Some will insist that good writing relies upon shades of grey, and that complex character motivations are a must. Wolfenstein II doesn’t really have that. Instead, it makes the player realize that they are dealing with the biggest piles of garbage imaginable. The first hour of the game does an incredible job of making the player truly hate two people: B.J. Blazkowicz’s father and the returning Frau Engel from The New Order. There’s no wiggle room to be had. These characters are pure evil, and they unequivocally deserve to die. It turns out that sometimes it’s nice to have a villain that players can just purely hate.
This hatred is fully earned by some increasingly disturbing imagery that defines the opening moments of The New Colossus. These moments, which are so grotesque that I wound up looking away from my television screen at several points, are why the game’s brutal acts of violence become so satisfying shortly thereafter. Wolfenstein II features melee kills that would make DOOM blush, as B.J. chops off limbs and slits throats with a hatchet. Not once did I ever feel bad about the pure pain I was inflicting because I knew that deep down they deserved every single ounce of suffering they received. In one of the least shocking developments of 2017, it winds up that violently killing Nazi scum is actually a very good thing.
From a pure gameplay perspective, those who played The New Order will feel right at home in Wolfenstein II. It’s still a ridiculously fast-paced shooter (and movement feels a bit more like DOOM now due to the high-tech suit that B.J. wears), and players will be picking up everything from scraps of armor to fruit in order to overcharge their health while they run around environments shooting foes. There’s not a ton new here, but some tweaks make an already successful formula even more fun.
A lot of the early hours of Wolfenstein II show a side of Blazkowicz that is rarely seen—a side of weakness. He starts off unable to walk, using a wheelchair to maneuver around while killing white supremacists, and his health (which can still be overcharged) tops off regularly at 50. On top of this, players see a man who’s not worried about his future, but of the country that his yet-to-be-born twins will be raised in. He’s carrying a burden of poor health and knows his days are numbered. The ultimate killing machine is tired, and he’s come to grips with his own seemingly inevitable death.
Considering the themes of the last Wolfenstein game, it’s not shocking that The New Colossus deals with some serious issues such as trauma and racism. In fact, it was practically expected considering how well it was handled previously. Despite this, Wolfenstein II constantly managed to surprise me throughout its story. I’m weary to ruin any moments, but I will say that there were several points in the game that managed to quite audibly shock me. Many times I thought that I had seen the best moment of the game, and that there was no way it could possibly be topped, and I was proved wrong an equal amount of times. Considering The New Order dealt with giant mechs, acid trips, and going to outer space, it says a lot that the sequel managed to up the ridiculous factor tenfold.
One thing became very clear while playing through The New Colossus, and that was that the confidence of MachineGames is clearly on another level. Many of the campaign’s best moments seem like throwaway ideas that a designer joked about, and in many other studios, they’d be met with a response of “but what do you seriously want to happen here?” Rather than settling for something more blasé, the MachineGames always went for the best ideas they came up with. It’s that confidence that allows them to pull off events that could’ve easily ruined the story if executed poorly, and by fully committing to the ridiculous they manage to tell an impactful story all while providing many laugh out loud moments.
It’s not just the story beats that make the campaign so incredible, it’s how the gameplay and story manage to complement each other so well. It’d be one thing if Wolfenstein II was ridiculous in cutscenes and was an average first-person shooter while playing, but the player regularly gets to engage with these moments first-hand. From riding on the back of a Panzerhund to engaging in one of the best espionage missions in all of gaming, the memorable sequences are regularly playable.
If there’s one slight disappointment, it’s that The New Colossus lacks a finale that equals the rest of the game. Thankfully, getting to dispose of the main villain is more than satisfying in all of its own (I really can’t stress how much this game made me hate these characters), so it’s not like it goes out on a complete whimper. There’s also a shocking amount of post-game content that opens up after the final chapter is completed. Players can go back to story locations (including some new areas) to hunt down Nazi generals, and complete a ton of side-quests. It also gives the player another opportunity to spend more time with the very likable cast of characters, and that’s very much appreciated in a game that rarely slows down.
I had high expectations going into Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, but MachineGames managed to outdo them in every way imaginable. They’ve created one of the most ridiculous video games ever made, and one that is never afraid to be clear about its message of equality & justice. While it’s easy to focus on the over-the-top story beats and memorable scenes, The New Colossus is carried by an incredible amount of heart from start to finish.
Wolfenstein 2 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.