It’s a rare treat when a big-budget first-person shooter is at its best during its story elements, and that’s what’s special about Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. In this sequel to the fantastic Wolfenstein: The New Order the true magic of the game is in its characters, story, and heart. There is an incredibly competent shooter in the mix as well, but the overarching story and character beats are something truly special.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus picks up right after the events of the original title, in a world where the Nazis won World War II and occupied America. The game begins with the hero, B.J. Blazkowicz, terribly wounded and having been rescued by his team. The resistance has struck a blow against the Nazi regime but the war is far from over and they are being chased by Nazi forces.
B.J. wakes up severely diminished, but the action starts right away with a pretty unrealistic but oh-so-awesome action sequence with B.J. in a wheelchair killing Nazi soldiers. While the concept of a frail, heavily wounded soldier in a wheelchair zipping around a submarine with machine guns is frankly ridiculous, it does set the tone of B.J.’s character. He is stubborn, committed, and accepting of his more-than-likely mortality coming soon. This strength of character is the bedrock of the game and a hallmark of its amazing story and relationships.
Wolfenstein: The New Order had a great backend story in which characters were explored and secrets unveiled in inventive ways. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus takes this to another level, with random conversations occurring all the time, giving you many different ways to learn more about the characters you encounter. The submarine that was stolen in the first game is a mobile base, and there are a great many pathways, avenues, and even secret areas to explore. Around nearly every corner is a story tidbit to experience which adds a depth to this game that rivals large-scale RPGs.
This depth of narrative is something truly special and elevates this game in a way that will be hard to top. Before and after every single ‘level’ there is a cutscene of sorts that explores B.J. and the team’s world a little more with every passing moment. These scenes are seamlessly integrated and uniformly excellent, even when it’s just a short pep talk before heading into another fight. From a logistics perspective, the core of the game is the gunplay, but the narrative and character growth form the true heart of this title.
When the actual gameplay does step to the front, Wolfenstein II is as tight and engaging as its predecessor. The action is fairly straightforward, with some stealth and strategy options available if you choose, but by and large this game is all about big action and even bigger guns. The enemies range from cyber dogs and front-line soldiers to huge armored robots and super soldiers. Thankfully B.J. has an ever-expanding arsenal that can all be dual-wielded (which is ridiculous but awesome) to take down hordes of Nazi enemies.
The campaign runs through a wide variety of mission types that I won’t describe here so as to not spoil the storyline. Suffice it to say that B.J. will battle Nazis through many different areas with many different options, routes, and obstacles. Throughout there is an urgency, as B.J. is not the man he once was and he knows it. This adds a sense of loss and acceptance echoed by many comments B.J. makes as he progresses. He is aware of everything he loves and is fighting for and is willing to keep going no matter the cost.
As the game progresses some new skills are acquired and new challenges faced, such as shooting galleries, retro arcade cabinets with Wolfenstein 3D on them, and Assassinations. Assassinations are quite cool, for as you take out commanders in the main game Enigma codes are collected. These Enigma codes can be used to unlock locations of high-ranking officers. Once you find them, you unlock mini-missions where B.J. can go and take out these commanders to help the war effort. These are generally very challenging and add a nice twist to the core gameplay.
Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a fantastic shooter with tight action and gameplay, but the story is the true star of the game. This alternate universe set in the 1960s has a story that is as full of hope and companionship as of pure evil and despair. The use of Nazis in the storyline follows the natural progression of the series but in a way that is as engrossing as it is terrible. At times it’s very hard to watch events unfold, but the strong narrative and character growth makes it worth it. Not only does Wolfenstein II have the best stories of any game in years, it will stack up as one of the better stories across all media this year as well. This game is a true standout in the crowded FPS genre and proves that narrative-based single-player experiences still have a place in the world of gaming.