Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Xbox One Review)
First Person Shooters have recently suffered from an unbearable on strategic gunplay and cover based shooting. Visible life totals were a thing of the past, replaced with the near imperceptible bloodied eye HUD, and health was now recouped by catching a breath as opposed to picking up a health pack. Then Wolfenstein: The New Order crawled out from beneath the decaying temples of FPS past and revitalised the frantic designs of the past. Yet, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus seems to be a deviation in the path set out by its predecessor.
The New Colossus takes place 5 months after B.J. Blazkowicz eliminates General Deathshead. After the battle, the resistance group, Kreisau Circle, recover what remains of B.J. and rebuilds him. Piece him back together in an exo suit like a stalwart Humpty-Dumpty. After a brief trip to the assembly line, B.J. is back on the revenge train. New characters will take centre stage as others are ceremoniously killed off. As the game’s narrative eye wanders from Blazkowicz we get a rounder understanding of the resistance as a whole. By broadening the field of view, we also get a deeper view of a story focussing on the few rebelling against the occupying Nazis. Although it might seem that Wolfenstein’s story might seem linear, it reaches far beyond that of a simple Nazi hunt.
The story is strengthened by the characters and their individual arcs. As Blazkowizc is at the heart of Wolfenstein’s story, you’d expect a laser focus on blowing up Nazis. Surprisingly, Blazkowicz’s story is a journey of remembrance and sorrow. With a cruel upbringing at the hands of an aggressive father, B.J. would be scared away from those his father would class as a lower citizen because of their ethnicity. Contrasting B.J.’s father is his kind and caring mother, a victim of a world that B.J. would soon realise paralleled the views of his father. These formative years would be a chrysalis for B.J.’s urge to fight the Nazis and stand up for those around him.
Not that those standing beside B.J. in Wolfenstein: The New Colossus need his protection. The rag tag bunch of supporting characters compliment B.J. with a comical element when needed, but have their own tale to tell. The equivocal Dr. Set explains the minutiae of German scientific achievements to aid the Kreisau Circle. Anya, B.J.’s pregnant girlfriend, is the story’s source of encouragement and B.J.’s emotional rock. She’s a perfect depiction of an impassioned and strong inspiration for all. No matter how varied the characters might be, they all have one common goal. In one way or another, they are all misfits. Outcasts, even. Yet, even though they are cast out from the society they are fighting, they make every effort to consider the circumstances that lead to this moment and how they can save those victims of circumstance and society.
Although one victim that cannot be saved is Wolfenstein: The New Colossus itself. As evocative as the story may be, the gameplay weighs down the experience drastically. Where The New Order successfully implemented a fair challenge that enforced a run and gun mentality, The New Colossus slows the experience tenfold by piling bodies in front of you under the guise of the new commander system. With the advent of the commander system, players are challenged by infinitely respawning enemies until the take down the commander. This poor implementation of new ideas leaks into the stealth segments too. The camera often proves obscuring and the nature of the beast that is FPS presents a situation that enemies alert almost instantly. These issues are exacerbated by the HUD which struggles to convey damage taken in a game that stray bullets do chunks. This is extremely problematic in situations where commanders feel like they are nestled in a bunker nearly 10 miles away.
These problems wouldn’t be nearly as problematic if Blazkowicz was able to glean a few shots from time to time, but for the sake of the narrative B.J. has diminished HP for a good portion of the campaign. To get a much needed boost of armour or health requires you to; stop, look at the item, and then deliberately opt to pick it up. There is an auto pick-up mechanic that should rectify this, but it is way too slow and infuriating. Combining all these elements created a situation where I stumbled through levels on methodically combing the floor for additional health and sacrificed the pacing I praised in The New Order. It honestly felt like I was falsely sold the game. Trailers showed Blazkowicz waltzing up to enemies with a machine gun in each hand, but the reality was closer to a rookie quivering behind cover and failing to hit the side of barn – even with an automatic rifle in each hand.
That’s right, I am talking about dual wielding, one of Wolfenstein: The New Colossus’s major selling points. Promising and endless hail of bullets and firepower you’d be a fool to pass up to opportunity, even if it meant your accuracy might be reduced. I didn’t expect that the accuracy trade off meant that there would literally be no accuracy however. The effective range of dual wielding would often force situations that were insurmountable, especially when enemies boasted a far more impressive suit of armour than yours.
And just like the new-fangled dual wielding, The New Colossus’ other weaponry is nothing to write home about. From your standard handgun to your trusty assault rifle, everything is terribly generic. Even with the promise of upgraded weapons through scavenged parts couldn’t save them from mundanity. Sure, they done more damage, but they never felt powerful. The lack of any real feedback really hurts the overall presentation of the weapons. There are some truly enjoyable weapons to use, like the laser and flame cannons which make an appearance now and again, but ammunition is either scarce or the weapon is a limited drop from a amped up enemy and discarded shortly thereafter. It’s safe to say that I found it a challenge to pick out a gun that really resonated with me. Which is odd because I am definitely always up for a challenge.
In fact, I revel in difficulty and start every game on the highest difficulty, but The New Colossus was a step up, even for me. So, I trudged through on normal with the expectation of graduating to hard mode if it match my adoration for The New Order. But even on Normal I seemed to hit walls. Mechanics felt problematic and there were times where a single shot would obliterate me. Tension built as I continued, eventually to a point where the difficulty became so tedious that I dropped down to easy mode. The difficulty had become tedious and boring, it wasn’t as much of a challenge as it was a monotonous slog.
It’s a slog through a nuclear wasteland. Most cities, like New York and New Orleans, are more of an eyesore than a sight for sore eyes. That doesn’t mean that all of the areas are terrible. Nazi vessels are a dark and claustrophobic delight draped in black and red, while Venus juxtaposes the tight corridors of the ships with its glowing white open arenas. Venus even introduces a unique addition to The New Colossus by allowing the player to explore outside the space station so long as they don’t fall victim to the temperature mechanic. But, no matter how interesting the area is they are all a nightmare to navigate thanks to the in-game map. Without the ability to switch between floors in the map many levels become tricky to explore, resulting in missed collectibles and hours of aimless wandering. Thankfully the enigma codes, collectibles that unlock additional missions, can be found on dead commanders and allow you to return to a select few locations.
So, there’s a chance you can pick up the files, gold, toys, and star cards you might have missed if you successfully procure the enigma codes. Each of these collectibles offers a unique bonus. For example, files will fill in the post war gap between games, gold unlocks concept art, and star cards offer up information on the crew that helped make The New Colossus a reality. Unlike enigma codes, these are mostly filler but do offer an extra bit of challenge for those wanting to invest a little bit more time into The New Colossus.
Wolfenstein: The New Colossus is a mixed bag of ideas that could work well but somehow don’t. I felt forced to sit behind cover for large sections of the game instead indulging in gun toting, dual-wielding promises. And even when I successfully managed to reach cover, the slightest movement would alert those around me and compromise any semblance of a stealthy approach. I was stuck in a parasitic loop that left me pining for the days of Wolfenstein 3D or even Wolfenstein: The New Order.