Visceral Nazi-killing catharsis that brings with it a rich and relevant narrative
I’ve written a lot about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I’ve talked about how its audience has changed with the times, and about its depiction of Marxists. I’ve now played the game at last, and I can safely say that it absolutely did not disappoint me.
You reprise the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, hardened badass World War II veteran and arguable figurehead of the Kreisau Circle, a resistance group fighting against the Nazi regime. You find yourself in a critical state after the events of the previous game, when General Deathshead pulled the pin on a grenade that you were caught in the blast of.
“whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate”
You awaken on the Eva’s Hammer, the u-boat stolen in The New Order, from a five-month coma, having had organs removed to facilitate your recovery. Frau Engel, formerly a secondary antagonist and now Lieutenant General of the SS, mounts an assault against the u-boat, and you emerge from your comatose state, fighting your way wheelchair-bound to the surface. Caroline Becker, leader of the Kreisau Circle, is killed, and you obtain her Da’at Yichud Power Suit, and escape.
This is where we encounter the first point of online debate in the critique of The New Colossus. The injuries Blazkowicz sustained are terminal, and for the first half of the game, the only thing keeping him alive and functional is the power suit. To reflect this, throughout this period the health bar is halved.
Very interesting and understandable from a narrative perspective, but it does impact the difficulty, and in some cases, the enjoyment of the game. It almost becomes an example of where ludonarrative dissonance perhaps should have been deployed, as fellow games journalist Jim Sterling pointed out. There’s a reason games have recharging health bars and an often almost superhuman ability to dodge bullets and soak damage; these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable.
That’s not to say The New Colossus isn’t fun. On the contrary: the fluidity of the movement, the power and impact of the gunplay, and the visceral satisfaction of the hatchet executions all leave me wanting more of what Wolfenstein brings to the table in the other shooters that I play.
I’ll echo what other critics have said regarding the difficulty of stealth. It seems the Wehrmacht have upped the ante when it comes to perceptiveness. This makes outright stealth playthroughs, and even my favoured play-style of picking off officers quietly and then rushing in for a final assault, incredibly challenging, even on easy difficulty (through which I played the entire game). It’s still fun to try it, but at least in this regard it can sometimes feel like you’re limited in your options of approach.
“these unrealistic aspects in a game make the experience more enjoyable”
Your arsenal feels smaller than in The New Order, though part of this is due to the lack of any significant time jumps showcasing an improvement in technology. And they make up for a slightly-trimmed selection of weapons by expanding the options you have regarding upgrades. Where The New Order allowed you to stumble across, say, a suppressor for the handgun, The New Colossus opts instead to allow you to find upgrade kits in the world that give you the option to purchase a selection of up to three upgrades for each weapon. With the handgun for example, you can buy a suppressor, an extended magazine, and a magnum upgrade that acts as a secondary firing mode, upping the damage, but also the recoil and the noise.
The diversity brought in by these secondary firing mode upgrades effectively gives you two weapons in one, as they can really change the feel and the situational suitability of each weapon. Early in the game I barely touched the Sturmgewehr (assault rifle) but after unlocking its marksman scope, it became the weapon that I used the most.
I touched on the narrative earlier, and despite how satisfying the gameplay elements of The New Colossus are, the story of the game is definitely its strongest aspect. MachineGames have gone a long way to develop a rich, complex, and dark world that, whether intentional or not, carries with it a myriad of parallels to the current political climate. I talked about the potential in modern gaming to tell more nuanced and thoughtful stories in another piece about Wolfenstein, and it’s nice to see that the trailers and teasers we saw of the characters, themes, and events of The New Colossus leading up to its launch didn’t betray this potential.
The New Colossus gives us a very honest and realistic (as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be) image of a Nazi occupation in America and its inevitable resistance. There were many in American society, especially in the early twentieth century, that would likely either have welcomed Nazi rule or quietly complied out of convenience, and a resistance against this regime would have reflected the opposite; the outcasts and the marginalized.
We see B.J., a man with Polish-Jewish heritage, fight alongside Marxists and Black Liberation fighters to rile up the people of America into pushing back against the status quo, and these are, realistically, the people who would best act as a force for change in such circumstances.
But that isn’t to say The New Colossus is a serious, humourless game. In fact, at times it can be incredibly funny and entertaining in a way that doesn’t create a tonal disconnect. The Nazis are comically evil, but not in a way that renders their monstrous nature cartoonified. The resistance are a group of society’s beaten-down, but they still have fun and enjoy themselves.
“as realistic as dieselpunk fire-breathing Nazi robot dogs can be”
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus isn’t a perfect game. But it’s a really bloody good one, and one that’s incredibly important right now, however convenient its timing may be. If you’re going to play a Triple-A game before the end of the year, make sure it’s this one.
Steam Link || £39.99 / $59.99 / €59.99