LAN Mob Game Review - Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is the long awaited sequel to 2014's wildly successful reboot; Wolfenstein: The New Order. The Wolfenstein series is synonymous with killing Nazis, but as MachineGames demonstrated with The New Order, the rebooted series has a lot more substance than the Nazi brains on the wall. The fictional alternate reality of Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus not only cranks the violence and action up to eleven, it also manages to create some genuinely tender human moments which were more powerful and pivotal than I imagined going in, and this is coming from somebody who played New Order and Old Blood. The New Colossus is easily one of my favorite games of 2017 and proves a single player first person shooter can go toe to toe with some of the strongest game releases in recent memory for the title of GOTY.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
Released on October 27th, 2017
Available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Microsoft Windows

The New Colossus picks up immediately where The New Order left off, just seconds after the final boss of the game. If you didn't play The New Order, fret not, MachineGames does an excellent job of filling you in rather quickly. BJ Blazkowitcz, the series' main character, is in an extremely bad state in the beginning of the game due to the events of the first. BJ is jarred awake from his 5 month coma to his current home (a U-Boat) under an aggressive Nazi attack and players are urgently forced to control a wheelchair confined BJ in an attempt to save his home. MachineGames did an excellent job of catching players up to the state of the world in the aftermath of BJ's mission in New Order, and needless to say things are grim. The introduction sequence for New Colossus is incredibly well designed and really sets the stage for what kind of titanic tasks players will be undertaking, why you should care and what kind of man BJ is and who has surrounded himself with. I feel comfortable saying The New Colossus' first 20 minutes or so may be my favorite introduction sequence of all time; it's seriously that perfect. I couldn't help but feel giddy with excitement for the missions ahead, and genuinely invested in taking down the Nazi regime, despite how glum things look early on. To do that, we have to kill A LOT of Nazis, and as expected, The New Colossus delivers on that front.

As mentioned above, the early portion of Wolfenstein II has players scooting around in a wheelchair defending their home and the people BJ cares about, which makes for a pretty unforgettable sequence. Spoiler alert - BJ is still good at killing Nazis in a wheelchair.  

The New Colossus' narrative is possibly the best weapon in MachineGames' arsenal, which is quite the accomplishment considering some of the "firearms" at your disposal; but more on that later. The primary objective of Blazkowitcz and the Kreisau Circle is to overthrow the Nazi occupation of the United States of America. Unfortunately, a good amount of the American population is unwilling to rise up and bear the flag of rebellion, so it's up to the Circle to prove change is possible and taking back the country is well within the realm of possibility. Despite some early misfortunes, the Kreisau Circle is made up of some very capable and memorable people, including Sister Grace the no nonsense freedom fighter, the mad scientist and well of information Set Roth and Max Hass, a pacifist man child. The very distinct diversity of the Circle members is also important to note and it's ironic to the point of humor that they are the main resistance force. BJ is Aryan! There's even an ex-Nazi! In The New Order players were forced to choose between Wyatt and Fergus' sacrifice, and that choice is present/has a major effect on the story of New Colossus as well. Anyhow after some early missions, it's made clear that the current forces of the Kreisau Circle aren't large enough to take down their current target; an absolutely despicable and evil member of the Nazi party - General Irene Engel, so the Circle sets off to increase their ranks by contacting other resistance cells.

Frau Engel appeared in The New Order, but she's the primary antagonist this time around. MachineGames did an excellent job of making players feel personally motivated to take Engel out, she's pretty sickening. I hate her so much. 

