Game: Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus
Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Reviewed on: PS4 (Review copy provided)
Captain ‘BJ’ Blazkowicz, star of Wolfenstein’s newest reboot, is not a great protagonist on paper. He has an annoyingly square head, like a child’s drawing of Superman, and consistently speaks so gruffly as to be borderline unintelligible, as if words just get tangled up in all his testosterone. It’s like Solid Snake and Christian Bale’s Batman had a really phlegmy child. He’s nothing new. Big, handsome white guys with guns and difficulty conveying emotions are not original in the world of videogames.
Ol’ BJ has one redeeming feature though. He properly hates Nazis, like an X-rated Captain American pre-heel turn. I don’t mean ‘nazi’ in the way your mate Karen from Twitter uses it to describe everyone who disagrees with her because she once followed a vegan account for a week and thinks she’s basically a communist for voting Labour. I don’t even mean a pejorative term for people who point out you can’t use basic English so you try to cover up for it by comparing your corrector to the literal third reich. No, I mean proper Nazis.
It used to always be that Nazis were a pretty stock villain. You knew where you were with a Nazi. Even Britain, a country that can’t make a single decision that doesn’t send us further down shit creek at the moment, used to be united behind one thing; Nazis are shit, mate. Recently things got a bit muddied, though. Nazis got twitter and tiki torches and started acting like they were real people who should be listened to. Some people got confused by this; are Nazis human after all? Should we hear them out?
But Nazis aren’t for listening to, lads. Nazis are for punching.
Enter Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. Much of the build-up to this has been Bethesda happily trolling alt-right mouth-breathers online through their promo materials and trailers, so much so that these stings may have even stolen some attention away from the game itself. The rebooted Wolfenstein series is not only here to remind everyone what Nazis are for, though. I fully expected predecessor The New Order to be a by-numbers FPS, like CoD: Steampunk Edition. What I found instead was a game full of fun ideas and set-pieces with a strong identity, trying it’s best to do something with a fairly tired genre. Picking up directly after this, The New Colossus sees our man BJ not feeling exactly 100%. He’s frail, literally in a wheelchair at one point, and having quite a serious think about death and that.
I want to start with the less enjoyable parts of the game. This is because Wolfy 2 is indeed (spoiler alert) a great experience worthy of attention; a single player game (something that’s practically on the endangered species list these days) that isn’t demanding any money from you during the gameplay, and with a strong story and excellent characters.
First of all… the game is hard. Some of this is undoubtedly intentional; Blazkowicz believes he is on his way out from the off, and he’s a weaker soldier for it for a significant part of the game. Find yourself in a room full of Nazis and it’s easy to come a cropper unless you’re super careful with cover, which is at odds with the game constantly urging you on to be gung-ho and batter every Nazi as soon as they appear. The aforementioned wheelchair section, in which your turning speed is reduced and you’re not able to hold a gun ready at all times, is the FIRST SECTION. At least give us a warm-up here, guys. Without ruining things, he does regain some of his old strength in later parts, but by then the enemies have gotten a little stronger as well.
Some of those enemies are far tougher than they have any right to be, too. Despite wearing minimal armour, some standard-issue assailants can take a serious amount of bullets before they take a nap, while some of the bigger behemoths are total bullet sponges. Add into that the airborne drones that dart around unpredictably during every mass brawl and things can get frustrating quite quickly, even on a lower difficulty setting. To confuse things further, the game decides not to opt for the mechanic most of it’s cousins use these days; slowing down time while you choose your next gun on the weapon wheel selector. That said, you can now use the weapon wheel to dual-wield whatever you’re carrying, which is a nice touch, but a few seconds grace to navigate the sometimes sticky gun selector would have been quite nice, thanks.
What’s great about those enemies, though, is how you can just completely avoid some of them. On occasion, you’ll be confronted by a huge, Nazi behemoth robot, only to realise you can run away from it easily because they’re big and slow. I really liked having the choice that most people would probably make when confronted with a 20ft right-wing robot; to get out of there and leave it to whatever it was doing before you turned up.
The stealth doesn’t quite add up, either. On occasion while sneaking up behind a grunt they’d turn at the very last second, and spot me for all of a millisecond before I busted them up with my hatchet, which is an animation triggered by a single button press. Yet in that wordless moment they would somehow be able to raise an alarm that summons Nazis faster than if they saw a woman having an opinion online. It didn’t really wash, and seems quite unforgiving in what was already quite a tricky experience. Despite it’s protestations, Wolfy 2 is definitely a shooter; the stealth is there, but it may as well not be.
