If you ever wondered what would happen if the world was taken over by Nazis, Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus has got you covered.
The game takes place in a dreary America, with an irradiated New York and a New Orleans turned walled-in ghetto. Basically what you’d expect a post-war, Nazi-occupied country to be like. The game is generally gloomy, with the occasional eye-catching spectacle, dotted with bits of life in a fascist alternate reality that makes exploration worthwhile.
Putting into consideration how absurd its sci-fi version of 1961 is, with some of its advancements better than our reality’s present technology, it’s incredible how the story works. The tone shifts also helps make the game more interesting.
The game tends to transition from delivering a sickening dose of virulent racism and abuse you would expect to receive as a rebel, to good old witty and comedic humour, before pivoting back to BJ dealing with his own mortality as he withers away. During one cutscene, a pretty serious conversation between BJ and his wife Anya is interrupted by someone who’s just finished using the toilet. That’s the tone of the game encapsulated, indeed: moments of sincerity punctuated by the silliest of jokes.
The real distinguishing features are the non-combat areas. Sometimes you catch the NPC conversations in passing, one example is when you walk around a Nazi parade in Roswell, New Mexico, you see SS troops chatting with the KKK. It was somehow unsettling to know that they found common ground. Another great place for some non-combat incidental dialogue is the Eva’s Hammer that serves as your base, though most side characters looked slightly flat and sometimes a bit horrifying next to BJ and the main characters.
Of course, a good game/hero always needs a fantastic villain, and what better villain could you ask for besides General Engel? Though screentime was somewhat limited, I felt she stole the show with her utterly gleeful sadism whenever she appears. Unpredictable and without a shred of mercy in her even to her own offspring, you often find her toying with her prey for the enjoyment of it and sometimes she’s one step ahead. To me, she’s far and away one of the most memorable game villain.
General Engel, BJ’s childhood and his relationship with his abusive, monstrously (but not unbelievably) racist father were hugely useful in getting the blood boiling. Not that another reason was needed to want to overthrow an alternate-reality Third Reich, but it makes running around hacking off Nazi limbs with a hatchet feel like justifiable homicide.
Even though it’s always fun to go in guns blazing, there are a lot of Nazis to kill, so stealth is a skill you sometimes have to use to thin them out. Take note of their herd’s head honcho – the officers. If left alive to trigger the alarm, they’ll summon reinforcements, and things escalate quickly when massive enemies show up.
It isn’t a “real” stealth game. Enemies won’t be triggered when they spot a dead body (you can’t hide corpses) but will sometimes detect you when you wouldn’t expect they could, which is frustrating since I am a person who avoids confrontation. Though the stealth gameplay prevents every fight from beginning the same way, you’re always welcome to go head first if you want a challenge
For me, the game felt more laborious than most action-adventures I’ve played. I had to drop the difficulty level since I kept dying in the same chapter. Part of that struggle is finding a combat style that worked for me and sticking with it, I also didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t upgrade my character’s stats like other games.
Having the right combination of weapons, taking cover, and scrounging for health and ammo that are scattered across the room while on the run helps, but it made it felt like every fight was some kind of boss match.
Wolfenstein 2’s Nazis put on the most rewarding performances in the death scenes, MachineGames really knows how to make gruesomely murdering 2D Nazis more satisfying than it already is. From merely reacting based on what body part you’ve shot, to the blood splattering melee kill animations from getting hacked up, or getting vaporised while you sweep a heavy laser weapon across the screen, it was quite a show.
However, you can’t pause the action mid-fight to switch weapons, causing me not to use the existing dual-wielding system as much as I wanted to. You sacrifice accuracy for more firepower which was useful in close or mid-range combat, but it was a clumsy process to change weapons on duel-wielding especially under pressure. The single weapons wheel changes your choice of gun for both sides, selecting the “switch hands” option is the only way you can access the other side. I sometimes close the wheel accidentally before picking my weapon, it’s a rather stressful process when bullets are flying towards you.
During my exploration of the game’s options menu, I found out there was a perk system that was a carryover from The New Order, which gives upgrades just for scoring kills on things like headshots and melee kills. It didn’t seem like the perks did much though.
BJ’s pretty picky about certain things as well like what he’ll jump over, it didn’t affect the gameplay too much, but I died more than I’d like because I got stuck on invisible obstacles – especially in the later levels.
Though mostly frustrating, the game gives a reason to start over. You start off with repeating a decision you made in The New Order to spare the life of one of two characters. Your new choice determines which one is alive in the sequel and that gives you access to a different weapon together with the person playing a role in the story. After seeing Fergus play his role, I’m interested to see how Wyatt would’ve handled things.