Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, the sequel to Machine Game’s fabulous Wolfenstein revival, has an odd duality. The first half of the game is a grim and morose experience as B. J. Blazkowicz finds himself battered, beaten, and bloodied after his final encounter with the villainous Nazi scientist, Wilhelm “Deathshead” Strasse. Rescued by his fellow resistance fighters, Blazkowicz is relentlessly pursued by Frau Irene Engle, the sadist in charge of the prison camp he infiltrated in the first game. Weighing our hero down further are the surfaced memories of his father, a domineering man who blames his failed business ventures on everyone but himself, setting the tone for a version of America that, depressingly, seems all too real these days.
As Blazkowicz limps his way through one Nazi territory after the other, the thrill of the slaughter against the bad guys is diminished by managing already low health and frequent monologues and lamentations over his fallen comrades and inability to fight for too long. These moments are broken up by scenes of levity that aren’t enough to stave off the ever increasing darkness that threatens to turn Wolfenstein into a maudlin journey. Outright depression is avoided with a second act that is pure bat fuck lunacy. With Blazkowicz no longer in the role of a wounded animal, he and his comrades are free to indulge in pure, unbridled chaos as he caves in Nazi skulls.
Machine Game’s sequel offers largely the same formula that made Wolfenstein: The New Order such a sublime experience only this time. Set outside fortress Europe, the resistance’s fight spills over to the United States, where fascism has been embraced with open arms. The battlefield might be different, but the fight is largely the same: each level has an objective to fulfill and a whole lot of Nazis standing in the way. In order to trigger a revolution, Blazkowicz and company engage high profile Nazi targets in different parts of the country…and beyond. To help rain death upon fascist foes, our hero is armed with a collection of weapons, from pistols to supercharged laser guns, that can be dual wielded. Scrounging mod kits unlock several upgrades for each weapon, offering faster reloads, more bullets, scopes, and even silencers. Some levels offer great gameplay surprises that help mix up combat engagements, adding a delicious layer to an already fast and frenetic shooting experience.
Wolfenstein II cribs a lot of its material from the first game, pitting you against different enemy types that require strategy and some degree of management (especially on harder difficulty settings) if you hope to get through unscathed. Stealth sequences return, in which officers will call in backup if the see or hear you, but for this game it feels like they’ve doubled the amount stealth set pieces. By sticking to the shadows and following patrol patterns, it’s relatively easy to sneak up behind someone and engage a brutal stealth kill. Killing the officers before they raise the alarm is ideal but there is no penalty for causing a ruckus–you’ll just have to fight off a few enemy waves before the officer’s AI kicks in, causing him to seek you out. It’s more fun to run and gun through Nazi scum, switching guns on the fly as the situation calls for it. The increase in officers, I suspect, has everything to do with the new Enigma code cards. By picking these up, you gain the opportunity to unlock nonlinear assassination missions in previous explores levels.
Halfway through the game, B. J. finds himself in a unique position. As a result of circumstances that I refuse to spoil, he’s given an upgrade that dramatically changes how he interacts with the environment. Though you are initially forced to choose between three upgrades, the ones you don’t pick are available to snatch up during assassinations, so there’s no need to agonize the decision. It’s this point in the game where the tone shifts dramatically. Instead of B. J.’s morose and world weary attitude, his new lease on life brings back the goofy, “Get Psyched!” nature exhibited in the previous game.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is depressingly topical but the number of hard lefts it takes in the story prevents things from getting too heavy. Even in its darkest moments, the non sequiturs show that Machine Games isn’t taking themselves seriously. The game boasts an amazing cast of colorful personalities that bring a great deal to the table. Even the return characters collide and coalesce with the new cast in ways I didn’t expect. In my first playthrough, I chose the Fergus timeline and was reminded why I loved the character so much, especially in light of his new and troublesome prosthetic arm. Set’s experiments, Anya’s pregnancy-related vigor, Max Hass innocence work great along Grace’s militaristic outlook and the conspiracy theories that drive Super Spesh to action. Definitely take time to talk to everyone and listen to the variety of things they have to say, as it represents some of the best parts of the game. The vignettes and character moments move the story along towards a conclusion that I found to be so incredibly satisfying.
Familiar though it may seem, Wolfenstein II is full of outlandish, pulpy surprises that made it almost impossible to put down. Considering the current state of affairs, it is certainly a political game. The dialog between various characters feels cribbed from alt-right Twitter accounts that would be funny if it weren’t happening right now. A mission in New Mexico offers a glance at how badly the Nazi weed has ruined the garden, with Klu Klux Klansmen walking the streets alongside Nazi terror soldiers. As such, it’s all the more fun to pee in their strudel by dispatching these villains in the most brutal fashion as possible. Great characters and gunplay make this a fun and memorable experience to anyone looking for a great, story driven shooter.
Title: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Developer: Machine Games
Format: Physical Blu-Ray Disc
Platform: PlayStation 4
Purchased/Received For Review? Purchased