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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Publisher: Bethesda
Developer: MachineGames
Release Date: Oct. 27, 2017


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PC Review - 'Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 23, 2017 @ 2:30 a.m. PST

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus sends you to Nazi-controlled America, where you must free the world from the evil empire's stranglehold.

Buy Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

When Wolfenstein: The New Order was released in 2014, it had quite a few things going against it. It was the first game in the series since the 2009 edition, which was not received as well as every other entry, thus cooling any excitement for future games at the time. The title also featured no multiplayer, which was a rarity in the genre at the time and surprising since Return to Castle Wolfenstein was lauded for that mode. It also came from a relatively new studio that had a pedigree of people proficient in the genre but nothing to show for it just yet. Despite all of that, The New Order was an excellent title that married classic shooter sensibilities with a gripping tale, and while The Old Blood pared back on the narrative, it was still enjoyable. In a way, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus simply brings back all of the elements that made The New Order so enjoyable but gives it a fresh coat of paint with the use of iD Tech 6. Honestly, that's all anyone was really asking for.

The game starts off just as the events of The New Order end. Deathshead is dead, but his death is a minor stumbling block in the Nazi world takeover scheme. Despite how the scene played out in the previous game, BJ Blazkowicz isn't dead, but he is severely crippled from the final attack. He's found again by the resistance group from the first game, and they head to the United States to meet up with more resistance groups and continue their fight against the Nazis.

With The New Order's narrative being one of the hallmarks, it comes as no surprise that the story in The New Colossus is equally gripping. What may be surprising, even if you had played the first game, is how far the tonal shifts can go. There are still many areas where the story can lead to uneasy moments. The opening sequence dealing with BJ's childhood has many scenes of abuse and the killing of a pet, and it prepares you for all of the other shocking events in the game. The desecration of a recently beheaded person starts things off, and there are other bouts of violence that can be difficult to stomach.

Yet it is the occupation of America that can be both disturbing yet fascinating. Other games that dealt with the idea of a Nazi-occupied America showed the destruction of some areas and the transformation of others into labor and concentration camps. This is no different, with the carnage of Manhattan after a nuclear blast and New Orleans, respectively. Get to Roswell, however, and seeing 1960s middle America with Nazi regalia and troops all over the place can take you aback, no matter how many times you've seen it in the previews leading up to the game's release. The same goes for seeing the KKK cavorting with the enemy, something that will remind you of how low some people will stoop to gain power and put their ideology in place.

At the same time, the game goes for black comedy when you least expect it. After all, the first stage has you going around shooting Nazis while in your wheelchair. Early on in your U-boat, you'll be conversing with someone about how best to attack invading Nazi soldiers while you watch a parade of them march into an electric trap in the background, disintegrating rather casually as no attention is paid to them. Seeing one of your characters try LSD for the first time and then gradually go loopy produces some rather unexpected results, and it's satisfying to see Hitler become decrepit and lose his bodily functions.

Going between these two extremes occurs enough that you'd think the story would feel disjointed. On the contrary, despite the excessive horrors and off-the-wall humor, the story actually flourishes because it handles the balance between these moods so well. Most of that can be attributed to the characters, all of whom feel rather fleshed out even if it's been a while since you played The New Order. Wyatt is getting shellshock again from having to lead the band of Resistance fighters despite having no real skill to do so. Anya remains BJ's emotional anchor while Sigrun, the daughter of the main antagonist Frau Engel, copes with being a recently defected Nazi. As in the first title, BJ has a significant impact on the player. The constant monologues to himself are back, so we see a Nazi-killing machine who's dealing with his limited time on Earth and struggling to keep fighting for the sake of his unborn children. Compared to many video game heroes, he's more human — even in the midst of mowing down people.