Finally, there is BJ’s vocal cords. He’s so low and gruff it’s unintentionally comical; mid-action quips and lines may as well just be fucking gargled for all the sense they make, particularly when fighting for decibels against the game’s improbably loud techno soundtrack. When the scenes arise in which the mother of his unborn children says she can’t understand him, I think she means emotionally, but she may well be talking about his appalling annunciation. Stop mumbling, you square-headed prick.
But that is the negative done with. I promise. It’s all downhill from here, or uphill depending on how you read that analogy. Because the characters and casting (even BJ with his RIDICULOUS voice) are wonderful. Following on from my time in The New Order, I chose the Fergus timeline, and was thrilled to have the hardest yet most nonchalant Scotsman (quite the achievement) in all of videogames back in my life. All of the main cast are voiced and acted beautifully, and the culmination of every caustic first meeting is a solid group of personalities you’ll miss once the credits roll.
Frau Engel takes the role of main target this time. Right from the first encounter she’s established as a completely hateful psychopath, and this is where the new Wolfy’s have always done brilliantly. They’re more than adept at eliciting the perfect emotional response; rather than being presented with cookie-cutter villains who you have to kill because the developers say so, you *really* want to take these people down, and that’s the difference between being propelled through a game rather than being dragged through it. This is built upon even further with flashbacks to BJ’s childhood, one of which was distressing in a way only cruelty to animals can be. These flashback sections are surprisingly good; rather than being poorly-aimed schmaltz they’re well acted and often funny insights into what made BJ the world’s premiere Nazi killer. Indeed, there’s even delightful new characters being introduced 4/5 of the way through, a particular favourite introduction of mine involving a fist-fight and a sniping session to the sounds of jazz clarinet.
And even beyond the characters themselves, the game oozes personality all over the gaffe. Set in an alternative reality where Hitler and his gang of pricks won the second world war, forcing the USA to surrender by way of an atom bomb, it’s a little steam-punk in places, the mesh of an old world with as-yet unknown technology. Feeling somewhat under the weather, Blazkowicz can only get around by the aid of a suit of armour that looks like something from Silent Hill in 2049. There are big, far-right robots that resemble Warhammer’s Ultramarines to contend with on a regular basis. The game is also bizarrely crude and humorous at points, something much needed in amongst all the dying and reflections on mortality. Fairly happy to have you wading through hoards of genocidal maniacs one minute and make obscene references the next, it’s a jarring sense of humour that is too rarely seen in the often po-faced world of FPS. The diaries and passing dialogue you find amongst the environments is often hilarious and most importantly brief; nobody wants to read a four page extract from a journal during a shoot-em-up, but a brief excerpt here and there to build the world is largely welcome.
The problem with the world of Wolfenstein 2 is that the good bits make the bad bits far more apparent. For example, an area many of you may have seen is the Roswell town setting. Y’know, it’s the bit from the footage where everything looks like a perfect 50’s sitcom town, all Cadillacs and ice cream parlours. But in amongst that facade, there are Nazis and KKK members rolling around, sewn in amongst everything like shit in a flan. It’s an area I;d have loved to have spent more time in, but alas, immediately from this part you’re sent packing off to yet more tunnels and grey corridors, and that’s a running theme throughout; corridors and murky, dull areas. The locales do indeed ‘go places’ and by the time the finale rolls around you’ll have laid out Nazis in quite a surprising range of places, but more often than not these are a bit standard-looking. Nevertheless, MachineWorks produces a couple of surprising ways to navigate these environments at least. Rather than showing its hand right at the start, it’s over halfway through the game before you’re suddenly thrown something of a curve ball which results in BJ’s skills expanding.
What we have here, then, is a game contrary to the developing trend. Whereas for other big developers, the main focus is on perfecting open world environments, online communities and loot boxes *vomits*, Wolfenstein flies in the face of that. It’s a contained single-player game that’s real strength is story and personality, but also has solid and satisfying gun-feel and cathartic shooting. There are numerous set-pieces to bring a smile to your face that show real invention, all of which adds up to mean this is well worth checking out, particularly if you want to fuck up some Nazis.
And if you don’t? Well, you definitely wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of Captain Blazkowicz…