Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

There are few gaming franchises with as long and storied a history as the Wolfenstein franchise.

Inaugurating the era of first-person shooters, Wolfenstein later gave way to DOOM, the iconic inspiration behind an entire genre in gaming.

Though successful in its own right, Wolfenstein is not DOOM though the two share a developer and publisher. It was very much its own game and a revolutionary one at that. Once DOOM catapulted to success, Wolfenstein was largely forgotten in the tidal wave of mania that swept PC gaming with DOOM’s release.

While id Software has resurrected the Wolfenstein franchise multiple times over the course of its history – typically to positive results – few iterations are as cinematic and action-oriented as the latest series of Wolfenstein games. Showing signs of inspiration from multiple other titles in the now-ubiquitous genre, Wolfenstein’s combination of role playing game elements, an involved story, and off-the-wall, intense action make it a distinct powerhouse stalwart among a sea of lukewarm sequels and remakes. Not a remake and not exactly a sequel to the original series, the new Wolfenstein games stand on their own as some of the best available. Wolfenstein II: A New Colossus, the follow-up to 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order, is not only an excellent sequel but also improves, in many ways, upon its predecessor’s strengths.

An action-adventure first person shooter developed by Machine Games and published by Bethesda, Wolfenstein II: A New Colossus stars series’ hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz as he fights alongside the resistance against the Nazi regime in America in this continuation of the alternative history story introduced in the last game. Delivered in chapters, the player is presented with a somewhat rudimentary choice in the beginning of the game that impacts the rest of the story including what characters are encountered, among other things. This also amps up the game’s replayability by giving you multiple endings and playthrough options.

The game also sports a huge arsenal of weapons, the majority of which can be dual-wield weapons, as well as a cover system that may seem reminiscent of that employed by Gears of War. As in most first-person shooter games of the modern era, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus uses a regenerating health bar that encourages both intense action and judicious use of weaponry and cover.

Without spoiling the plot, let’s just say that Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is wild but in a good way. There are moments when it doesn’t take itself too seriously that break up the otherwise gory in-your-face presentation it uses in many of its narrative cut scenes. The story is strong though and really shows you how video game narrative is catching up with television and film in terms of tropes and delivery.

In some ways the game’s narrative is reminiscent of some kind of HBO series or even something you’d find in a Japanese anime. It’s just that…out there at times. Earlier rebirths of Wolfenstein focused on the occult and oppressive nature of fascism while this game tends more toward the action-filled Hollywood blockbuster style of game. It also tends to riff on some modern themes even though it is set in a time period about forty years prior. Issues such as racism and xenophobia are addressed as well as the brutal nature of the Nazi regime. The game maintains a distance from becoming overtly preachy at the risk of damaging the game, which is an action game at its heart, but there are messages there for the gamer who likes to read more deeply into things.

We’re talking about the story here so much because everything else is well done and executed almost without complaint. Again, it is rare to have a game in this genre that does such a good job of combining so many disparate elements. Many of the characters you meet will make an impression on you and their distinct plotlines and personalities are true case studies in how to craft a narrative with a cast of villains, heroes, and the gray area in between.

It would probably help if you had played the previous game in order to fully understand everything that is going on but you’re not required to do that. This is because Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus provides an excellent standalone experience despite its continuing storyline. That said, the combined experience is so masterful you may want to consider playing the games in order to heighten your enjoyment. Some reviews of this game have delved quite deeply into the nuances and details of the story found in each game but those are legit spoilers and the twists and turns of the story should not be detrimental or overly positive to a game’s final tally if it is done well.

After all, that is why it is a video game, and gameplay is typically more important than story or graphics.

Here, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus delivers in spades. While other series are going the route of multiplayer action spectaculars, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus’s reliance on a narrative-driven game is a breath of fresh air in a field that largely treats plot, narrative, and characters as expendable and unnecessary elements that typically only serve to direct the player to the matchmaking lounge.

But the genre’s popularity has also led to the creation of a slew of triple-A quality titles and series that serve as not only pillars of the fps niche but also gaming as a whole: Call of Duty, Halo, Gears of War, and Battlefield, to name a few. Multiplayer is great, but it is also everywhere. Some games are better served by a strong narrative and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is one of them.

In terms of action, Wolfenstein II is more akin to its PC forebears than it is anything else. The action is intense, and the Nazis are numerous, giving the game an almost arcade-like quality at times. There are stealth elements to the game but it isn’t the overriding theme and, indeed, is merely a style choice if anything. Our hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz is more than happy to run-and-gun everything in his sights, and the game’s engine never once stutters or gives out under the intense melee going down on the screen. Like its story, the action is brutal and graphic – probably not the best combination for some gamers but it is par for the course for the series. How you choose to play doesn’t impact this as much because silent and deadly or open fire both result in visceral scenes that will sometimes make you flinch if not squirm in your seat.

Of course, making the enemies super evil inhuman Nazis is supposed to distance you from this somewhat, and the flights of absurdity also help serve as an interlude from what would otherwise be a really gory slugfest more reminiscent of DOOM than Wolfenstein.

The weapons, while pretty basic for the most part, are customizable to an extent and represent some of the best and worst aspects of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. Namely, when dual-wielding guns you select from available weapons using a scroll wheel, one for each hand. Switching weapons on the fly, initially, is a pain in the ass and will likely get you killed in the heat of the action. The more powerful weapons always feel satisfying, but they typically require both hands to use – trading any advantage you may receive from them with slow use in a frenetic, fast-paced game. The upgrade kits for the weapons are quite rare in the game and using them is a weighty decision. This is both good and bad: Good because it makes you consider your play style and overall strategy in A New Colossus, and bad because your character will never be this god-like entity in the game that many players crave. After all, Master Chief tends to dominate when he shows up in Halo, but you’ll never quite have that feeling in Wolfenstein II. Instead it will feel like an uphill slog, one that is fun and exceedingly violent, but a struggle from beginning to end nonetheless. This style matches the narrative and highlights its strengths.

If BJ struggles against this overwhelming enemy, it makes him more human, but if he obliterates them at every turn, it makes the player question just how powerful this big bad guy is after all. The balance between these two realms is often the hallmark of a good game, and Wolfenstein II pulls it off exceedingly well.

Graphics, sound, action, and story all combine for an experience that is both standalone and completely necessary for fans of the previous game. It never leans too heavily on its action without telling you its story and the world breathes with a life that shows the craft put into it and grips the player at the same time. Evoking the best of the Hollywood blockbusters of yesterday while delivering the best gameplay of the modern era, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a modern classic for this generation.