Hands-on: Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is Game of the Year material
It's good to be Blascowicz
The New Colossus is about history. Not only the history of the Wolfenstein franchise, or the alternate history it depicts in its story, but our real world history. It takes one of the most frightening realities and presents it in a light that is at the same time absurd but terrifyingly appropriate for our modern times.
Let’s talk about the saga of Wolfenstein. Releasing in 1992, Wolfenstein 3D kicked off the first person shooter craze which really has only swelled in the time since. In the 25 years that have passed, other franchises have come and done it better. That all changed in 2014 with The New Order; not only a mechanically brilliant FPS but one that told a deeply personal and unique story. The New Colossus takes what its predecessor did and ratchets it up more than just several notches.
I’ve spent about 3 hours with the game in total, and I’m utterly convinced what I’ve played is Game of the Year material. The first level I experienced was the opening of the game, set not long after The New Order ended. Our hero, William “B.J.” Blazcowicz has woken up from his coma very much worse for wear. It’s been so long that the muscle in his legs has atrophied and he must get around via a wheelchair. This presents a problem as the U-boat he’s on is under attack from Nazis. The New Order had excellent gameplay, and it’s almost as if the team at Machine Games wanted to challenge themselves by confining you to a wheelchair. Moving around feels great, and the restrictions that being in the chair present force you to think critically about how you’re going to approach the obstacles in this level.
The opening also does a great job at reacquainting you with all the important characters in B.J.’s life; both his allies and his enemies. It takes you through moments of immense hope and crushing defeat. In essence, it is the perfect primer for exactly what the game is going to be, which is great as the beginning of The New Order is one of the most derided first levels in recent gaming history. It felt purposeful as if Machine Games was looking to make up for the misstep. Again, addressing their own history.
Whilst the opening was thrilling, it didn’t prepare me for what I was about to experience next. The Third Reich has successfully invaded America, and it’s up to B.J. and his resistance fighters to take them down. Blazcowicz is tasked with planting a nuclear warhead in the Oberkommando, the Nazis’ headquarters located at Area 52 beneath Roswell, New Mexico. As you can imagine, they’re concocting some pretty weird stuff below the surface. However, it isn’t nearly as weird as what’s occurring above. The brilliance of The New Colossus shines through in an area where absolutely no shooting occurs.
In the streets of Roswell, B.J. poses as a firefighter whilst he tries to access the underground tunnels that will take him to Oberkommando. Whilst The New Order was by no means a truly linear game, with open explorable areas of it own, the freedom to explore is much greater in this sequel. I stood and watched every single NPC interaction that occurred, fascinated by the clash of Americana and fascism and how in a lot of ways they intertwined. A woman flirting with a Nazi operative, trying to impress him with her German. Two members of the KKK being grilled by an SS guard for their poor knowledge of German history. A drunk in an alleyway badmouthing the Nazis whilst he struggles to stand up straight. Every single character had personality and a history, and I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. I hope that this is an indication of how many of the final levels will be structured.
When I had eventually seen all there was to see in Roswell, I made my way underground to Oberkommando. This is where the more linear part of the game came into play. If you remember from The New Order, each area has one or two lead operatives that if notified to your presence will call in an ungodly amount of reinforcements. An equal mix of stealth and “guns blazing” is required to beat each level, and this is once again true for The New Colossus. Game design has been refined, making for more interesting encounters with enemies. And yes, killing Nazis is still just as satisfying. The weapons all feel unique and dangerous, and it’s really great to return to seamless dual-wielding.
The game also looks as good as it feels. The New Colossus is without a doubt one of the prettiest games I have ever played, which seems a bit wrong when I’m mostly hacking the limbs off of Nazis in underground metal compounds, but it’s true. The lighting, the textures of the weapons, the explosions when I toss a grenade, and the face of an operative as I bury my axe into his skull; it is extremely dynamic and expressive and sets the new standard for realism in the genre.
We are living in what many consider to be troubled times. The balance of world power is in a metamorphosis and we are being confronted with what the crossroads of governance and morality look like. This is what The New Colossus looks to address with its story, whilst also making a kick-ass shooter that has you begging for more. It is the ultimate commentary on our world today through a completely bombastic lens. Hence why I believe it not only will be awarded for its technical achievements, but also heralded for its narrative ones, and why it will be looked at as a very important video game. It’s all about history. Please check out or Facebook and YouTube pages for my gameplay from this experience in order to see for yourself, and let us know what you think of The New Colossus in the comments.