From the moment I finished The New Order, I knew MachineGames’ new direction for the first-person shooter franchise was going to be something to anticipate every few years. Now, following a politically charged marketing campaign, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus has landed on American shores. I’m happy to say that, despite some unnecessarily over-the-top scenes, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus may not only be my favorite shooter campaign of 2017, but it may be my favorite shooter campaign of all time.
From Billy’s mom to Set Roth, there are several Jews with expressed faith in the game. Billy himself expresses belief in God at some points throughout the story. Set, one of the members of your crew, is a Jewish scientist who refers to the ancient technology of a Jewish sect known as the Da’at Yichud. He basically implies they’re an ancient society hundreds of years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of technology.
The violence and gore in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus may be more extreme than any game I’ve otherwise experienced. On top of the expected gore and violence from shooting and blowing up your way through the Nazi forces, there are several scenes particularly worth noting.
Early on in the game, there is a scene that depicts some pretty rough domestic violence in the form of spousal abuse, child abuse, and animal abuse from an angry, belligerent figure. Your character is forced into a situation where he has to shoot his own dog. If you fail to do so, the dog is still shot with a shotgun and you can see blood fly all over the place.
In another scene, a character is violently decapitated with an axe, and as their body writhes and twitches on the ground, a second character loses an arm to the same axe. The villain then makes sick light of the situation, dancing around with the head and mocking other people in the room with it. In yet another scene later in the game, there is an additional decapitation.
One scene depicts a shotgun blast to a foe’s head up close and personal. Other characters in the scene sickeningly rejoice at the gory spectacle. Yet another scene shows a hatchet sunk into a character’s face up close and personal.
There’s a lot of crude humor and language in the game. Characters constantly use insults and slurs. No curse word, including racial epithets, are off the table with The New Colossus.
There are multiple scenes in the game that depict sexual behavior and content in various forms. One character makes strong implication of cunnilingus while parading around a room with a decapitated head. A different scene depicts two characters having sexual intercourse on a submarine, though no body parts are explicitly shown here. One particularly jaw-dropping, borderline fetishist scene depicts a pregnant lady topless, covered in blood, firing weapons into oncoming enemies.
*Note* though not sexual in nature, one scene depicts a nursing mother’s exposed breast as she’s feeding her child.
Alcohol is a major affectation for several of the characters in The New Colossus. If you chose to save Fergus, he almost constantly has a bottle of liquor in his hands outside of missions. One character has his own home-brewed whiskey with which he and Billy have a drinking contest. One scene later depicts everyone on your ship getting drunk and reveling in various forms of alcohol then having to work through what happened during the blackouts and hangovers. Choosing to save Wyatt over Fergus can eventually lead to a scene that depicts an acid drug trip.
Other Negative Themes
Between Billy’s father, the Nazi regime, and the Nazis handing power to the KKK, racism is disgustingly alive and well in the world of The New Colossus. Some characters, Billy’s father especially, openly use racial slurs to degrade people of color. Billy’s father, in a later scene, made the grotesque statement, “This is a white man’s world now. White man’s gotta keep it Christian.”
Billy and his team are eclectic, welcoming members of all races and creeds in their efforts to topple the Nazi regime and incite a revolution. This is a stark contrast to the racism depicted in the world. Beyond that, you’re fighting to take down the Nazis, just as we’ve been doing in World War II era games for years.
The literal face of a genre since Wolfenstein 3D dropped in 1992, American soldier and FPS posterboy William Joseph “B.J.” Blazkowicz is back. Instead of roaming around occupied Europe, however, this time he’s bringing the fight to U.S. shores. With an appetite for destruction, an armory to match, and an eclectic, well rounded crew of anti-Nazi rebels at his side, he’s aiming to spark a revolution and kill a lot of people along the way.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus picks up literally where its predecessor dropped off. B.J.’s lying on the ground, torn apart and waiting for it all to end with the nuke he called onto his position. Just moments before the bomb is to hit, his friends show up and whisk him aboard their stolen U-boat. After saving his life with emergency surgery, he passes out. When he awakes, another 5 months have passed. Anya, the woman he loves, is very pregnant, and the U-boat is under attack from high-ranking German forces. That sets up everything New Colossus needs to turn the next 10-15 hours into one of the wildest, most memorable rides you’ll take this year.
