Bethesda has become a publishing house responsible for visceral, cathartic first-person games that feel really good. Dishonored & Doom spring to mind, and of course 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order.
A bold reboot of an ancient franchise, The New Order received rave reviews for its alternate-history story and excellent gunplay, some of the finest we’ve ever seen.
The New Colossus is the hotly anticipated sequel to the 2014 romp, and it picks up exactly where it left off. At the end of The New Order, B.J has brought down Deathshead and was gravely injured.
Of course, this doesn’t stop the Kreisau Circle from restoring his tattered body with the help of a mech-suit so that he can bring down the Nazis all over again. The game clearly puts across that B.J is not the man he once was. He is struggling against serious adversity, only propped up by the prospect of children from his lover Anya (and his death drive to stop the Nazi scourge)
First of all, we should talk about the story. The game threads satire with emotion mostly well, marring hilarious, absurd sections with deep, emotional trauma that is heart-wrenching at times. However, an over-reliance on cutscenes leaves something to be desired. A few situations I wondered if it would be better to play out these moments rather than just watch them.
At least, make them play out like the grisly meetings with Frau Engel and her cohort where the actions are occurring in-engine, as without this the cutscenes sometimes feel detached from the story. I’d love to see MachineGames or Bethesda tackle a narrative focused first-person game like The Stanley Parable or Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. This is a strange rumination I had, but I feel like that’s what they’re attempting to move towards with this game.
Overall, the story is very well written with a number of endearing characters and touching moments, and it is a noticeable upgrade in tonality from the first game.
It’s raucously funny and terribly sad. Billy acquires even more edge to his character, acknowledging his shoot-first nature well within the narrative to play off of other actors.
The locations are quite varied, but I was expecting a few more outdoor sections so that the game could differentiate itself from its predecessor. Whilst in The New Order you fought across bridges, cable-cars and castles, The New Colossus mainly takes place in underground Nazi stations and headquarters. A ruined city of Manhattan lacks the visual set pieces to draw the eye beyond its destruction, and New Orleans, whilst lovingly recreated, felt a little bit uninspired.
I mean, at one point you leave the planet, so it’s not like they’re not trying to show new locations to players, but the memorable locations where you’re shooting from the first game don’t really return. The moments I remember most are the almost on-rails sections like exploring the controlled city of Roswell, visiting B.J’s birthplace in Texas and auditioning for a movie role on Venus.
Some might say I should be able to remember the surface of Venus, but realistically, it looked a bit like a level from Doom and there wasn’t much to do beyond follow the signposts and kill the Nazis. Not a bad thing, but overall, I think these interesting locations could be used better outside of the cutscenes.
The labyrinths and halls in between were fun, but they feel strangely detached. I’m often walking and killing my way to a prompt that lets me exit the level, instead of completing any meaningful objectives within the space. This is a bit of a loaded complaint, as the gunplay is just as good if not better, it’s just that I’m not doing much else on top of it.
Often, even when you’re in a fascinating environment, the game still makes you kill Nazis in halls and corridors that you know all too well, which is a shame.
The hub in between levels (Eva’s Hammer) is a novel introduction, but being able to return to a safe environment removes the feeling of a long, arduous journey felt in The New Order where nobody stopped to take a break against the Nazis. I think in that sense, The New Orders linearity worked very well.
Mick Gordon’s soundtrack is here and absolutely wonderful, coating each encounter with thick adrenaline, enhancing the bloodlust. The introduction of the hatchet makes for even more gruesome sfx and kills, with the shotgun providing a meaningful crunch when you’re busting through Nazi armour.
Further, (and no spoilers because it’s a doozy) but once you acquire B.J’s ‘augmentations’ the game becomes even more stylized to your own gameplay prerogative, and literally running through Nazis and turning them into viscera with the Ram Shackles feels and sounds delightful.
The games arsenal is upgraded to be wackier, but it’s hard to justify the slowing nature of a massive laser when you could get up close and personal with the shotgun. As a consequence of this, the gunplay is not as fast and varied as Doom, but it still reaches great heights whilst being grounded.
With the contraptions, weapon upgrades and all new perk boosts this is a definitive improvement on The New Order, but it doesn’t feel quite as refreshing as it did back then. Whilst the story is bold it also feels cut short, and you’ll probably be surprised when it ends. Hopefully, this means we’ll get another Wolfenstein game, which can only be a good thing.
Playing on the PC I had to deal with a few crashes, and the game felt it could be optimized better. The stories on the Steam review page (if you can ignore the ridiculous politically charged ones) mostly corroborate this issue, which is a little disconcerting, but I’m assuming Bethesda will patch the main issues. My rig is not perfectly up to date so I did expect some problems, but I had to lower the resolution from 1080p to get a smooth experience and I was playing on a 980m. The quality of textures makes this a reality though, I guess.
Overall, this is a game that will delight first-timers with its graphics, excellent writing and a wonderful score. For those of you who’ve played The New Order & Doom, you’ll find the same, but the gameplay that exists between the exit level prompts will be familiar albeit slightly improved and lacking in the fresh feeling that you’re used to. If you can look past that in favour of more (and you should because it’s worth it) then this is a game for you. If you’re going to get bored of turning Nazis into viscera in similar corridors after every plot beat then maybe that might dampen what the rest of the game has to offer, and The New Colossus may not be for you.
This review copy of Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus was provided by Bethesda. Our Editor-In-Chief Jordan Oloman spent 10 hours melting Nazis and feeding pigs.