Wolfenstein: The New Colossus – Review
PC, PS4, Xbox One
Wolfenstein games were always about the simple pleasure of shooting Nazis. Forget story, forget inventive gameplay, these titles were about what you could do with the weapons at hand and the horde of goose-stepping fanatics that were coming for you. That all started to change with the release of Wolfenstein: The New Order. For the first time ever I began to care about B.J Blazkowicz. I cared about his life, his loves and his friendships. No longer was he simply a tool to fulfill my Nazi slaying fantasies but an important reason to play the game. Well, The New Colossus has taken that one step further, because now in my mind, B.J’s very personal and very harrowing tale is the primary reason to fire up the game.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not a story of nuance and sophistication. It is pulp, pure and simple. But it is pulp told with heart, pulp told with style and more importantly pulp told with care. Think Tarrintino’s Kill Bill, an over-the-top story of bloody revenge that somehow still had you invested in the main character. The New Colossus is exactly the same. There are moments of genuine humor, of self-reflection and of legitimate tear-jerking sadness. This is a story that uses the inherent violence to excellent effect and makes up for any thematic shortcomings with deft writing and characters that are wonderfully fleshed out. If someone had told me 5 years ago that the best reason to play a Wolfenstein game is for the story I would have thought them mad, but here we are. I feel like any more exploration of the story will lead to spoilers so I am going to leave it here, just know if you decide to pick this one up, be prepared for a rollercoaster of a tale that will leave you shocked and entertained in equal measure.
It is not all just about the story though. The gameplay is once again top notch. Anyone that played The New Order will feel right at home, though there are some key differences. Firstly I could mix and match my duel-wielded weapons. No longer was I forced to use two of the same type. This was handy for big baddies that were susceptible to the slow firing Lazerkraft as I could hold a machine gun in the other hand to keep the rest of the goons busy. There is also a new assassination system in play which allowed me to revisit past levels and take out high ranking Nazi goons. There isn’t really a strong narrative reason to complete these missions, but they are a nice way to kill a spare twenty minutes. Finally, the most significant change is the difficulty. I found this game much harder than The New Order (which I did a replay of just before this game came out). Enemy AI has been noticeably improved, with flanking enemies, headshots, group tactics and excellent use of environmental dangers being used to keep me on my toes. This was compounded by some truly brutal checkpointing at times, which on occasion, felt on the wrong side of fair. Regardless this isn’t a game to take lightly because it will punish you.
Another noticeable improvement over The New Order is the graphics. My recent New Order playthrough was on a high-end PC with everything set to max, yet my Xbox One copy of The New Colossus has significantly more detail. I can’t wait to see this running on my Xbox One X when it arrives because it is going to be something truly special. Facial expressions and the level of detail in the world are the most noticeable improvements over the last game. Machine Games have clearly benefitted with not having to create a version for last gen machines because this is right up there with the best looking games a console can offer. The sound design is also top-notch, with Brian Bloom once again giving a pitch-perfect performance as B.J. The rest of the voice cast is also suitably impressive with no one feeling out of place. Perhaps my only issue with the voice work is that of Set Roth, who dips dangerously close to lampooning a Jewish stereotype. It is never nasty, but in my mind at least, could have been just a little bit more subtle.
The only real problem I had with The New Colossus is the ending. It was a satisfying conclusion to this part of the tale, but it is clear this is the middle game in a trilogy. There are a whole plethora of questions to be answered and threads to be pulled and that is something that is glaringly obvious when the game ends. It is a minor annoyance to be fair, but it is one that frustrated me all the same. I guess it is a good sign that I am left wanting a conclusion, but the wait for the final act will be that much harder because of it.
To mention Wolfenstein in the same breath as games like Half Life 2 and Bioshock may seem insane, but that is exactly where this game deserves to be placed. This is one of the best, if not the best, example of a story-driven first-person shooter available. It creates a horrifying scenario and fleshes it out with wonderful gameplay, excellent graphics and a cast of characters that will be remembered by gamers for years to come. With The New Colossus, Machine Games have screamed to the world that they are masters of their craft and that The New Order was no fluke. People are saying that linear single-player games are dead, but one B.J Blazkowicz has other ideas, I strongly recommend you join him on his ride.