: an iteration. That’s not a bad thing at all because Wolfenstein: The New Order had great ideas that led to a much more diverse gameplay experience. The perks system is back and lets players play in specific ways to unlock better perks which complement their playstyle. Completing stealth-focused kills will unlock better perks for playing stealthily, killing people while dual-wielding guns encourages a more reckless playstyle, and so on. The game doesn’t do much different from the original’s perk system except remove the need to unlock certain perks in order to get other perks, as well as allowing perks to be upgraded by repeating the same requirements. Each perk gets its own rank up to 5, each one requiring more and more achievement of a goal to upgrade to its full potential.
Wolfenstein II adds a new gameplay mechanic in physical alterations that can be made to B.J. Ram Shackles, Constrictor Harnesses, and Battle Walkers offer the ability to charge into combat, sneak through tight spaces, and reach new heights, respectively. This gameplay addition isn’t monumental, but I found myself using the Ram Shackles a lot once I unlocked them to just kickstart the action. These upgrades are just slight additions to the very solid foundations that The New Order had already introduced for its gameplay. Things haven’t changed much, but there’s a couple new things that just make playing the game a little less of a chore than The New Order. You’re still pressing a button to pick up armor and health, but you can also just walk over it and most of the time the game will recognize it and pick things up automatically.
My biggest gripe is just that there isn’t much more to the gameplay than was introduced in The New Order. You still walk through areas and either go in guns blazing to combat scenarios or sneak your way through and kill the Nazi commanders before they ring the alarm and bring in reinforcements. This is such a core part of the gameplay that its pretty much the only thing that exists in the post-game for The New Colossus as you revisit the locations you’ve visited throughout the game and take out stronger commanders who are virtually the same except when they wield a Kampfpistole (handheld grenade launcher) instead of a normal pistol. You unlock these commanders by killing the smaller ones and collecting Enigma Codes to find their location. These are the only collectibles that feel like they affect the game itself.
Collectibles are found all throughout the game, with plenty of newspaper clippings to read and concept art to view. All of the readable material was engrossing, with plenty of world building existing with how the newspaper articles are written and what is written in them. You can easily read between the lines and see the censorship that is employed, but they’re written in such a way that they come off as genuinely chilling. The world is tough to digest when its completely opposed to the way you perceive real life, but still close enough to reality to irk you. Unfortunately, most of the collectibles feel inconsequential besides for the purpose of world building. In a game where they could make finding Nazi gold interesting on a narrative level, it’s a shame that they leave it as just a way to view a 3D model.
If you’re coming to The New Colossus for its gameplay, you will enjoy yourself. But what shines brightest is its character-centric narrative. Once again, there’s the introduction of a great cast like Super Spesh and Grace, who you meet in America and help to take down the Nazi regime. Enemies are generally Nazis, but you also get some more robotic opponents and an obvious ally to the Nazis in this alternate history – the Ku Klux Klan. They’re just kind of there, but they add more flavor to the world and provide parallels that continue to wield socially relevant critiques of today.
But it is B.J’s journey through his past involving both his parents, and the march towards revolution that puts Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus above almost every other first-person shooter campaign. The New Order turned B.J. into a relatable, emotional meathead. The New Colossus turns him into a goldmine of what it means to be a hero in a world filled with villainy – made even more palpable by how deep-seated that villainy is in B.J’s childhood. Almost every moment from B.J’s visit to Mesquite, Texas onward is contender for moment of the year because it highlights the insanity of MachineGames’ world while still enforcing strong characters that will not let tyranny ruin their joy. This is still a game that has its history rooted in concepts like Mecha-Hitler after all, so heightening the world and the violence is par for the course. Mick Gordon’s score only further accentuates how much the game wants you to enjoy the rebellion and not dwell on its seemingly hopelessness, with screeching metal riffs and industrial tones that evoke his incredible Doom score, but feel at home within the world of Wolfenstein.
Much like B.J’s emotional center, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is deceitfully incredible. It’s story feels like a retread of The New Order but a much, much better version of it and one that holds far more weight because of its setting. Taking down Nazis in Europe makes sense because that’s where Nazi Germany was established. It’s the act of bringing Blazkowicz to his own home and seeing what has happened that raises the stakes. The gameplay hasn’t changed much, but that isn’t really a bad thing because the gameplay was already great. But B.J. finds a worthy adversary in Frau Engel who is delightfully maniacal, and a reason to fight so he can build a home for his family. B.J. is fighting for others and not himself. He doesn’t care about his life as much as he cares about the lives of the oppressed. And that’s a refreshing motivator for a game so intertwined with violence.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
- One of the best shooter campaigns in recent memory
- B.J. Blazkowicz has become a richly layered character
- Perks system is revamped and better than ever
- Excellent cast of characters
- Crunchy and screeching metal soundtrack
- Only minor gameplay tweaks
- Collectibles feel tacked on
- Lack of substantial endgame