They did Nazi him coming.
Right from the very start, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus puts a strong emphasis on its characters and its shock and awe narrative that will stick with you during the 10-12 hour campaign. There were so many moments where I sat there in disbelief to the very scenes that unfolded, the situations the characters found themselves in, and one of the most shocking twists I've seen since Metal Gear Solid. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is not only one of the best games I've played this year, but one of best shooters I've played since Metro 2033, my all-time favorite game.
The New Colossus, after its dark and shocking prologue, picks up immediately after the series protagonist, B.J. Blazkowicz, gave the order to fire the nuclear cannon at the end of The New Order. He's found by his friends, almost dead, and the game opens up its first chapter with Blazkowicz in a wheelchair. This mission is rather fun, maneuvering around in the chair, but eventually, B.J. is captured by the enemy and is forced to watch a friend of his die at the hands of Frau Engel, the main villain of the game. The scene that plays out here is both savage, yet comical in many ways, and this sets the tone for much of what is to follow.
During this whole opening chapter, Blazkowicz is injured, suffering near-fatal injuries that have left him the shell of what he once was. While he is suddenly given a set of power armor, at just the right moment, it merely looks to delay the inevitable truth; his body is going to fail him, but not before taking out as many Nazi's as he can. The New Colossus is every bit as enjoyable and violent as The New Order, and even that of The Old Blood. For those looking for another dip into what this series has offered before, you'll feel right at home.
While the premise of a one-man army against an entire evil regime may sound like your typical video game storyline, Wolfenstein 2 has a collection of characters and incredible writing that raises this game above your average shooter. Each of the cast you reunite with, and those you have yet to meet, are superbly written and features some of the best voice-acting I've heard in years. You'll encounter two forces of rebels that each have their own plans to take down the Third Reich, each ran by two very different people with very different ways to go about their agenda. Whereas some games would have you choose between them, Wolfenstein 2 bleeds them together and forces a collection of voices to play off one another and boy does it ever pay off.
Each character is given enough backstory to the point where you know these people, you understand their plight and it all feels very natural. While most games try to make you care about their characters, there is just something so fun and engaging about everyone here. There's Grace, a tough and take no shit resistance fighter, who survived an atomic bombing in New York. She's also joined by her daughter, a young infant named Little Abby, and Super Spesh, whom I would assume is the daughter's father, given the relationship. Once Grace is integrated into the resistance, she asks B.J. to recruit Horton Boone, a self-appointed preacher of a New Orleans resistance cell. He's also a drunkard, communist, and very anti-Nazi.
Much of the cast of The New Order is back and they play off the new additions to the team quite well. Anya, B.J's ally, and lover, is pregnant with twins, but still is right there alongside the resistance with a gun in each hand and taking no prisoners. There's Set, a German Jewish scientist who is constantly trying to advance science but also takes time to find much more clever ways to kill Nazi's. There's Bombate and Max Hass, who also return and each of them has a few scenes that are rather amusing. There is also another character that joins the team very early on that I wasn't expecting to really like, but there is a scene much later on in the game with Grace that really allowed them to shine.
There is also the addition of having Fergus or Wyatt during your playthrough as you'll make a choice early on as to who lived or died at the end of The New Order. This changes up the story in small ways, but mostly just the moments that revolve around them. I chose for Wyatt to live during my first playthrough and his acid-trip moments, complete with a cartoon lizard, are some of my favorite moments in the game.
Frau Engel, who torments Blazkowicz at every turn, is both maniacal and whimsical in the same breath. The opening moments in the game where she is inches away from complete victory comes with just as much humor as it does fear. There is a rather enjoyable and character perfect moment later on in the game where she takes something from you, mocking the very act this item is meant for. I have to say, as far as villains go, she may be one of the best in the past decade of gaming.
Of course, Wolfenstein wouldn't be Wolfenstein without the return of William Joseph Blazkowicz. The statuesque Nazi killer has been written with far more layers than ever before and doesn't come off as two dimensional as one would think. There are flashbacks to when he was a child, and the subject matter there can be a bit unsettling but is both performed and written extremely well. You spend some time getting to know his parents; his abusive and racist father and his kind and compassionate mother. I never felt overburdened in these moments and felt a justified resolution when William returns to his family home to only find more questions than answers.
B.J. is also mortally wounded at the start of the game and can only function when given a set of power armor, for without it he cannot even stand. This armor came with a cost and not only is he dealing with his own mortality, but he shares multiple inner monologues with the recently departed, hoping to not only find answers but guidance as well. There are a few moments later on in the game where this all comes to a head and B.J. is given the proper tools needed to put an end to Frau Engel, and quite possibly, the entire Nazi regime.
While Wolfenstein 2 isn't as balls to the wall as 2016's Doom, there is a fast-paced shooter here but also one of stealth and calculation as the game is far more difficult than ever before. You'll start with only having 50 health and your power armor will allow for up to 200. This eventually changes much later on in the game, but for now, you are somewhat squishy on the normal to harder difficulties. The game isn't fully built around stealth, but there are more than enough moments where you can sneak up behind someone and then hack them to pieces with your hatchet, a trusty weapon you can toss at foes should you find more than one.
There is even a difficulty mode where you cannot save and if you die, then it's truly game over. You can charge against Nazi forces with a few select guns, and dual wield nearly all of them. The controls to select which weapons are held in each hand while you dual wield isn't terribly great, but functions well enough that it never got in the way of the action. This is also due to the auto-switching the game will do when you are out of ammo in one hand, and since I stuck with only a few guns, and ammo is everywhere, it didn't serve as any much of an issue for me.
