Let me start off by saying it very clearly: Nazis are bad. The fact that there was any controversy whatsoever about the release of Wolfenstein II or its marketing strategy is completely mind-boggling and, honestly, very alarming. Fuck Nazis.

Wolfenstein, as a franchise, has had something of a spotty history. After introducing the concept of stealth games to the world in the early 80s, Wolfenstein didn’t seem content with just revolutionising one genre, going on to completely change the face of the industry by acting as the grandfather of all first-person shooters–Wolfenstein 3D in 1992. Return to Castle Wolfenstein, released in 2001, had something of a forgettable single-player component, but nonetheless had a huge impact on the popularity of multiplayer modes in FPS games. Other than those three titles, however, not much.

Then came Wolfenstein: The New Order. In researching the history of the series for this review, I was actually a bit surprised to learn that The New Order was the first Wolfenstein game to introduce the Nazi victory in WWII alternate history that now seems so intrinsically tied to the franchise. That universe is back in full force in Wolfenstein: The New Colossus, a direct sequel to the series reboot that I gushed so much about in 2014. In The New Order, you play as series mainstay B.J. Blazkowicz, awakening from a coma in Europe and making it his life’s mission to kill as many Nazis as possible. The New Colossus sees the setting moved to the United States; Frau Engel is the main antagonist who’s out for revenge on B.J.; and B.J.’s own partner Anya is pregnant with twins–but other than that, not much else has changed. B.J. still wants to kill as many Nazis as possible.

In the courtroom.

Wolfenstein hasn’t changed–but the world around it has. All of a sudden, Wolfenstein–a game, first and foremost, about killing Nazis–is maybe the most socially important video game that will come out in 2017. The team at MachineGames isn’t shy about it, either. About a third of the way through the game, you’re introduced to the Black Liberation Front and their leader Grace Walker, who has some very poignant things to say about the attitude of white Americans before and during the Nazi invasion. She makes it very clear that America wasn’t a great place before the Nazis showed up, and they don’t give a shit now that they’re here.

“We’ve been fighting every mother fucking day, Blazkowicz. White America though? They done packed up and given in. See, I guess they don’t have the fighting spirit no more. Nah, they just do whatever their fucking Fuhrer tells them to do.”

It doesn’t end there–not even close. There’s an incredible little scene demonstrating the harm caused by constant belittling between Grace Walker and Frau Engel’s daughter, Sigrun, (who defects right at the start of the game), hopefully making it very clear to those of us who’ve never really experienced it. Walking around suburban Texas, you’ll hear snippets of conversations including an American bemoaning that their slave has misbehaved. Oddly enough, it’s the Nazis in this scene that are the most agreeable. MachineGames aren’t scared to call out America–not just Nazi-fied America, but America itself.

Nazis and KKK

“You do not have the right to label me as something I am not. As someone less than yourself. As someone less than human.”

That’s not an uncommon theme, either. Oftentimes, you might find yourself agreeing with the Nazi infantry as you hear their conversations while you skulk around beneath them, or at least sympathising with them. You’ll hear them express concern for their ill daughter, or comforting each other due to their (justified) fear of encountering the notorious Terror-Billy, B.J. Blazkowicz.

On that note, it’s sublime how skillfully The New Colossus weaves between political statements, downright absurdity, and plain and simple Nazi killing. It’s hard to give examples without spoiling too much of the story, but the twists and turns it takes are deftly crafted. One moment you’ll be listening to one of Super Spesh’s absurd conspiracy rants about space aliens and a mysterious area of Roswell that he believes is home to “weird shit,” or riding a giant Nazi robot dog with a flamethrower for a mouth; the next, you overhear two Nazis discuss how terrorism is immoral, as it’s promoting violence just because of a differing point of view. I mean, there’s even a completely serious, and incredibly hard hitting, take on domestic violence–that’s how the game opens.

As I said above, Wolfenstein is a game about shooting. That’s why it’s such a nice treat that the narrative is so brilliantly crafted. There wasn’t a single character that I thought felt half-baked or not fully fleshed out. Every now and then they’d border on stereotyping, but come on–we’re playing you’re typical meathead muscular white man who’s taking orders from a woman of colour. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever experienced that in a game before.

Grace Walker

I can see how The New Colossus could be decried for “pandering to SJWs.” But if you really think that, come on, dude. The cast is diverse, sympathetic, and well thought out. Issues and themes that straight, white people like me don’t have first-hand experience with are presented in ways that help us understand a bit of what was, and what is, going on, without seeming pandering or condescending. And it’s not all politics, either. I feel like all but the most hardcore alt-right spanners could put their opinions aside during the scenes that they’re most prominent and just enjoy the characters, narrative, and Nazi shooting.

