Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus Review – BJs Return
Platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
Developer: Machine Games
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: 27th October 2017 / Early 2018 (Switch)
This review is based on the german version, so I´ll be referring to the Regime and not the evil N***s.
Wolfenstein The New Order was one of the best shooters of recent years. No other action centered first person shooter offered this mix of stealth and combat, giving the player the choice how he wanted to play. For that reason I also think Wolfenstein is a better game than DOOM, it brought the genre forward, instead of copying it once again. Naturally, Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus was one of my most anticipated games of this year and after finishing it, I can confirm, that it´s certainly an even better game, if not with the same flaws.
After his successful assassination of General Totenkopf, BJ Blaskowicz is heavily injured and laid in coma for five months. With General Engel chasing the resistance, it´s not long before the resistance needs assistance of their most valuable soldier once again. Not long after BJ finally awakes of his long sleep, he finds himself confronted with the harsh reality and a new goal, freeing his homeland america while killing General Engel.
My biggest point of criticism about the first game was its story, not only did it unmemorable characters and a foreseeable plot, it also tried so hard to give Blaskowicz a human personality. Having a human, vulnerable main character isn´t a bad thing, especially I really like those but Wolfenstein isn´t the game for such a protagonist. When BJ cried over the dead kids or families internally before murdering hundreds of potential dads or sons, it just didn´t work.
Sadly, Machine Games didn´t learn and pressed this emotional side on him again, even harder than before. In Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus Blaskowicz is still talking about the cruelty of death, how the fallen comrades “should carry him on their wings” while bathing in the blood of his enemies. Combined with his new childhood story told by various flashbacks through the first part of the game. A neat idea if executed properly but what Machine Games offers here is one of the most generic “brutal father” stories ever told.
Why did they have to tell a story everyone, or at least me, expected anyways? Of course a brutal, Regime hating man had to be an orphanage or a hard childhood, so seeing it play out in person was neither interesting nor surprising. I really expected to see a quieter, or more fitting portrayal here, instead it´s basically the same with even more sentimental scenes, totally unfitting for a brutal, ruthless murderer.
Surely Blacokiwcz needs a motivation to keep fighting and preparing a better world for his child would be more than enough. Unfortunately by relying so heavily on these cliché-y, emotional dialogue, he becomes a person with which the player can´t identify himself. A prime example for a right approach would be the Master Chief from Halo, a killer of hundreds of aliens, a one man army, overall very similar to Wolfenstein´s hero but Bungie chose to not tell much about his past, his personality or him as a person. They kept him blank, so the player can fill him, hence allowing for a much deeper experience. That´s one of the reasons why 343 just can´t develop great Halo games. Machinegames didn´t get it as well, Wolfenstein is a game that needs a blank but understandable hero in order to work to its fullest.
Luckily, halfway through the game, most of his talks and flashbacks stop and the game completely focuses on its main story and characters and they´re pretty damn great. The first game nearly forced the player to interact with a cast full of clichés and flat characters, Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus makes all of this optional but improves its writing at the same time, resulting in a much better experience. During the calm sequences in the resistance head quarter between each mission BJ no longer has to search for saws or Max Hass´s toys, in fact, they can be completed in 1-2 minutes if you want. Most of the characterization is done by optional dialogues, rather than forced upon us.
A smart step, considering how average the characters are, mostly standing right on the line between cliché and interesting with only a few exceptions like the black resistance leader Grace. So it´s no surprise when I felt absolutely nothing when one of them died. They´re there, they work, are entertaining and interesting at some points and are the stuff the truly amazing story is built on.
In contrast to the first game, Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus fully develops the crazy, absurd ideas in its story. In a time where shooters want to tell super serious plots, seeing Wyatt holding a little cartoon lizard, flying to the Venus and much more totally crazy stuff is such a breeze of fresh air. Especially because Machine Games didn´t just craft a funny, absurd plot but mixed it with a very serious one as well. It masterfully crafts a story full of surprising ideas, set in a dark, brutal world. The sheer difference between those worlds and the character driven events nail the spot between unbelievable, self ironic and emotional like no game before in this generation. Only the ending is a bit too early for my taste (spoiler: It ends right when the revolution kicks off).