The obvious political narrative is told via a plethora of cut-scenes and monologues that interrupt the action but never trespass on the absurdity that you'd expect in a Wolfenstein game. The world is masterly crafted in such a way that every ounce of character interaction is a golden moment and it's hard not to genuinely feel compassion for each and every member of the Circle/victims of the Nazi regime. The entire cast is wonderful, well cultivated and pretty deeply developed. While the supporting cast is phenomenal, Anya and BJ definitely steal the show. The multitude of interactions between the couple not only showcase Anya's raw strength; these interactions also give us a really jarring and heartfelt look at BJ's motivations and concerns. The New Colossus does an excellent job of presenting a ridiculously campy Nazi killing machine of a man in one moment, than shedding light on something even more interesting the next moment - his vulnerable human side. We learn about BJ's upbringing, his parents, and his thoughts on the state of the world, not to mention some borderline heartbreaking monologues regarding his failing body and his impending fatherhood. In-between all the mass killing and poop jokes I was pretty surprised at how dark and contemplative the game could actually be at times, and how invested I was in BJ and Anya's relationship. 

The writing in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is by no means subtle. We're talking deep seeded themes of racism, white privilege, oppression, feminism and a very particularly nasty look at what it takes to flourish in a Nazi dominated US. 

Gameplay is pretty much what you'd expect, but that's not to take away from the experience. Outside of time spent between missions walking around the U-Boat and interacting with characters, this is a pure shooting game through and through. BJ is equipped with every kind of firearm under the sun including pistols, machine guns, rifles, shotguns, explosives and even a few hatchets for good measure. The gun-play is brutal and controls are tight and responsive, and being able to dual-wield anything you want adds a special unique twist. Gunning down an entire room of  crazy enemies including dogs, heavily armored soldiers, mech suits and even fire breathing quadruped robots, with a machine gun in each hand is so ridiculous that it's hard not to crack a smile, even when you examine the blood soaked walls when you're finished. There are some pretty heavy weapons at your disposal too if you can manage to take down the big baddies carrying them, including chain guns, flamethrowers and even a freakin' disintegration beam, which only adds to the nonsense. Despite your ability to spit out a billion rounds per second some encounters can be pretty damn difficult, especially when officers are involved. There are quite a few difficulty options which can be changed on the fly, which is pretty nice, but I never really felt the need to drop my difficulty any lower. However, these officer sections can be simple if you utilize stealth and, to nobody's surprise, BJ is pretty efficient at killing quietly too. If done properly you can get through an entire area without making a peep thanks to stealth takedowns, whipping hatchets and adding silencers to your guns via upgrade kits which can be found scattered around each mission. When said Officers are around, any noise at all will sound a bunch of alarms and your position will get absolutely drowned in Nazis and you're back to gunning them down mercilessly. Underneath all the corpses there are a good amount of collectibles to find including newspapers, gold, audio tapes and various diaries which helps add to the atmosphere and world building without stopping the action for much longer than a few seconds. As an added bonus, outside of the campaign missions you can embark on some special assassination missions for some extra content, which was pretty nice to see.

The "Lasergewehr" is pretty good at killing people. A lot of people.

Ultimately, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus surprised me in a lot of ways. The game was a bit longer than I expected and took me about 16 hours to complete, although I spent a lot of time exploring and messing around at the shooting range. There's a decent amount of replayability thanks to the Wyatt/Fergus timelines (if you choose to not import a save) and said collectibles, which helps combat some complaints about the game's length. The fictional timeline is incredibly intriguing and well thought out, and I found myself reading every single collectible just so I could piece together the differences in these universes (outside of the obvious ones). Voice acting, sound effects and the heavy metal soundtrack were all on point and sometimes, even in a big budget single player game, that's not always the case but MachineGames delivers in spades. Clearly, Wolfenstein II has earned a whole lot of praise from me and, while it certainly adds to the experience, the gunplay isn't even what makes the game so special. The brilliantly written characters are robust with spirit and personality and I couldn't help but find myself ruminating on the narrative long after the credits rolled. Wolfenstein II is riddled with themes of various natures, and one of my absolute favorites is the examination of "heroes" and what that word actually means. In Wolfenstein's case, sometimes it means gunning down hundreds and hundreds of Nazis under the nickname "Terror Billy", and sometimes it means something much more human.
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