Gameplay-wise, very little has changed between this and the previous two games. The game sticks with the old philosophy of giving you the chance to carry as many guns as you can while still having you reload clips as you would in any modern first-person shooter. Dual-wielding is back, as is the ability to dual-wield whatever you want so long as they aren't heavy weapons, like the laser cutter. Regenerating health is limited to small fragments, so health and armor pick-ups are essential, but you have the ability to overcharge the former so you can temporarily withstand more punishment. Gameplay also dictates the type of perks you'll automatically get, so stealth gives you perks to make you better at it. Of course, you're not completely bound to the play style you started the game with, so you're free to change to a more aggressive gameplay style.

The changes are significant, but they affect the game positively. Your melee weapon is an ax, which results in some bloody takedowns and dismemberments whenever you use it. Players are also able to modify their guns, but there's a limited number of available kits in the campaign, so you must decide which of your guns gets the special treatment. Later on, you'll get some tools to make you more dangerous, such as a constrictor that lets you get into very tight spaces and shoulder pads that let you execute violent tackles.

These changes complement the gunplay. Every gun you wield feels powerful, and every shot has some heft. You still have complete control of your shots, so firing from the hip doesn't feel as imprecise as it would in other titles. That helps when facing enemies that still exhibit enough intelligence to take cover and flank you instead of being cannon fodder. Those same enemies also take quite a bit of damage before they fall, so unless you're very good at headshots, expect to pump more lead into someone to ensure they're dead. All of this is done against both constricted and open environments that constantly make you change your approach to taking out roving squads and armored soldiers.

There is one feature, however, that really changes the game: your overall health. For a good chunk of the game, you're capped at 50 units of health, half of what you'd normally get in any game. It makes sense as far as story goes, but it means that your life expectancy is much shorter if you aren't careful. The first two Wolfenstein games also had it to where you'd get shredded if you stood out in the open, but this accelerates the journey to the restart screen. This wouldn't be so bad if the hit indicators were more pronounced. There'd be times when you're mowing down enemies and you'd suddenly die because you didn't realize there was someone nearby who's happily plugging away at you. You'll adapt quickly enough, but you'll be annoyed by the low-quality feedback.

Though the game remains a campaign-only affair, there's still plenty of stuff to do once the 10-plus-hour campaign ends. There are seven difficulty levels, and the final one is unlocked once the game is finished for the first time. Due to the flashback sequence of the first game where you have to choose which soldier to sacrifice, you have at least two different versions of the story, with different cut scenes, dialogue and weapons. Then there are the Enigma machine missions, where you get to replay previously played levels to hunt down specific Nazi officers. The twist is that not only can you go in with more equipment than you did when you first encountered those levels, but you'll also explore areas of the stage that you didn't see before.

Much like before, the audio comes through wonderfully. The effects are crisp, and the voice work is perfect for the characters. The music carries the same vibes as before, but there's decidedly more industrial metal this time around. A few of the pieces sound like they were lifted from the 2016 version of Doom, but they fit in fine in this universe. The only issue thus far has to do with voice volume. Go around a level, and it's difficult to hear the incidental dialogue, and the dialogue in a few cut scenes sounds hollow.

The presence of a new engine means an uptick in the graphical presentation. Considering how good the last title was, the visible improvements come from advanced lighting, where the shafts and shadowing become more pronounced. Unlike the previous games, there's a splash of color that contrasts with the bleak setting of some environments, but every place you encounter is well textured, and some great-looking character models are milling about. For the PC version in particular, the use of iD Tech 6 means the Vulcan API is in, and those with AMD cards will find performance significantly boosted as a result, giving lower-spec machines a better shot at running the game with higher frame rates without lowering all of the other graphical elements.

In the end, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is more of the same. The gunplay is fantastically done, and the opposition is enough of a challenge to make it worthwhile. The environments provide more than enough variety to prevent boredom, and the story works despite the levels of insanity it can reach. With a slightly upgraded presentation, it is safe to say that not much has changed, but when a game delivers on all of the expected fun and more, a lack of major change isn't a bad thing at all. If you love action, don't hesitate to grab this.

Score: 8.5/10

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