The fact Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus is a gorgeous looking game with beautiful pre rendered cutscenes really brings the story to life. While it still has these horrible unskippable first person scenes, the camera angles and presentation of the plot relevant scenes is truly superb. Combined with the very organic looking environments, appropriate high res textures for a PS4 and amazing sceneries able to blow you away during the first seconds, Machine Games’ sequel copies and expands everything that made their debut game so great. There are a lot more diverse worlds as well, which is neat. The soundtrack just adds up to this experience, being a very hard rock, brutal, rush intensifying mix of everything.
Additionally, the gameplay is as great as always if not better. Being a oldschool themed shooter, Blaskowicz is able to carry all his weapons and even combine them freely in an akimbo style now. Equipped with a rudimentary but well-balanced arsenal of shotguns or assault rifles, he shoots himself through hundreds of regime soldiers and the sheer gore and brutality displayed as a reaction to the bullets is satisfying and disgusting at the same time. The fact BJ is now able to pick up ammo and armour by himself (!) helps the games pacing so much.
Still, even though it might feel great to kill a soldier, the old problems persist. Namely, the “lack of ammo” and lacking hit feedback of the robot enemies. Every weapon might have around 100-400 bullets each but as soon as they´re combined into akimbo, the ammo counter basically melts like ice. Since it´s impossible to aim it takes way more bullets to hit an enemy, the implementation of free akimbo helps a bit here but not enough. I also wished to see more “crazy” weapons than some laser weapons. However, my biggest problem remains the very subtle hit feedback of bigger robot enemies like the giant walkers. Divided into different “phases” they show no sign of reaction to bullets until they´ve taken enough damage to enter the next phase. I really wished to see more destroyable plates or objects at them.
Luckily, these are only minor complaints compared to the fantastic shooter experience and even better level design. Wolfenstein 1 already tried to offer more open levels and give the player the choice of how they want to solve the situation, brutal or sneaky. Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus finally lives up to the vision, featuring levels divided into different big areas full with different paths, ways to traverse it and just the right amount of difficulty for a shooter. I´ve never seen a shooter which grants the player the power to choose how to approach the presented situation nearly throughout the whole game.
Yet Machine Games didn´t stop there, they also made every level different to the other, both in setting and gameplay. From hot areas that kill BJ when he doesn´t refill his cooling water or riding robot dogs, there are so many crazy, unique ideas, mixed with a changing health/armour allocation, depending on the story. When Blaskowicz is in a suit due to his health issues he only has 50 health but 200 armour points for example. It´s one of those few shooter where every level feels different in so many ways.
Last but not least, Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus even offers some of the best upgrades of recent history. With weapon improvements scattered on the levels it´s possible to purchase one of three upgrades for each weapon. The great thing about them is, that they change the weapon behaviour itself, like making the machine gun slower but improving the damage, or making the assault rifle more deadly against robots but weaker against humans. They look great, feel great and are satisfying as hell. On top of all that it´s possible to revisit past areas to eliminate so-called Generals. Mostly changed enemy spawns and some minor changes in the level design make them a neat little addition if you want to spend more time with the game, than the ~9-11 hours long campaign.
Without a doubt Wolfenstein 2 The New Colossus is one of the best shooters of this generation, maybe even the best so far. Surely it still suffers from the overly emotional story or minor gameplay problems but offers more than any other shooter I´ve seen. From a gameplay that doesn´t guide the player on a straight line, diverse levels, a superb design to stunning visuals and great cinematics. Think of anything about a shooter, Machine games implemented it in their own way. I had a fantastic time with it and can´t recommend it enough as a game which brings so much new to a stagnating genre.
[A Review Copy was provided by Bethesda Softworks]