Release Date: 10/27/17
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One (played on PS4)
ESRB/PEGI: M/PEGI 18
MSRP: $59.99 USD
By Rick Warren / Gfn2112
When The New Order released, it caught the gaming industry by surprise due to something nobody expected it to have: a great story. There were plenty of memorable locations and the gameplay was extremely solid, but the game shined most when it focused on its colorful cast of characters. Whether it be a tense encounter with one of the many twisted Nazis, an optional conversation with a side character, or BJ's inner dialogue, the game remained interesting from beginning to end. Wolfenstein The New Order was perhaps the greatest reboot in gaming history, and Machinegames pulled off something truly special with their debut game as a studio. When the sequel was revealed earlier this year, I was excited, and that excitement built up all the way to the game's launch. With The New Order having been such an amazing surprise, The New Colossus had plenty to live up to. Having just finished my 18-hour playthrough, I can say that it not only met my expectations, but completely surpassed them. In fact, Wolfenstein 2 is the greatest shooter of the generation.
Wolfenstein 2 continues right where the last game left off, and it handles the first game's events perfectly. Without spoiling anything, there was a choice early in the first game that leads to two separate timelines. In Wolfenstein 2, players make that choice again, which leads to one of two characters taking a large role in the sequel. The writers at Machinegames could have very easily found a way to leave both characters out of the story. Instead, they took the time to write two different stories and animate multiple cutscenes for both characters. This extra bit of effort on their part makes a second playthrough worthwhile, and adds weight to a choice that was made years ago. The two characters in question are just a piece of the huge supporting cast in Wolfenstein, and they're certainly not the only ones who get time to shine.
Every character that made up the resistance in The New Order makes a return in The New Colossus, and it was great to see them all again. They all got time in the spotlight during the many cutscenes attached to the main story path, but some of their best moments were completely missable. In Wolfenstein 2, players can explore a large submarine headquarters in between missions. There are side missions and a shooting gallery (as well as a fun take on the original Wolfenstein game), but the best part of this HQ is seeing the characters interact. I saw over a dozen if the small interactions, focused on either one or multiple characters. They ranged from funny to sad, matching the consistently changing tone of the main story. These clever little interactions became one of my favorite parts of the game, and they're moments that many players will probably ignore as background noise. The side characters receive just as much development outside of cutscenes as they do in them. It's an interesting tactic, but one that I loved nonetheless.
Wolfenstein 2 also introduces its share of new characters. Two new resistance leaders, Grace and Horton, join the group and bring their own followers. The factions could not be any different from each other, but they're both memorable in their own ways and quickly became a positive addition. These heroic new characters are contrasted by a returning villain, the incredibly cruel Irene Engel. She's the main enemy this time around, and she too benefits from the added attention. Her relationship with her daughter is a nice touch, but it’s her consistently evil actions that define her as one of the least sympathetic villains in video game history. Engel inspired nothing but anger from me, and she worked well because of that. She was a perfect example of the Nazis at their absolute worst, and she remained a constant threat throughout the entire game. I do, however, wish there would have been a final boss fight against her. While the conclusion of the story is fine, it's a bit anticlimactic that the final battle of the game only feels like a regular, more challenging fight.
Yet despite a great villain and one of my favorite supporting casts ever, the best storytelling in the game focuses on the star: BJ Blazkowicz. With Wolfenstein 2, BJ goes from a good character to a great character thanks to a brilliant backstory. Part of his harrowing childhood is told at the start of the game, and it's only outdone by a sequence that occurs halfway through the game at his childhood home. There were a solid twenty minutes of cutscenes here, and they were all terrific. The section was capped off by a brilliantly acted moment where BJ confronts his past, and the level stands tall as the best piece of storytelling I've seen this generation. It couldn't have been done without Brian Bloom's performance, which was consistently strong from beginning to end. Whether I was listening to BJ's thoughts or watching him talk to his now-pregnant girlfriend Anya, I was connecting with the character. While the entire cast was brilliantly written and acted, William Joseph Blazkowicz steals the show.
The Triumph of Terror-Billy
While the story is the strength of the series, it would be wrong not to acknowledge the improved gameplay of the sequel. The first thing I noticed when I started playing is that the game is much harder than the first. I was playing on the equivalent of hard difficulty, but it felt more like "Uber" from the first game. The game was a challenge, as stealth was as hard to succeed in as combat. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, as most FPS campaigns are too easy. It remained balanced enough, and eventually I grew to appreciate the challenge.
Another notable change was in the levels themselves. Machinegames seems to have taken a note from Arkane Studios games like Dishonored and Prey, as there are multiple ways to tackle every location. There are different routes through each area, and they are accessed using one of three contraptions: the battle walker, ram shackles and constrictor harness. The first lifts BJ high into the air, the second allows him to charge through barriers (and enemies), and the third allows him to squeeze into areas a normal person would not be able to. These contraptions greatly diversify gameplay, and they're a welcome addition that help to navigate levels in different ways.
The levels themselves are gorgeous, as the locations are even more memorable than the first game due to the new setting: Nazi-occupied America. From a Space-Station on Venus to a Manhattan that is no more than a nuclear wasteland, the game was always offering an interesting change of scenery. I revisited parts of these levels through optional assassination missions, which dealt with sneaking (or shooting) my way through groups of enemies to take out an Ubercommander. While these optional objectives were entertaining, I do wish there was a chapter select option, so I could play parts from the actual campaign again without completely restarting. It's a simple feature that almost every game has, and this is something that I wish had it.
Many of Wolfenstein's strengths return to accompany the new additions. There are still plenty of interesting collectibles to find. Weapons can still be upgraded, and the perk system is still beneficial. The soundtrack might not be as awesome as Doom, but it's still strong and it's used well. The Tomahawk is a great melee (and throw-able) weapon, and it fits well with the rest of BJ's powerful arsenal. The dual wielding shooting mechanics felt better than ever. It's never felt better to kill a Nazi than it does in Wolfenstein 2, and I'm excited to play through the DLC whenever it comes.
The Bioshock games were the defining story-driven shooters last generation, and this generation Wolfenstein has proudly taken up that mantle. Unlike Bioshock 2, though, Wolfenstein 2 is an even better sequel than the game that came before. It isn't flawless... but it's damn close. My minor gripes with the game (no chapter select or final boss fight) are negligible compared to its huge strengths. The writing, voice acting and cutscenes are terrific and the game features some of the best character development I've ever seen. The gameplay is smooth, the environments are exciting, and the story is unforgettable. Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus is one of my favorite games of 2017, and it's easily the best FPS I've played in years.