Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

B.J. is back, and this time he's heading stateside in his war against the Nazis.

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It's strange to think that just a few years ago, waging war against the Nazis was a perfectly acceptable way of spending the afternoon. It's a testament to just how much things have changed in the meantime that there was a public conversation about the acceptability of some of the content in Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. However, when it comes to introducing Hitler's minions to the one-man wrecking ball that is B.J. Blazkowicz, we have no such qualms. For us, it's business as usual, and for creators Machine Games and Bethesda, business is booming.

Looking back we may have underestimated Wolfenstein: The New Order. We remember the original with fondness that doesn't quite tally with our critical assessment at the time. That in itself isn't important, but our affection for the first game certainly fuelled our anticipation for this first-person shooter sequel, and upon completing this solely solo adventure, we have to say that our expectations have well and truly been satisfied.

The general story is just as silly as the first, though crucially it's not quite as camp. It's a brilliantly told yarn starring larger than life freedom fighters going up against technologically advanced Nazis ruling the world in an alternate vision of the past where the war was won after Hitler's search for the arcane yielded up game-changing weapons. In this swastika-filled reality, the Nazis are supremely powerful, even holding the mighty US of A in its iron grip. The New Colossus builds on top of the craziness of The New Order, but dials up the quality and the absurdity in equal measure. More than that, though, Machine Games delves deeper into the themes surrounding this outlandish narrative, and when viewed through the lens of everything that has happened since the last game released in 2014, it carries with it a striking political message.

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Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

There's another side of Wolfenstein II to consider, though, and that's The New Colossus the single-player adventure. With AAA publishers increasingly looking to online games as a service, questions have been asked as to the viability of linear adventures such as this one. Given the recent releases of Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin's Creed Origins, and now Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, we think it's fair to say that story-driven solo adventures are very much in good health. As if there was any doubt.

For its part, Machine Games has certainly upped the ante in terms of story, and we haven't enjoyed a shooter campaign this much in a long time. The New Colossus has a bit of everything; challenging set pieces, stealth sections, big explosions, outrageous villains, striking aesthetics, huge guns, and a gripping narrative that keeps you pushing forwards through the missions so you can find out what happens next.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus
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It's a whirlwind story and there are some batshit crazy moments to enjoy along the way. But for all the entertaining one-liners and charismatic characters, Wolfenstein's greatest success is how it refocuses history via its altered timeline. We see America through a different lens, contorted out of shape, but also somehow plausible, a feeling no doubt reinforced by modern real-world events. This is more than just clever political satire, though, as playing the underdog against the overwhelming power of the Nazi war machine also reminds us that one man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, that there are two sides to every conflict.

In this particular war, we're very much on the side of freedom (whatever that is), and in battling the Nazis we're joined by a fantastic cast of characters. The script is well-written, but it's the performances of the cast that really steal the show. The heroic ensemble is well represented, too, and we'd like to applaud Machine Games for putting a breastfeeding black woman in a position of genuine authority, and for doing so naturally and with no fuss. In terms of personality, balance, and overall entertainment, the studio has got it absolutely spot on when it comes to tongue-in-cheek writing and interesting characters.

When it comes to the visual side of things, it's a splendid looking game. The Nazis are an imposing bunch, with striking iconography and a variety of enemy designs. The advanced tech that gives them mechanised suits and futuristic equipment makes them even more daunting. Luckily for the player, Machine Games has laid on a spread of powerful weapons, most of which you can dual-wield, filling up the screen with shotguns or pistols. You're shooting from the hip with two guns, but you're packing twice the punch, and during some of the more action-packed sequences when enemies are attacking from all sides, you'll appreciate the extra firepower.

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Combat flips between stealthy exploration and chaotic gun fights. The AI seems refined compared to our memories of the original, although there were still one or two moments when our enemies were ineffectual. Most of the time, though, they made for a consistent challenge. Clever sneaks can bypass much of the combat by finding the local commander and taking him out, although if you prefer to make a big entrance, then Wolfenstein will duly oblige and you'll get rushed by extra opponents and the emphasis will be on combat until everyone is wiped out and the area is clear.

The gunplay itself is more satisfying than ever, and The New Colossus is up there with Destiny 2 in terms of weapon audio and feedback. Machine Games has kept the weapon count low, but the quality of each, along with the modifications that the player can unlock for their guns as they play, means that you'll not want for a more expansive arsenal. We mixed things up by using the Sturmgehwehr rifle at range, and the Pistole (silenced) or Schockhammer (definitely not silenced) up close depending on the situation. Otherwise, we defaulted to the Laserkraftwerk, a favourite of ours that needs charging at stations found throughout the game and that destroys certain items of scenery and makes short work of rank and file Nazi minions.

Without wanting to spoil anything, B.J. starts off the game a little worse for wear, and this manifests itself in his relatively meagre health bar. Later in the game, though, you're given the chance to upgrade with one of three game-changing abilities. Whether you opt for the double jump, or the ability to squeeze B.J. into small spaces, or have him charge through certain walls and enemies with his deadly shoulder barge, these powers give you new tactics to explore. On top of increased battlefield options, the levels themselves are built to allow you to take advantage of your new power in different ways, further enhancing the way you interact with each environment.

The levels themselves are big, and we visited some extremely disparate locations. Sometimes objectives can be a little vague which doesn't help as you navigate your way through each area, and the terrain isn't always as accessible as it first looks, but otherwise, Machine Games has crafted some genuinely exciting locations to play through. They look great too and overflow with atmosphere, and each one is full of little secrets for the player to discover.

There are letters and artworks dotted around the place too, even songs. Alas, these context-giving notes and collectibles actually detracted from the immersion they were supposed to enhance; with so much adrenaline-fuelled excitement, the last thing you want to do is stop the action and have a little read, and this would have been an ideal game to experiment with different ways of delivering this additional story to the player. At least those who go back for a second pass will find new distractions on their journey.

Your base of operations throughout the adventure is a massive submarine called the Eva's Hammer, and from here you initiate missions. It also acts as your living quarters, and it's full of things to look at and do, and your colleagues loiter around while you go about your business. Depending on a key choice made early on there's also a branching narrative that changes things up and gives you a reason to take a second run at the campaign, with vastly different interactions between missions, and a different weapon to aid you during combat.

There's an enigma machine onboard the sub and, using codes picked up from certain enemies in the game, you can find the location of new Übercommanders to tackle. Once the credits have rolled you can, therefore, carry on the fight, unlocking additional equipment and abilities while you're at it (for example, in our first side-mission we unlocked the constrictor harness that let us crawl through tight tunnels). This endgame action takes place in sections of map that have been pulled from the campaign and remixed, and that along with an unlockable permadeath mode gives the game has a dash of much-needed longevity.

Overall the mix of action and story makes for an intoxicating blend. The b-movie tropes that defined the first game return, but they're better executed here and we thoroughly enjoyed the story as a result. Thanks to some rock solid shooter mechanics and an eclectic and well-rounded cast of characters, Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus is a blast in every sense of the word, and as far as we're concerned it's the best shooter of the year. As such we're willing to recommend this visceral, over-the-top shooter to anyone with even a passing interest in the genre.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
Great mechanics, excellent level design hugely enjoyable story with lots of twists and turns, big improvement over the first.
Sometimes navigation and traversal can be a little vague, a couple of completely forgivable timeline inaccuracies.
overall score
is our network score. What's yours? The network score is the average of every country's score

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