The storytelling in New Colossus is phenomenal. It’s been incredible to watch MachineGames turn the bloody, grunting face from a quarter century ago into one of the most well-realized game heroes of all time. Wolfenstein II successfully humanizes B.J. with a heartbreaking backstory, accompanied by compelling inner monologue full of self-doubt and trepidation. Though he had a difficult life, he’s redeemed as the face of those who stand against oppression.
On top of great narrative dialogue and witty banter, the cast is brought to life through excellent realtime cutscenes (running at 30 fps; actual gameplay is 60 fps). Some of them are full of jaw-dropping moments (frequently full of lewd or grotesque content) but they all flesh out the story marvelously in the effort to help players identify with our Texan protagonist and his comrades. At the end of the day, New Colossus has some of the most insane moments in video game history, but it also manages to tell its tale as deftly as any shooter ever has.
The gameplay mechanics in New Colossus will feel familiar to fans who’ve played New Order. You have three skill trees, each of which earn you perks as you complete tasks for playing a certain way (like delayed alarms for killing enemies stealthily, or increased magazine size for using heavy weapons). Whether you choose to tackle situations with stealth, utilizing silenced pistols and hatchets, or loud and proud with dual shotguns, you’re constantly working toward upgrades just by playing the way you want. Later in the game, your options broaden even more, allowing for some fun environment traversal with a unique twist.
Gunplay and movement feels great. Every death I experienced, I earned. On the higher difficulties, the game makes you work for every inch of ground, too, often forcing you to stay on the move. Playing on the PC, I often resorted to save-scumming particularly difficult sections. Still, I knew finding myself in a sticky situation meant I probably did it to myself, drawing attention with open fire or catching the eye of a guard on patrol.
On top of the base game, there are several side missions to hold your attention. When you kill enemy officers, they drop Enigma codes. Late game, back at your base, you can play a minigame to decode the cards, discovering the locations of high ranking Nazi officers. Taking on those missions and eliminating the targets can net you skills, gear, and more. They’re even available after the credits roll if you didn’t finish them before the end of the narrative.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is, without a doubt, one of the most polished games this year. The visual design feels familiar while portraying a broken alternate reality we can all get wrapped up in. From Nazi war machines to irradiated wastelands to KKK-led cities celebrating Nazi rule with parades, the world of New Colossus will drive a wide range of emotions from grotesque to engrossing and beyond. Cutscenes and character models are beautifully animated as well.
In terms of the game’s aural delivery, voice lines are a grand slam. Every major character feels like a real person in a real situation, with motives and personality. The game’s soundtrack excels setting up both pulse-pounding action-oriented moments as well as quiet, emotionally driven sequences. It’s clear the team behind the game cared deeply about delivering quality in every aspect of their product.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is, in this critic’s opinion, the best shooter campaign of 2017. The game feels tight, accentuated by excellent movement and gunplay, while the characters and their story are brought to life and shared wonderfully. There is some explicit adult content I felt was unnecessary, and I would not, under any circumstances, allow a child near this game. At the end of the day, however, New Colossus has shown the world that not only can an old dog learn new tricks, he can still show the pack he deserves to be the leader.
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The Bottom Line
Wolfenstein's follow up is a wild ride through alternate history with a healthy dose of gore and absurdity. It has some of the strongest character development and storytelling of any first person shooter in history and, though the gameplay can prove difficult, the feel of combat is fantastic. When you mix in a great soundtrack, top notch visual design, and excellent voice work, you're in for a treat. *Note* - Do *NOT* let the kids play this (or watch it, for that matter).