Reviews January 16, 2018

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: Xbox One (Also on PS4, PC)
Genre: FPS
Rated: M
Players: 1
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 10/27/2017
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: MachineGames

One of the things I loved about the MachineGames Wolfenstein: The New Order, was the juxtaposition of absurd happenings and the realistic treatment of characters. It featured bombastic gameplay where the player could duel wield rocket launchers, battle giant robots, and eviscerate unsuspecting Nazi soldiers while traversing a space station. Crazed villains would survive grievous wounds, as if it was their destiny to monologue one more time before dying. This sort of thing was nestled by quieter moments, where the heroes mourned their fallen. Bouts of laughter would erupt during celebrations, however short lived. Conversations between NPCs weren’t wasted on idle chit chat; they spoke about their lives, past and present, while incorporating recent developments brought upon by the player. This balancing of extremes brought about something grand, providing a refreshing experience that hasn’t really been matched till now.

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Following the events of the last game, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus opens with William “BJ” Blazkowicz (the protagonist) being rescued after successfully destroying Deathshead’s fortress. This sizable blow to the Nazi regime left Blazkowicz in critical condition. He was so messed up that he fell into a coma – a predicament not unlike his fourteen-year stint in the psychiatric asylum in The New Order, only this time he’d awaken months later on a stolen U-boat. Explosions rock him out of his coma as crazed Nazi commander, Frau Engel’s forces attack via a flying ship. Armed soldiers board the boat and force their way into the lower decks. As the bullets are flying, Blazkowicz fights back while confined to a wheelchair; he literally rolls up on his enemies before opening fire. And that’s the sane part.  

The gunplay is still over-the-top in all the right ways. It’s fun sneaking through an environment to silently dispatch enemies. Blazkowicz is mean with an axe, able to surgically remove limbs before burying it into a Nazi’s skull. Going in guns blazing is also an option. Lasers, shrapnel spewing grenades, and hand cannons are just some of the tools used in the field. Each instrument of death is upgradable with scopes, fiery bullets, armor pricing rounds that’ll blow holes through cover. All of which are needed considering how good a shot the Nazi’s are. Robotic dogs that breath fire and mechs outfitted with rocket packs – even alligators will make the going tough.

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This isn’t the easiest shooter. Old school mechanics (like needing health packs) will keep players on their toes. It never gets too frustrating and there are multiple difficulty settings for those of us that just want to see how the narrative unfolds.  The upgrade system helps keep things entertaining, regardless of your skill level – the play-based perks system has returned from The New Order.  Snag enough stealth kills and you’ll become sneakier, move faster while crouching, etc.. Take out multiple bad guys with explosives and you’ll eventually unlock armor upgrades, reducing the amount of damage you take from grenades and such. The system basically encouraged you to play your way.  

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The combat can be exhilarating, to say the least, but the interactions between characters is what really sells the drama. Because the Nazis were able to catch Blazkowicz with his hospital gown open, he and his crew had to find help. This leads to them rescuing a resistance group in the ruins of Manhattan, swelling the cast quite a bit. All of the important roles push the narrative in intriguing ways. Take the militant Grace Walker, an African-American woman who helps lead the group, for example. She’s a tough character. Quick to sound off on any jive turkeys; she provides a bit of humor with dialogue that inches ever so close to a bad stereotypical depiction of an angry black woman. But before she crosses that line, she’s reeled back in by moments of authentic emotion. Grace’s demeaner can be campy yet, she’s always believable.

Actress Debra Wilson did a fantastic job bringing Grace Walker to life. The same can be said about the other cast members. Their voice acting and motion capture work provided many a memorable moment. Then there are the NPC’s not directly linked to our hero BJ. The things they say are nuanced, offering up more story for anyone willing to wait around and listen. Take the secondary American characters who wanted to defect to the Nazis. It was disconcerting to see these men trying to fit in with their oppressors as they practiced derogatory chants in German. Though it was hard to hear, their depiction (and how people around them were affected) mirrored past and present happenings in the US in thought-provoking ways.

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I could talk for days about how MachineGames’ handling of racial issues made me feel. The long and short of it: whether it was through the game’s brutality or the feelings of the supporting cast, they wanted to be clear on how they felt about Nazis, white supremacy, and racism in general. And while I don’t condone violence, outside of defending oneself, my thoughts are aligned with the developer. The right side won WWII!

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is more of the same. A hodgepodge of retro and modern elements, realistic displays of emotion and ridiculous happenings – I’m amazed at how well it all works together. MachineGames also added more content without padding the experience; optional side missions and scattered collectibles encourage longer play. At the same time, it’s a much better game than The New Order. I cared about Blazkowicz and his extended family. I felt their anger and their joy. It was a rollercoaster of awesome!

Gameplay: 10
MachineGames has outdone themselves once again; they’ve created an interesting drama while staying true to Wolfenstein’s campy roots.

Graphics: 10
The game looks really good!

Sound: 10
Solid voice acting from everyone involved. The music and sound effects were great as well.

Replay Value: 10
The New Colossus if fun enough to playthrough more than once. And while I normally don’t include DLC when weighting this category, having the option to experience more of Blazkowicz’s world is favorable.

Final Score:

10

Medal of Honors Award