The majority of the weapons in The New Colossus are German-made, so I'll be using their actual names here. The pistole is English enough to understand what it is, but I never felt it was needed given the sheer ferocity of the rest of the selection here. The Kampfpistole is a handgun held grenade launcher that I actually never used as this type of weapon is something I tend to not use in other games as well. The Sturmgewehr is the evolution of the German StG-44 assault rifle that saw service at the end of WWII that is remarkably fun to use. When dual wielding, I often would pair it with the Maschinenpistole, which also allows for suppressed bullets, perfect for stealth killing commanders. There is a shotgun in the Schockhammer that can be really enjoyable when used for some close-up action and even more so when dual wielding against very formidable foes.
Should Wyatt survive, you will be gifted the Dieselkraftwerk, this weapon fires off canisters that can be detonated to decimate enemies or blast through blocked sections in vents or on walls. There are Nazi mechs that wield the Laserkraftwerk, and so can you. This laser rifle is extremely fun to use and can melt nearby forces. There is also the Lasergewehr, Dieselgewehr, and Hammergewehr, which are the heavy weapons of the game and are really just more intense versions of the laser rifle, grenade launcher, and assault rifle. Lastly, there is also the Handgranate, which is your typical hand grenade.
Each weapon can be upgraded should you track down upgrade kits. There are three possible upgrades to each gun and this can increase the magazine capacity, allow the gun to fire suppressed, or increase reload speed. You can also choose alternate fire modes for most guns and it can fundamentally change how the gun actually functions, making it almost a new experience.
Most levels in the game play out the same way; you will enter a new location and have to silence the commanders before they can trigger the alarm and send waves and waves of enemy forces your way. You'll have a radar to detect them, and usually, there is only two in a single area. Should you stealth kill them before they can summon backup, you'll earn favor via your perks. Perks are split into three categories; stealth, mayhem, and tactical, and unlock passive rewards when you complete certain objectives like killing those commanders or simple things like achieving a certain amount of kills with guns, grenades or your hatchet. The rewards are fairly impressive as you can delay commander alarms, move quicker while crouched, reduce damage taken via explosives, and much more.
A bit more than halfway through the game you will unlock the ability to use contraptions. These are equipment items you'll use to bash through specially marked walls, go-go gadget your way to higher locations, or the ability to proceed through smaller crawlspaces than normal. You will eventually have the ability to unlock all three of them and while I initially went for the leg support to reach higher places, I regretted that decision the moment I unlocked the run-and-bash contraption that allows you to sprint full tackle into enemies, knocking them down. Should you use this on unarmed soldiers, they burst into an explosion of blood. The other two contraptions didn't feel as impressive here and after unlocking that ramming tackle, I didn't even bother to use them again.
The level design favors a few different paths, and while it's not pretending to offer dozens of different choices in how to take down the Nazi threat, there are suitable paths for each type of playstyle. I found numerous shortcuts that lead to directly behind a commander, to hallways that complemented a more forceful approach with plenty of cover. There are tons of collectibles to uncover and this can reward exploration and often lead you to explore more of the environment than normal.
While you'll conquer your fair share of Nazi bunkers, there are several locations that look to break up the corridor to corridor action. You'll travel to a radiated New York City, to the crowded streets of Roswell, New Mexico. There is even an incredibly fun location, packed with a solid amount of humor, that some may say is out of this world.
Your main hub is the Evas Hammer, a commandeered Nazi U-Boat that serves as the base for the resistance. This area is fairly large and offers up a few missions of its own. You'll encounter locked away sections of the ship that hide additional Nazi forces still lurking around, to finding a sack of potatoes for the ship's Hog. Most of the missions you will acquire from the crew are short and don't really require much time to complete. There is also an arcade cabinet that features Wolfenstein 3D to jump in and play some old-school gaming.
Both your companions and the Nazi forces are fantastic to just listen to. You can sneak up behind groups of enemies and listen in on their conversations. I overheard one guard bragging about his kills to a fresh new recruit, and laughing at how absurd it would be should his first kill be you. There's a moment where I heard a guard wondering what he was going to say to his friend's bride-to-be, as her fiance had just been vaporized and he sat there struggling on what to do. The remainder of the voice-acting is truly fantastic and I can't think of a single voice, main-cast or otherwise, that wasn't just perfect.
MachineGames has produced a very good looking game in Wolfenstein 2. Each level is packed with a remarkable amount of detail and some areas like New York and New Orleans are nice wide open spaces that work really well. The Nazi forces you'll decimate have some really nice designs, that while not entirely fresh and original, serve their purpose well and the various stealth kills and the instant-gib nature of how violent the game can be only serves to further how good this game looks. Some character models could use a little work, but several of the main cast features some really nice subtle facial animations that benefit each of their personalities. I found that both Grace and Frau Engel share in having the most expressive faces of the cast and are simply a joy to watch deliver their lines.
I had an absolute blast with Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus. The story and characters were engaging and some of the best I've seen in the genre. The social commentary regarding how the world is currently dealing with Nazi supporters and what-have-you is felt here as some of the game seems reworked to address it without really commenting on it. The sheer brutality of the game, mixed with several of the game's action-packed set-pieces, especially the one you'll take part in after meeting Horton Boone, serves as a reminder to why this series is truly outrageous, and at the top of its game.