The story absolutely peaks before its final chapter. It’s no surprise that (but I’ll white it out just in case) Adolf Hitler himself makes an appearance, and their portrayal is absolutely genius. Possibly the best I’ve ever seen; possibly the best ever. They’re not a mad genius. They’re decrepit. Broken. Clad in a ornate but aged bath robe, they are pissing in an ice bucket, pathetically mistaking their assistant for their mother, curling up on the floor in the foetal position. But they are still terrifying. They shoot fledgling actor Ronald Reagan in the face for neglecting to use their proper title, as he auditions to star in the latest Nazi propaganda film. They are mad, yes, but so realistic. It’s without a doubt the best part of what The New Colossus has to offer; the absolute culmination of the themes of politics, humour, and emotional distress that have up until this point weaved around each other. But it’s only in the penultimate chapter. Everything after this scene does feel a little–not unnecessary, but unfulfilling. Even the very last scene of the game, intended to be the big crescendo of the narrative, didn’t have half the impact of that jaw-dropping scene with that character. I’ve been thinking about it non stop since, and I’ll continue to refer to it as an example of a flawless scene in a video game.

This scene.

And don’t get me wrong–I’ve spent 900 words talking about the narrative (and there’s probably more to come), but the gunplay is there. Did I enjoy it as much as The New Order, though? I honestly don’t think so. There’s 7 or so guns available to you by the end of the game, but I found myself only using a handful. Just about every level, I’d start off with the pistol that I’d used a weapon kit to attach a silencer to. I’d sneak around that, blowing Nazi brains out without raising alarm. Then, when I was eventually caught, I’d put a rifle in one hand and a shotgun in the other, only changing this setup if I had to use my laser rifle to take down any beefier armoured enemies. There’s three kinds of big weapons that can’t be kept in your inventory and you need to pick up off of dead foes–a laser thing, a flamethrower, and a minigun. I literally only used the first one, not even bothering to pick up the other two.

The stealth does feel a little bit half-baked at times, too. Considering the franchise’s roots in the genre, I’d have expected a little more than just crawling around with a silenced pistol. It’s often not clear just how visible you are, how audible you are, or how close you are to tripping an alarm. Stealth sections are mostly focussed around the Commander mechanic–most levels with a stealth option have one or two commanders that, when alive, will continue sending in reinforcements as soon as you’re detected. Take them out first, and you have free reign over the rest of the Nazis in the level. It’s a great idea for stealth, but quickly becomes a hindrance if you want to play guns blazing, as you have to decide between running through the crowd of Nazis to reach the commander and probably getting outnumbered, or slowly dredging your way through never-ending reinforcements to stem the tide.

A good Nazi is a dead Nazi.

There are also optional levels that involve revisiting areas you’ve previously been to assassinate Nazi head honchos, called Enigma missions. I appreciate the idea of introducing end game content, and considering The New Colossus has no multiplayer to speak of, the Enigma missions as well as the score attack mode added in a post-launch patch gives an aspect of competitiveness for those seeking it. That said, the level design was one of the weakest points of the game, and I didn’t really have the desire to revisit a lot of the environments once I’d gotten past them in the main story. I do sort of miss the days in which games could have fully fleshed out single-player campaigns alongside excellent multiplayer gameplay, but The New Colossus does its campaign so excellently and has just enough replayability to make it not feel like a once-and-done affair, if that’s something you think is important.

For years to come, I’ll be pointing towards The New Colossus as an example of a video game story done right. Admittedly, it’s way too over-the-top to be recommended to those who aren’t familiar with the absurdity that often comes hand in hand with video game narratives. I mean, there’s a scene in which the pregnant Anya is topless and covered in blood as she mows down Nazis with a gun in each hand, on top of the unconscious Blazkowicz. Not to mention the truly absurd plot device that ends up in B.J. getting an upgrade to his power armour, or the raucous party that serves as the prelude to the final level. The gameplay didn’t blow me away as much as The New Order did, but I suspect that is just because the latter was the first classic FPS we’d seen for a while, and The New Colossus doesn’t really expand on it that much, except for adding a few jarring difficulty spikes scattered throughout the game that caused me to have to fiddle with the difficulty on occasion. The music was good, but not great–I would’ve liked something a little bit more epic and pumping during the big set pieces that Wolfenstein is known for. The New Order just felt like a silly Nazi killing game in 2014, however; a game that didn’t take itself too seriously. A fun, bloody, traditional, single-player FPS. Despite not taking itself too seriously, however, The New Colossus knows what it is. It doesn’t shy away from topics that would usually be considered too political, too sensitive, or too polarising. It criticises apathy, it criticises passiveness, it criticises letting these things happen with a shrug and a sip of your coffee. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus knows exactly what it’s saying, who it’s taking shots at, and exactly what its place is in 2017. And most of all, it criticises Nazis.

9/10
Amazing

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus by Bethesda.

 

About The Author

Matt has been playing video games and listening to music for too long. He accidentally started a website and now has to pretend that he’s got an idea as to what he’s doing. He neglects the games he’s meant to be reviewing and instead plays Dota 2 and Football Manager. Shameless Nintendo fanboy. Direct your complaints to @mattmcleod27.

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