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Review: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Gaming writer Christopher Hall talks about the highs and lows of Nazi-shooter Wolfenstein II
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the sequel to Machine Games’ Wolfenstein: The New Order, a good game that had great characters and a very well-handled setting but was undermined by an overall weak plot. In a post Doom (2016) world, there is even more pressure for Wolfenstein II to improve on its gameplay and create something really special. With the success of The New Order and the pressure caused by Doom, Wolfenstein II had a lot to live up to and while it may not reach greatness, it is still a good game that has learned a lot from its predecessor. Action is generally more fun, and the overall plot is more interesting, but Wolfenstein II also takes steps backwards from its The New Order, unfortunately, which leads to disappointment.
“In a post Doom (2016) world, Wolfenstein II is under a lot of pressure to do something special
The game starts where The New Order left off. If you haven’t played The New Order, then you’ll still be able to play without getting lost as the game gives a recap of what happened before. While the recap does bring you up to speed, I would still suggest playing The New Order first as the recap doesn’t include vital character development and experiencing the first game’s narrative first-hand is a much more entertaining experience. Immediately, Wolfenstein II starts much stronger than its predecessor, with B.J Blazkowicz having to escape Nazis in a wheelchair. While the controlling is a bit awkward, the ability to shoot Nazis while in a wheelchair combined with the novelty, style and level design of the section make for a compelling start. To add to that, the cutscenes at the start are captivating and let players learn about B.J.’s past and help us understand how he has become the character he is in the game. While many of the cutscenes are exciting, some of them contain sensitive subject matter, such an child and animal abuse (which is justified within the narrative later). But, despite this Wolfenstein II starts in an excellent way.
With such a strong start, it is a shame that, as the game goes on, there are some glaring flaws that really hold the game back from ‘Game of the Year’ greatness. The first problem is that the difficulty in the game is uneven. While I may not be the best at first-person shooters, many moments in the game felt much more frustrating than fun and, after seeing responses within the gaming community, I know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. One clear example that stood out to me is the court sequence which had lots of open space, with some cover to break it up, and only 50 health available. You can’t go in guns blazing because there’s so much open space and, because of your lower health, you die almost immediately. The cover in the level only makes this harder as enemies are able to hide while you are stuck in the open area. Now, the counterpoint to my frustration is that I should turn down the difficulty. While this is a valid argument, I was already playing on the second difficulty (‘Don’t Hurt Me’) when having these problems and, because of the frustration this sequence caused, I had to turn it down to the easiest difficulty (‘Can I play daddy?’) to enjoy the game. This didn’t fix the problem, however, as I then found the court sequence way too easy and I would then have to turn the difficulty back to what I had it on to enjoy the next levels.
“The plot is really well balanced, with serious and grounded action that is expertly broken up through moments of humour
While the game’s inconsistent difficulty is a big problem, it’s not the only one. The stealth system isn’t fully realised and causes frustration as enemies will become alert after seeing a dead body however you aren’t to move bodies. The overall level design within the game is good but occasionally levels are confusing to navigate and take much longer than necessary to finish, for example the train level is designed so that enemies can constantly sneak up on B.J. and immediately kill him, creating unfair deaths and forcing players to constantly look behind them while playing through the level.
One improvement the sequel has made is in its weapons, not only does shooting feel and sound better than the first game, but upgrades actually have a significant impact on your guns. Heavy weapons also get more attention in the game with Wolfenstein II offering players four heavy weapons to choose from. As a result, there’s much more variety in fights and combat feels less repetitive and more enjoyable. Wolfenstein II also gives players the opportunity to dual-wield different weapons, as opposed to The New Order which only let you dual-wield the same weapon. While the ability to mix and match your dual-wielded weapons is, in theory, a fantastic concept, in practice it falls short as the system has not been fully realised. This is because I only found myself dual-wielding the same weapons or the same combination of the Dieselkraftwerk (Diesel powered grenade launcher) and Sturmgewher (assault rifle) as any other combinations didn’t work well within the game.
One final thing to talk about when it comes gameplay is the contraptions you get just over halfway through the story which are: ‘Ram Shackles’ which allow you to break through door and tackle enemies; ‘Battle Walkers’ which allows to access higher areas or ‘Constrictor Harness’ which allows you to squeeze through gaps. As you can only choose one contraption and cannot change your mind once you have picked, each of these contraptions are made with a specific playstyle in mind, whether it is the Constrictor for the stealth players; the Shackles for the ‘run-and-gun’ players; or the Walkers for the exploring players. While I chose the ‘Battle Walkers’ and was ultimately disappointed with my choice, the contraptions only offer new ways to approach levels, meaning that no matter which one you choose, you will not miss out on any gameplay.
“The ability to shoot Nazis while in a wheelchair combined with the novelty, style and level design of the section make for a compelling start
Although there are some problems that arose while playing, overall the gameplay of Wolfenstein II is quite strong and the same can be said for the plot. Despite the game having over-the-top action, the plot is serious and grounded, with a few jokes to break up the tension, that is balanced really well. As expected, Nazis are shown as a powerful threat and, with the game set in America, their constant presence felt unsettling and discordant. While I personally would have preferred for the narrative to feature more intense and memorable moments, like the concentration camp in The New Order, to remind players the threat that these enemies pose, the overall story did feel more threatening and impactful than the first game. As part of the story, the game includes plenty of cutscenes (about 3 hours worth) but these cutscenes are so well-produced and entertaining that they did not affect the game’s pacing or action, and were used really well to show the horrors of the main villain and the Nazis and the cruelty of B.J.’s father.
With such a consistently enthralling story, it is a shame that the game’s ending was so frustrating. Up until the end, Wolfenstein II had worked hard to create an intense and grounded narrative that engaged players but the ending seemed to undo all of this hard work in favour of setting up a sequel, which was infuriating to experience. It is a real disappointment that Wolfenstein II ended the way it did as, despite the other flaws of the game, the ending was what really held the game back and was the one flaw that I found hardest to forgive long after I had finished it.
Overall, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a good sequel that lives up to and improves on The New Order in most ways. If you enjoyed the first game then you will be able to look over the sequel’s abrupt ending and inconsistent difficulty to find a good title that just falls short of true greatness.