If there was a Mt. Rushmore of gaming, William "B.J." Blazkowicz's face would be plastered on it beside Mario, and the other founding fathers of gaming. Wolfenstein was one of the first-person shooters that laid down the foundations for what the genre has become, and B.J. is an iconic character and imminently recognizable.
For many years, Wolfenstein was a fairly one-dimensional game. Nazis are evil, and you kill them. That formula got a little more involved over the years, but it wasn't until Bethesda published Wolfenstein: The New Order that B.J. and the alternate history he lives in got a little more exposition and character. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus continues down this path, placing more importance on plot development and world-building than the last two titles in the series.
All You Fascists
When The New Colossus begins, it's been a few months since the events at the end of The New Order. Captain Blazkowicz is battered and broken, and the Kreisau Circle resistance is on the run from the now-General Irene Engel. From the very start, you're thrown right into the action in what is undoubtedly the most action-packed scene involving a wheelchair in gaming history.
Engel has found the resistance and B.J. isn't going to let a coma and his guts falling out a few months earlier keep him from killing Nazis. He takes to a wheelchair and machine guns his way through the invaders in traditional over-the-top Wolfenstein style. As the game continues, it switched back to the usual run-and-gun affair of the previous titles, but the mission design is good enough that it never feels old.
You're slowly introduced to new weapons and more powerful equipment through Wolfenstein 2 that can be mixed and matched in all sorts of different ways to make you a more deadly Nazi hunter. Each of your main guns has three different upgrades that do anything from adding scopes to making your rounds ricochet off of any surface your strike. The gunplay and movement are smooth, and no matter how much action, it all keeps a nice stable framerate thanks to the id Tech 6 engine on which the game was developed (the same engine that made its debut with Doom 2016).
Tear the Facists Down
The plot, on the other hand, is a bit less cohesive than the gameplay. The goal of the Kreisau Circle this time around is to start a revolution in the United States. Once America is reclaimed, they hope to use it as a stage to free the rest of the world from Nazi tyranny. To help accomplish this goal, B.J. treks to different locations in the country to rescue resistance leaders and their cells.
The tone throughout is all over the place though. B.J.'s childhood memories are dark, even for a game about Nazis, and intense domestic violence in several scenes. What makes this so weird is that five minutes later the scene may center on Super Spesh, a UFOlogist who believes aliens landed in Roswell, raving and ranting, or Fergus being a belligerent Scotsman. I appreciated the attempt to make Blazkowicz more three-dimensional, but the pacing leaves something to be desired.
Fortunately, about halfway through Wolfenstein 2 drops any semblance of trying to be a poignant story and sticks with a more humorous and over-the-top narrative that fits the overall feeling of the series a lot better. The most prominent downside to The New Colossus's plot, though, is that the primary antagonist, General Engel, isn't used to her full potential. The sequences that do include her are stunning, and live up to the "psychotic Nazi" archetype. Unfortunately, she ends up being underutilized. While she's an ever-present threat, you just don't get enough interaction with her to make it feel like she's calling the shots. Instead, it feels like you're fighting random Nazis, as opposed to anything resulting from her machinations.
For those who were hoping for a commentary on current events, politics, or racism, there's very little here to see (more on that in a future article). What's spoken on concerning race is quickly forgotten, and the few scenes amongst everyday Americans are typically used for comic relief as opposed to any allegorical analysis. There is a positive message though about putting aside our differences and working towards a common goal, in this case killing Nazis, and I was glad there wasn't a bunch of drama between the resistance to detract from the overall goal of the team.
Take the Power Back
On the technical side, the game exceeds The New Order and The Old Blood for the most part. I reviewed Wolfenstein 2 on the PlayStation 4 Pro, and while the visuals were crisp, some bugs still need working out. When the game switches from real-time gameplay to a pre-rendered cutscene, it just hangs sometimes. Often it's only a short bump before the movie starts playing, but every once in awhile it almost seemed like the game had locked up before finally switching over.
The audio is outstanding, except when it's not. I played with a mid-grade 5.1 Surround Sound system with a Denon S730H A/V receiver, and when I began the game, it sounded great, making good use of all five channels. However, after a little while, I noticed that some channels would fluctuate in sound, especially the right surround speaker. I tried some other media and games just to make sure that my sound system hadn't just started malfunctioning at random, but it seems the problem is only with The New Colossus. Towards the end of the game, there were some definite sound glitches, with music cutting out, stuttering, and some sounds in areas refusing to play. The errors always corrected themselves, and the visuals weren't affected, but it hampered my enjoyment of the game a little.
Other than a few technical issues, I have to say the game exceeded my expectations. Sure, the story can be a little all over the place, but that's the cost of taking the franchise in a little more in-depth direction. The New Colossus firmly establishes the alternate universe that we were introduced to in The New Order and is an excellent foundation for future entries in the series.
Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus wraps up the feeling of a blockbuster movie in something you can interact with. There's a lot of games that do that, but the spectacle here is outstanding, and the fast-paced gunplay and compelling main story made me want more when the credits rolled. Killing Nazis is one of the most fun and wholesome things a person can do, and there's no better way than to do it with Wolfenstein 2.