I could probably tell you about the timeliness of this game and its release. I could probably tell you about the minor controversy that erupted on social media when the trailers were first released on YouTube. I could also probably tell you about the unbridled absolute joy that I experienced as I slaughtered wave after wave of Nazi scum with a hatchet and a shotgun, or the various touching and funny moments that pepper this amazingly cinematic gaming experience. Hell, I could even go on some long, drawn-out scholarly discourse about alternative WWII scenarios and their history in speculative fiction, from the meta-fictional satire of “The Iron Dream” to the world-building brilliance of “The Man In The High Castle.”
I could tell you about all of that.
But I’m not. Instead, I’m going to tell you about the time I kicked ol’ Adolf in his stupid head a dozen times, all for the thrill of it. Even though it meant instant death every single time, and even though it had no overall effect on the plot. I still kicked him in his stupid toothbrush mustache, and laughed every time.
I’ll still talk about the other stuff, of course.
What Is It?
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the sequel to the critically and commercially acclaimed Wolfenstein: The New Order, a reboot of the classic Wolfenstein franchise by Machine Games. After a string of somewhat mediocre installments, Machine Games brought the franchise back to the forefront of modern gaming with its mixture of cinematic storytelling, psychological complexity and offbeat humor all taking place in an alternate timeline where the Nazi War Machine succeeded in its genocidal plans of expanding the borders of the Third Reich all across the globe. It also succeeded in bringing classic and challenging FPS gameplay to modern gaming, forgoing regenerating shields and health in favor of old-school health packs and armor.
This particular installment is a direct sequel to the previous. After a somewhat botched attempt at crippling the Nazi War Machine, our intrepid hero William “B.J.” Blazkowicz wakes up some months later, crippled from the waist down and with failing kidneys. Hiding out in a U-Boat commandeered by the Kreisau Circle (the anti-Nazi resistance faction B.J. allied himself with), he first must survive a Nazi ambush (led by the psychotic and sadistic General Irene Engel) and his failing organs before he and his surviving resistance members can regroup and rebuild their forces. In particular, they are aiming on contacting the few surviving resistance cells in the Reich-occupied United States of America: one cell in the irradiated and bombed-out ruins of NYC, and another in the gigantic walled-off concentration camp in Louisiana, formerly known as New Orleans.
And during all of this, we also get a better glimpse at B.J.’s childhood, seeing his parents, his humble existence in Texas, and discovering that in some ways, the Nazis were already here.
Gameplay wise, this is a continuation of the hybrid classic/new FPS playing style of its predecessor. You use a combination of stealth, reflexes and sheer bloodlust to take out any Nazi, Klansman (yeah, they’re here, too), or sympathizer that gets in your way of the level’s goal. You are given an all-purpose hatchet to break open wooden boxes for items, pry open hatches and grates, and to hack open the faces of Nazi vermin in one of the most gruesomely satisfying melee sequences in FPS history. You must also keep an eye on health and armor, as unlike many modern FPS games there is no regenerating health or shield: Health packs and shreds of soldiers’ armor become hot commodities when you’re facing a raging horde of Hitler-lovers firing at you all at once. Said Hitler-lovers come in many forms, from regular grunts to heavily armored ‘ubermensch’ to commanders and machine dogs. Even giant mechs with lasers.
Of course, you also have quite a bit of weaponry yourself. The standard pistols and machines guns apply, as well as various modified sub-machine rifles and pistols. All of these weapons can be upgraded and modified to your liking with weapon upgrade kits that can be found throughout the game. You can also find much larger weapons like flamethrowers, disintegrating lasers, and vulcan guns. And yes, you can double-wield most of them.
Why Should I Care?
Did you miss the part where I talked about kicking Hitler? It may not be as viscerally satisfying as shooting his testicles in Sniper Elite, or watching him melt into nothingness in the original Wolfenstein 3D, but it’s one of the many small touches this game is loaded with that make it such a satisfying experience. This game’s cast and story is one of the best told in modern gaming, each with their own character traits and backstories about why they want to stick it to Adolf’s Assholes. From the Jewish inventor Seth to the Louisiana Marxist Horton, to the New York revolutionary Grace and her alien-obsessed lover Spesh. Every one of them shines as marvels of good motion capture and quality voice acting.
But that’s not all this game offers: Yes, the campaign itself is unbelievably entertaining. But along with that, you get various assassination missions to take out Nazi officers in order to further the liberation of the United States. These officers are located through the decoding of the infamous Enigma code (in real life decoded by Alan Turing), which requires obtaining pieces of code from the commanders and using a decoding console to locate their exact locations. There’s also the number of world-building newspapers and diary entries you can obtain in each level, as well as various other collectibles such as record albums, toys, ‘star cards’ (which includes photographs of the developers), and concept art.
There’s even an alternate-world version of Wolfenstein 3D called ‘Wolfstone’ that can be played inside of your U-Boat HQ. It’s quite literally the ENTIRE Wolfenstein 3D, entirely playable from start to finish. Unlike in the previous game where B.J. would routinely experience ‘hallucinatory’ throwbacks to this classic, here you can play it anytime, at any length you wish, and even save your place and come back later.
And just to state this one more time: You get to kick Hitler.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
Although amazing in many ways, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is not without its flaws. The level design is not quite as spread out and varied as its predecessor was. Whereas before you would be dropped in these wide open spaces, needing to think on your feet, here the levels are a bit more linear and predictable than before. There’s also a certain frailty to B.J. that makes him seem a lot weaker than the power fantasy he’s meant to convey. Granted, in the beginning he’s in a wheelchair after awaking from a month’s long coma, but he gets better later on and yet still can be torn to shreds with a few bullets. That may make him seem more human in the long run, but remember that this is frigging William Joseph Blazkowicz we’re talking about here! Furthermore, the campaign this time around is noticeably shorter, though the various side-quests and activities can extend it by quite a margin.
But other than those nitpicks? This game is a serious blast! My undying blood-hatred for Nazis and their other fascist ilk is fairly well-known among SmashPad faithful, and you would not be surprised to hear that this game went a long way to satisfying a much needed release in this day and age. Remember, the screenwriter for this game is the grandchild of Holocaust survivors. In an age where hating Nazis can be considered ‘controversial’ and sieg-heiling, goose-stepping wannabes are marching in the streets screaming ‘blood and soil,’ one must be reminded of the evils of Nazism and its disciples. This game may have some serious funny points, but in between we are reminded of the casual cruelty and mass murder that Hitler’s ideas require.
We are lucky we don’t live in that world where no amount of Hitler kicking would alleviate our despair.